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This report is a product of the Natural Capital Project. Their full document ‘Use Cases and the Natural Capital Science-Technology Platform‘ can be downloaded here.


The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) have partnered with organizations around the world to translate broad forest restoration goals to on-the-ground action that can enhance food and water security, improve economic development, and reduce vulnerability to disasters. Innovations developed through this partnership include a tool that can rapidly screen regional restoration opportunities, quantify and compare potential outcomes, and prioritize investments to maximize a diverse suite of benefits at minimal cost.

“Restoration of degraded and deforested lands is not simply about planting trees. People and communities are at the heart of the restoration efforts, which transforms barren or degraded areas of land into healthy, fertile working landscapes.”

– Bianca Jagger, IUCN Ambassador for the Bonn Challenge

Ecosystem degradation is a powerfully disruptive force, stymying long-term economic development and contributing to poverty, climate change, natural disaster risk, and reduced reserves of natural capital assets. Deforestation and other extractive land uses can provide local communities with increased revenue over the short-term, but lead to unintended consequences that affect long-term sustain- ability.

The Bonn Challenge was born out of a growing international awareness of the interdependency of social, economic, and ecological systems. Named after the German city in which it was launched in 2011, the Bonn Challenge is the largest and most ambitious global restoration effort ever undertaken, with goals to restore 150 million hectares of degraded land worldwide by 2020, and an additional 200 million hectares (greater than the size of India) by 2030. This unprecedented effort has dual goals of enhancing ecosystems and the benefits they provide to people while improving economic opportunities for local communities.

Achieving the Bonn Challenge could contribute an additional USD $200 billion to local and national economies and sequester enough carbon to reduce global emissions by 17 percent. To date, thirty countries are participating in the Challenge, along with dozens of private companies and NGOs.

After commitments are made comes the difficult task of figuring out how to implement a restoration plan. Limited resources, scarce data, and insufficient local capacity often hamper the translation of goals to action. Critical questions include: What type of restoration will be most effective at addressing environmental concerns while securing livelihoods? What are the potential benefits and costs of restoration? And how can countries strategically target restoration to get the best returns for people and nature?

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Promising Advances

IUCN and WRI developed a framework called the Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology (ROAM) for integrating science and stakeholder-driven approaches to achieve restoration goals. ROAM is strengthened by a network of partnerships that provides expertise ranging from economics to remote sensing and from ecosystem services modeling and valuation to local knowledge and capacity building. These partnerships, united by the ROAM framework, significantly enhance the ability of countries to diagnose barriers, strategically target restoration, and secure financing for implementation.

Although each country has a unique set of challenges, common across all applications is the need to evaluate how restoration can enhance food and water security, improve economic development, and reduce vulnerability to disasters and further ecosystem degradation. These are grand challenges. However, partnerships coupling science and data expertise with on-the- ground implementation networks are building local capacity, identifying opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship, and enhancing the resilience of local communities and ecosystems.

The ROAM approach is already paying off. In Rwanda, ROAM assessments and stakeholder workshops identified a lack of tree species suitable for agroforestry. In response, local nurseries are now sourcing and growing native varieties that will be planted by farmers to improve soil retention, crop productivity, and other products such as fuel wood. In Uganda, the Ministry of Water and Environment and Makerere University are using ROAM and tools from The Natural Capital Project to compare the benefits of restoring degraded forest reserves versus investing in tree plantings in agricultural lands to promote agroforestry. The analysis will identify Ugandan districts that have the greatest potential to meet clean water, climate, and biodiversity targets through restoration or agroforestry while improving crop production and minimizing costs.

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Solutions, Science & Tools

The Natural Capital Project’s optimization tool within the ROAM framework analyzes existing GIS data on slope, soil type, and forest cover, and overlays these with social and economic data to identify restoration opportunities with the greatest potential to improve water quality, reduce sediment loss, and improve biodiversity, while minimizing impacts to agriculture or other land uses. The goal of the tool is to highlight co-benefits and trade-offs associated with alternative restoration strategies, depending on the specific objectives most important to stakeholders in different regions or countries.

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Scaling up

Smart, strategic restoration enabled by the best available data and science will increase carbon sequestration, enhance biodiversity, reduce vulnerability to disasters, and improve the delivery of clean water to communities. There are more than two billion hectares of degraded lands in need of restoration, including millions of hectares of abandoned agricultural land, low productivity lands, and former mining and drilling sites. If its restoration goals are met, the Bonn Challenge will not only restore lands and livelihoods, but the resulting social movement will also help build capacity, international and corporate partnerships, and the political will to further restore vast portions of the planet.