Land restoration in Latin America shows big potential for climate change mitigation

September 13, 2019

Land restoration in Latin America and the Caribbean is picking up pace and scaling up projects will help the region meet its pledges under the Bonn Challenge, which aims to restore 350 million hectares of degraded and deforested land worldwide by 2030. A new study led by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and Wageningen University supplies a first map of restoration projects in Latin America and shows their potential to mitigate climate change through restoring forests.

Researchers took stock of the location, goals and activities of 154 projects in Latin America and the Caribbean, starting a database to guide practitioners in scaling up restoration. They mapped projects under five initiatives working towards the Bonn Challenge goals - the 20x20 Initiative, the Global Environment Facility, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the Forest Investment Program (FIP) and independent local projects - in tandem with mapping the potential biomass increase that forest restoration could achieve across the region's various ecosystems.

"We're asking a lot from the land, to produce food for another couple of billion people. We also don't want to lose more forest," said co-author Louis Verchot, a researcher at CIAT and a leading contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s recent Climate Change and Land report. "We need to make more out of the land that we have. The IPCC 1.5 °C report made clear how fast we need to take carbon out of the atmosphere. To do that, you have to do something about land emissions."

In Latin America many of the ongoing or planned projects are in regions where there is high potential for increased biomass, such as the tropical and subtropical forest ecosystems on the edges of the Amazon Basin, Southeast Brazil and Central America. While all projects can provide more forest biomass for carbon sequestration, results show that CDM, FIP and local projects have the biggest capacity to do so. Local level projects also focused on areas with high carbon sequestration potential, and CDM projects focused on forestry plantation efforts. Projects associated with the initiative 20x20 pursued a diverse set of goals in a wider range of landscapes and was less focused on carbon sequestration.

While all projects mainly aim to increase vegetation cover, recover biodiversity and ecosystem services, restoration takes many faces across Latin America, which impacts how much carbon a restored area will be able to capture, the study shows. Natural regeneration is the most popular choice for restoring vegetation, along with assisted regeneration and mixed plantations. GEF, FIP and local restoration projects preferred this low-cost, high-carbon sink approach, point out the researchers. These "may contribute widely to climate change mitigation," the study says.

"Natural regeneration is a cost-effective restoration method," said Verchot, who is part of the Agroecosystems and Sustainable Landscapes research team at CIAT. "You don't have to invest in seedling production and plantations. On the other hand, you get what you get. In degraded lands you get pioneer species, it might take decades to get back the pre-disturbed mix of species."

The study is the latest on the topic by Verchot and colleagues, including a paper published earlier this year that created a typology of land restoration in Latin America and the Caribbean. The study categorized three main restoration types, with the main defining variables being project area under restoration, amount of funding received, source of funding and monitoring efforts.

Drylands out of the restoration spotlight

Only 25 percent of restoration projects surveyed in Latin America focus on degraded drylands, the research shows, despite their exposure to desertification, loss of biodiversity, food insecurity and climate change. Visualizing the region's potential for more carbon-storing vegetation can help project developers spot which degraded drylands are in need of restoration. Donors and funding mechanisms that finance the projects have a big say on the goals and activities, the study says.

"A diversity of projects and initiatives will contribute towards achieving the aims of the Bonn Challenge and restore large amounts of degraded land," conclude the authors. But to be successful, we need to tackle the problem at its source. Large-scale restoration projects first need to understand what drives deforestation and forest degradation, as well as the ecological and social climate in which they happen, so that we better manage our lands and avoid the need to restore them in the future.
Funding and acknowledgements

This research was funded by USAID support to the CGIAR through grant number AID-BFS-IO-17-00005. The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the USAID Office of Global Climate Change, the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and CIFOR's Global Comparative Study on REDD+. We also thank CIFOR, ICRAF, Bioversity International, SERFOR, WRI and CIAT for sharing their project databases.

International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to