The World Resources Institute(WRI) will be overseeing the funding of a bold new plan to restore degraded lands in Latin America and the Caribbean. The project, which has already has more than $2 billion in private investment funding, is the latest effort to address what researchers say is a looming environmental crisis in the making: not enough forestland to counteract carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
According to WRI, nearly half of all of the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from Latin America come from agricultural and forestry land use, urban development and other kinds of land use change. More than 12 countries have now committed to plans to restore these degraded areas as part of meeting their their Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement.
WRI says that’s good news not just for the environment but for communities that rely on those lands. About 742 million acres of forestland throughout the region are considered degraded. Another 860 million acres are classified as deforested. Restoring the biodiversity of these lands is critical to ensuring enough water and potential for sustainable land use.
“With the region expected to play an increasingly important role in global food security, this pressure will continue to ratchet up,” says WRI. By restoring lands that have been degraded and denuded, says the organization, water sources and valuable watersheds that feed the biodiversity of areas can be reinstated and protected.
Panama has already found that biodiversity restoration works. The watershed bordering what was to become the 48-mile Panama Canal was first cleared in the 1800s by U.S. engineers and underwent systematic clearing until the 1980s when the canal was was assumed the property of Panama. In time scientists realized that the process wasn’t just destroying the natural habitat, it was affecting the replenishment of the water to the canal that was vital for marine traffic. It took another three decades, however, before Panama formally initiated reforestation of the affected lands. Today that “green infrastructure” that is so vital to the canal’s operation also helps generate electricity for the country.
The investments will be managed through WRI’s 20X20 program, which has already successfully initiated restoration of more than 24 million acres, amounting to some 40 different projects across the region.
Other organizations that help guide sustainable practices in farming, ranching and educational tourism are assisting as well. The Novo Campo program in Brazil has been teaching cattle ranchers how to manage their resources sustainably. In Nicaragua, coffee growers are learning the benefit of using newly restored forests to help shelter their crops from the hot sun. The return of Nicaragua’s biodiversity also supports a growing ecotourism trade, which WRI points out, adds value to the land and opportunities for communities to benefit through industries that sustain its worth.
And there may be another benefactor to the WRI’s successful launch of the 20X20 program: tree planters. Time will tell whether the attempt to reforest and restore millions of acres across the two hemispheres will spawn new industries, new research and new knowledge dedicated to restoring and protecting the earth’s delicate ecology.
Flickr image: mauroguanandi