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We’ve heard a lot about ambitious tree planting initiatives in recent months. Laudable as these may be – and we offer congratulations and celebrate the community-minded impetus behind them – we need a lot more than tree planting to restore degraded landscapes and to save the world’s forests.

On International Day of Forests, we join with the United Nations to draw attention to the urgent need for general recognition of the key role these treed landscapes play in combating climate change and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), targets aimed at alleviating poverty.

We celebrate all forested biomes, whether they are enmeshed in effective agricultural systems, natural peatlands, dry forests and mangroves. “Forgotten” forests that deserve more attention include tropical montane cloud, karst and keranga forests.

We urge the international community to implement robust, systemic changes required to address the dramatic consequences of deforestation and forest degradation, to conserve intact forests, sustainably manage secondary, disturbed or overlogged forests, increase trees on farms, while restoring degraded lands for both global goods and local livelihoods.

The high-level frameworks and targets exist. Through the SDGs, the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF), the U.N. Paris Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity we have all we need to deploy transformations and succeed. Hopes are now weighted heavily on the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). Will it provide the structure within which governments, businesses and people will act in a united effort to offset global warming before it is too late?
There are five areas where investment can be made to rejuvenate the functions of degraded ecosystems. These will help protect, expand and value forests and their biodiversity, transform agriculture into perennial systems, and build sustainable value chains, with the combined support of governments and the private sector to make the transition to sustainable economies.

First, financing the transition requires a firm commitment from the global community. We have no shortage of money. Estimates indicate that governments spend $1.8 trillion a year in military expenditures and more than $5 trillion in fossil fuel subsidies, but only about $50 billion on landscape restoration.

We need to realign our priorities.

The investment needed to reverse land degradation around the world to meet the target of the NYDF is $830 billion, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Restoring 350 million hectares as part of the Bonn Challenge — a commitment made during U.N. Climate talks in 2014 as part of the NYDF – is estimated at $360 billion.

Second, agriculture must be more strongly connected to climate solutions. The agriculture, forestry and other land use sectors are responsible for just under a quarter of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, mainly caused by deforestation and such agricultural sources as livestock, soil and nutrient management.
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