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More than 2,600 experts and concerned citizens from 113 countries signed the Kew Declaration on Reforestation for Biodiversity, Carbon Capture and Livelihoods.
The declaration proposes that forests be planted to reflect the diversity of natural ecosystems.
Experts have noted that policies surrounding reforestation could be improved by increasing communication and involvement of people at all levels of projects, especially local communities, Indigenous people and landowners.
We are in a moment of heightened attention and momentum around reforestation and forest restoration. In particular, tree planting is in vogue, bolstered by pop celebrity billionaires and large initiatives touting mammoth numbers such as Trillion Trees.
Although reforestation holds immense promise for slowing the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, the dark side of this momentum is that, in some cases, planting trees can cause more harm than good.
This is a key message of the “Kew Declaration on Reforestation for Biodiversity, Carbon Capture and Livelihoods,” published on October 13 in the journal Plants, People Planet.
The declaration, spearheaded by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew) and Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), was signed by more than 2,600 individuals from 113 countries, including scientists, foresters, financiers, policy specialists, and representatives of botanical gardens, NGOs and tree nurseries.
The declaration expresses the co-signatories’ concern over large-scale tree plantations of single species and/or non-native trees, which can harm biodiversity and capture less carbon than native forests. It proposes that forests be planted to reflect the diversity of natural ecosystems.
The declaration was borne out of discussions and research presented at the Reforestation for Biodiversity, Carbon Capture and Livelihoods conference in February 2021 as well as the ‘Ten Golden Rules for Reforestation to Optimise Carbon Sequestration, Biodiversity Recovery and Livelihood Benefits’, published by RBG Kew and partners in January 2021.
The declaration specifically calls upon “policymakers, financiers and practitioners in countries that have made reforestation pledges” to adhere to the Ten Golden Rules, work with Indigenous and local people and respect their land tenure rights, ensure that any habitats lost are replicable, safeguard threatened species, continue to steward and monitor projects, and “learn from past mistakes.”
The declaration also calls for subsidies and “positive financial incentives” to support restoration.
“We hope the Kew Declaration will be considered by a wide range of policymakers during COP26 [the upcoming U.N. climate conference] discussions to ensure that the right policies are in place to protect our existing forests and to maximize the impacts for people, biodiversity and carbon capture when planting new forests,” Paul Smith, secretary-general at BGCI and co-author of the declaration, said in a statement.
Afforestation, or planting trees on lands that do not historically have trees (such as savannas or moorlands), can actually release carbon from the ground and be destructive to the ecosystem, so selecting the appropriate areas and species for reforestation is critical.
“When people plant the wrong trees in the wrong place, it can cause considerably more damage than benefits, failing to help people or nature,” said Kate Hardwick, conservation partnership coordinator at RBG Kew and co-author of the Ten Golden Rules paper.
The declaration proposes that ‘livelihood native forests’, which “incorporate some of the functions and diversity of natural forests but prioritise native species of economic value…can provide many of the benefits of restored native forest…while offering diverse, sustainable and resilient livelihood opportunities.”
One of the promising approaches noted is agroforestry, an alternative to intensive agriculture, which uses forest-based products and has the added benefits of “carbon sequestration, soil structure and fertility, shade, tree products and other ecosystem services,” the declaration states.
In a panel on reforestation policy at the Reforestation for Biodiversity, Carbon Capture and Livelihoods conference, experts on the panel noted that policies surrounding reforestation and restoration could be improved by increasing communication and engagement with people at all levels of projects, especially local communities, Indigenous people and landowners.
Everyone involved also needs the opportunity to give feedback, the panelists agreed, noting that it’s critical to allow the flow of knowledge from the local to the national level to inform policy decisions.
“Policy is the framework to provide direction,” Adriana Vidal, senior forest policy officer at the IUCN, the global conservation authority, said during the panel. “We must have inclusive processes with local communities to shape policies.”
It’s also important that remote communities be able to give feedback, she added. This can be logistically difficult but is critical to the success of projects.
“The massive reforestation initiatives currently underway, the upcoming UN Decade on Ecological Restoration and aspirations for a post-COVID green recovery, have generated unparalleled hope and optimism that forest restoration really can improve global ecology while uplifting local livelihoods,” the Ten Golden Rules paper states.
“However, it will only do so if it is based on sound science, guided by indigenous knowledge and local communities, supported by fair governance, and incentivized by long-term funding mechanisms.”
(Disclosure: Mongabay’s Liz Kimbrough chaired the reforestation policy panel at the ‘Reforestation for Biodiversity, Carbon Capture and Livelihoods’ conference.)
Liz Kimbrough is a staff writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter @lizkimbrough_.
This article was first published by Mongabay and has been republished here under a Creative Commons license.
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