New map can help improve forest restoration to fight climate change

©Unsplash/Sebastian Staines 05 July 2019, Rome - New, open-source maps, developed by a team of scientists and FAO experts, show where degraded lands and forests could be restored to help fight climate change, but only if countries act quickly and develop realistic targets.

The model, profiled in the 5 July issue of Science magazine by authors from FAO and ETH Zurich, has identified nearly one billion hectares for potential forest restoration.

recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that increasing the world’s forest cover by one billion hectares will be necessary to help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.

The map of global biophysical potential for restoration is based partly on reference data collect using Collect Earth, developed under the FAO Forestry Department Open Foris initiative and assessments of climate, soil and terrain. It serves as a global, multi-dimensional snapshot of tree cover which has helped researchers to locate 0.9 billion hectares of land which could be restored,

The results suggest the recommended IPCC target is achievable but they also underscore the need for urgent action, due to continued loss of forest cover and the negative impacts of climate change.

“We already know that restoration can help to reduce biodiversity loss, climate change and rural poverty. But the effects of forest restoration take time to be felt. We need to act quickly and effectively to restore areas with appropriate trees and other plants,” says FAO’s Tiina Vähänen.

The map also provides a scientific evaluation of country-level targets for restoration. Currently, about 10 percent of countries have committed to restoring much more land than is actually available for restoration within their territories, while more than 43 percent of the countries have committed to restoring less than half of the area which could be restored.

The FAO Forestry Department works with governments and researchers to bridge the gap between academia and policy makers and makes scientific methodology easily accessible through platforms such as Open Foris and SEPAL. The openly-accessible map of tree carrying capacity is being integrated into these platforms and can serve as a benchmark to help countries adjust their restoration targets to leverage the great potential which global forest restoration holds to combat climate change.

Through a Japan funded project (Mitigation potential of global actions to enhance forest carbon stocks – GCP/GLO/814/JPN), FAO collaborates with the ETH Zurich (leading this research) bringing the results of this study to the countries. The algorithm for the tree restoration potential will be integrated into SEPAL with user guides for country level application, and will be piloted in Cambodia, Myanmar, Kenya, and Uganda. Work is also underway on a Forestry working paper (Global Forest Restoration Potential) in partnership with the lead authors of the study from ETH Zurich to show how the research can assist countries in their restoration efforts.

last updated:  Friday, July 5, 2019