Lima climate talks: pledge to plant 20m hectares of trees

Much of the land to be replanted and improved in Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and Cos...

Much of the land to be replanted and improved in Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and Costa Rica, has been deforested in the past 15 years and is now used for subsistence farming or is unusable after being intensively farmed. But it will be restored either as natural forests, or as __agro-forestry__ which mixes trees with crop lands and __silvo-pasture__ which combines trees with animals.

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), one of five research groups working with business and government on the __Initiative 20x20__, of the 4.2 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases emitted by Latin American and Caribbean countries in 2012, nearly half were from agriculture and the loss of forests. Between 2001 and 2012, the region lost 36m hectares of forest and grassland to agricultural expansion. Cutting down forests to make way for ranches releases carbon.

The project, announced on Monday in Lima at the UN climate summit, hopes to restore about 20m hectares of degraded land __ an area larger than Uruguay. A separate, ambitious plan to restore tens of millions of hectares of degraded land in Brazil, the largest Latin American country, is expected to be announced next year. Latin America is estimated to have over 200m hectares of degraded land.

About 13m hectares of forests are lost each year but restoring degraded forest lands around the world is now regarded as one of the surest ways to reduce climate change emissions as well as to improve farming and eliminate poverty. The global initiative, known as the Bonn Challenge, started in 2011 as a German plan which was extended at UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon__s New York climate summit in September 2014.

There, governments, companies and civil society groups together pledged to restore over 30m hectares of degraded land. Taken together, the intention is to eventually replant and restore about 350m hectares of deforested landscapes by 2030 __ an area the size of India.

Until now, Africa has taken the lead to restore degraded land. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has committed to restoring 8m hectares and Ethiopia 22m hectares or about 22% of its land mass. Mexico, which has over 40m hectares of degraded land, has pledged to restore 8.5m hectares, mainly in the south of the country.

The new Latin American project involves governments as well as companies offering __impact__ funds. Five companies, which have together pledged $365m (_233m), will work with local communities and landowners on agro-forestry schemes. The money is seperate from any carbon markets which may be established following a global climate deal.

__It is ambitious. But it would be very foolish to go into areas which have existing land tenure problem. This is a market-based, bottom-up approach. If it is done right it will be with the backing of local communities,__ said Walter Vergara, former leader of the Climate Global Expert Group (GET) at the World Bank who has helped mastermind the project with WRI. __We think around one-third of the land will be reforested and the rest used for agro-forestry.

__This is just the beginning for restoration in Latin America and the Caribbean. This initial goal helps to establish the importance of addressing the dynamics of land degradation in the region, and hopefully, will lead to larger, more ambitious targets in coming years,__ he said.

__Degraded land can be restored by adding trees to properties that are currently used for farming or raising livestock,__ said Clement Chenost, technical director of the Moringa Fund, a French buiness group that is has pledged to invest $49m in agro-forestry projects in Latin America and Africa.

__As the world prepares to deliver a binding climate agreement in Paris by 2015, restoration will be absolutely essential for countries to hit their emissions targets, while also delivering huge benefits for the rural poor. Through their leadership in Initiative 20x20, these countries will have a tremendous head start,__ said Andrew Steer, chief executive of the WRI.

Ecuador, which has agreed to restore 500,000 hectares, has said it will offer farmers grants to replant and protect forests on their degraded lands. __Planting new trees and allowing trees to regrow naturally can sequester carbon dioxide, while more effectively using already degraded landscapes for agriculture can avoid further deforestation,__ said a spokesman.

the Guardian | John Vidal

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