- Leading forest and climate experts have come up with a “playbook” for ecosystem restoration that accounts for climate change and forest loss as not just biophysical and environmental problems, but also deeply political, economic and social issues.
- It defines 10 principles for effective, equitable, and transformative landscapes that its authors say could be game-changing if followed.
- The playbook discusses the importance of ending fossil fuel subsidies and shifting those resources toward ecosystem restoration, renewable energy, and supporting the land rights of local and Indigenous communities that are protecting forests.
- The authors invite IUCN members and leaders at COP26 in Glasgow to consider adopting the Playbook to guide biodiversity conservation, and climate change mitigation in forests and, more broadly, call for structural changes from local to international scale.
International forest and climate experts have released a “playbook” for ecosystem restoration with a set of 10 principles that they say, if followed, could be a game-changer.
The Political Ecology Playbook, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, recognizes that issues such as climate change and forest loss are not just biophysical and environmental problems, but are also deeply political, economic and social.
The playbook was written to support the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). Many of the ideas in it are already embedded in the U.N.’s language and framework, such as integrating Indigenous knowledge and practices into ecosystem restoration initiatives. However, according to the authors, this is the first time all of these principles have been laid out in a published playbook format, calling for action.
“Restoration is often seen as a quick fix to repair ecosystems after making mistakes,” said Robin Chazdon, a professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia, and one of the article’s nine authors (who happen to all identify as women). “But it is even more important to recognize these mistakes and avoid repeating them, as they also perpetuate social inequities.”
The playbook emphasizes equity and calls for mandatory financial commitments from countries of the global north, as well as from institutions that have historically promoted environmentally disruptive development. Debt relief must also play a role, particularly to relieve countries in the global south.
“Debt is the reason why many governments from the global south are extracting resources from highly biodiverse ecosystems in the first place,” Tracey Osborne, associate professor and presidential chair of the department of management of complex systems at the University of California, Merced, and first author of the playbook told Mongabay.
“By consistently failing to address long-standing, unequal political and economic relations, even the best-intentioned restoration efforts can fail or end up causing harm to people and planet,” co-author Victoria Gutierrez, head of global policy at Commonland, a restoration NGO in the Netherlands, said in a press release. “There are winners and losers in environmental change, and political ecology is committed to goals that have social justice outcomes.”
Many current restoration strategies focus on tree planting, particularly on large plantations of non-native trees, which can cause more harm than good. Tree planting is considered a low-cost solution but it can have negative impacts on biodiversity, water tables, and local communities, restricting their access to land if done incorrectly. Instead, the playbook promotes solutions that address the root drivers of deforestation, grounded in equity.
The playbook asserts that technological and market-based solutions alone are insufficient for meeting restoration and climate goals. It was technologically feasible to meet the goals of the Paris agreement, Osborne said, but was and remains politically unlikely both because of the levels of climate denial in some of the countries that are most responsible for climate change, like the US, but also due to the interests of those in power, particularly corporate interests.
“And of course, they benefit from the current system because they helped shape those rules to benefit their own interests,” Osborne said.
Market-based solutions, such as carbon offsets in tropical forests, have addressed the symptoms as opposed to the root causes of deforestation and climate change, Osborne said. “We’ve tried to make these sorts of changes from within the system for decades and it really has not worked…I’m not against markets, but I think that markets need to really serve and support the needs of society and systems change, as opposed the other way around.”
In the Amazon, for example, in many cases, the carbon market price is too low to incentivize people away from the main drivers of deforestation, including large-scale soy production, cattle ranching, timber production, mining, and the extraction of oil and gas.
The playbook discusses the importance of ending fossil fuel subsidies and shifting those resources toward ecosystem restoration, renewable energy, and supporting the land rights of local and Indigenous communities that are protecting forests.
For decades, world leaders have been making global commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with climate change. Yet subsidies for fossil fuels and industrial agriculture that drive climate change and deforestation continue. According to a 2019 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report, global fossil fuel subsidies are approximately $500 billion annually which is ten times the amount spent on biodiversity conservation and sustainable land use activities. And this is a conservative estimate.
“These incentives make no sense, are contradictory, and perpetuate the exact same extractive economic system that led us to this problem,” Osborne told Mongabay. “We need significant amounts of funding that are equal and commensurate with the scale of the problem.”
The authors invite IUCN members and leaders at COP26 in Glasgow to consider adopting the Playbook to guide biodiversity conservation, and climate change mitigation in forests and, more broadly, call for structural changes from local to international scales.
“We need a level of systems change that we, to date, have not yet seen,” Osborne said. “This is not just the ethical thing to do, it’s our best hope for ensuring a habitable planet for current and future generations.”
Osborne, T., Brock, S., Chazdon, R., Chomba, S., Garen, E., Gutierrez, V., … Sundberg, J. (2021). The political ecology playbook for ecosystem restoration: Principles for effective, equitable, and transformative landscapes. Global Environmental Change, 70, 102320. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2021.102320
Banner image of a toco toucan (Ramphastos toco) by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.
Liz Kimbrough is a staff writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter @lizkimbrough_
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