Targeted restoration of 30% of the world’s agricultural lands to their original wild state coupled with equally focused conservation efforts could prevent 70% of predicted extinctions and sequester the equivalent of 50% of the CO2 emissions humanity has generated since the Industrial Revolution—all without compromising food security.
Research just published in the journal Nature has found that restoring key terrestrial ecosystems would be “one of the most effective and cheapest ways to combat the climate crisis while also boosting dwindling wildlife populations,” reports The Guardian. Currently, “only about 1% of the finance devoted to the global climate crisis goes to nature restoration.”
The researchers—an international team from Australia, Brazil, and Europe—found that the most effective areas to target for “rewilding” include rainforests, savannahs, wetlands, and peatlands. That most of these “priority areas” are found in developing countries will present logistical challenges, but also creates the considerable boon of cost-effectiveness, said study lead author Bernardo Strassburg.
What’s more, restoration of the world’s wild places need not occur at the expense of food security. “If done properly, it can increase agricultural productivity,” Strassburg told The Guardian. “We can produce enough food for the world and restore 55% of our current farmland, with sustainable intensification of farming.”
While the Nature study only examined terrestrial ecosystem recovery, the same need for restoration exists for the Earth’s oceans, said Richard Unsworth, a senior lecturer in marine biology with Swansea University.
“Marine habitat restoration is also vital for our planet and arguably more urgent given the rapid degradation and loss of marine ecosystems.” he said. “We need restored ocean habitats such as seagrass and oysters to help promote biodiversity, but also to help secure future food supply through fisheries, and lock up carbon from our atmosphere.”
At the same time, a recent report from the Global Forest Expert Panel is calling for greater recognition of the role of forests in eradicating poverty, writes Inter Press Service (IPS). The study arrives in the wake of the United Nations’ warning that “71 million people are expected to be pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020.”
Lead researcher Daniel Miller, chair of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations, told IPS that many of the world’s people depend on these ecosystems to survive and thrive.
“A quarter of the world’s population lives in or near a forest, and trees actively contribute to human well-being, particularly the most vulnerable among us,” he said. Noting that the purpose of the study was “to bring to light the available scientific evidence on how forests have contributed to poverty alleviation and translate it in a way that is accessible to policy-makers,” he added that forests could do so much more were it not for profound and systemic inequality in the distribution of their benefits.
“In large-scale logging on Indigenous lands or where marginalized people live, timber is the most valuable forest product,” he said. “That value is often not accrued to the people who have to deal with the aftermath of not having forests anymore.”