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Regenerative landscapes – part 3: Global forest protection initiatives

At the continental scale, forests generate much of the rainfall in the forest system. They also act as ‘continental water pumps’, cycling water from moist coastal regions progressively further inland. Forest management, conservation and, ideally, restoration can support environmental and socio-economic rejuvenation efforts, and halt spirals of degradation.

Dr Mark Everard, UWE
25 May 2021

Forested uplands intercept moisture from oceanic air currents, generating the headwaters of river systems that irrigate whole subcontinents. Even small stands of forest recycle water efficiently, creating lush and diverse ecosystems with cool microclimates. Forested catchments are the source of more than three-quarters of the world’s accessible freshwater, also supplying diverse other ecosystem services essential for human wellbeing at scales from the global to the localised[1]. Consequently, deforestation has generated many examples of hydrological disruption and adverse outcomes for SESs around the world.

The concept of sustainable forest management has been widely embraced at national and international policy levels, but practical implementation is lacking, to the point where little progress is being made to address forest degradation globally[1]. However, the importance of forests for achieving SESs has been recognised and promoted by a range of international agreements which aim to halt and reverse forest loss and degradation.

Forest protection schemes from Costa Rica, New Zealand and UK

In Costa Rica, Central America, the Pagos por Servicios Ambientales (PSA: Payments for Environmental Services) scheme has operated since 1996, providing economic incentives for forest conservation. PSA directs payments to ecosystem service outcomes generated by forest and agro-forestry ecosystems, replacing a former ineffective system of tax deductions to support poorly-targeted forest conservation[2][3]. Landowners entering PSA scheme are paid for land use activities (protecting natural forest, establishing timber plantations, regenerating natural forest and establishing agro-forestry systems) producing a bundle of ecosystem services[4]. The scheme is funded by reallocation of 3.5% of the revenues from fossil fuel sales tax, topped up by contributions from the World Bank and other international donors[5]. Individual beneficiaries (hydroelectric plants, breweries, irrigated farms and other organisations benefiting from ecosystem services) can also pay into the scheme, negotiating contracts with service providers.

New Zealand has implemented novel forest conservation schemes, some working with indigenous Maori landowners in North Island interested in receiving payments for maintaining their land to preserve livelihoods and culture[6]. A Maori conservation reserve program known as Nga Whenua Rahui provides economic support enabling landowners to allow land to remain in, or revert to, native bush (Nga Whenua Rahui, Undated). Nga Whenua Rahui is funded by government on the basis of wider ecosystem services benefits to offset the impacts of New Zealand’s rapidly urbanising economy. Some other government incentives also support the management of erodible land and carbon sequestration.

150 million hectares of forest could sequester an additional 1 GtCO2e per year, a significant contribution to cutting global climate-active gas emissions, restoring ecological integrity and improving human wellbeing.

The UK’s Natural Capital Committee[7] recognised that ‘natural capital deficits’ are costly to societal wellbeing and the economy. The NCC consequently recommended that government implement a 25-year plan, outlining an economic case for investment in habitat creation and restoration including 250,000 additional hectares of woodland planting optimally located in the landscape for ecosystem service delivery. Economic returns from restored ecosystem services were calculated to be at least as great as those from investment in traditional engineered infrastructure. The UK Government has endorsed the NCC’s proposed 25-year plan[8].

International forest protection and regeneration initiatives

REDD+ (the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) creates financial value for carbon stored in forests, such that developing countries can invest in protection of forested lands as part of a low-carbon path to sustainable development (UN-REDD Programme, Undated). REDD+ addresses deforestation, forest degradation, conservation, sustainable management and enhancement of carbon stocks through a variety of mechanisms that open up market devices for payments for emission offsets by industrialised nations, rewarding developing countries for protecting ecosystems of value for carbon storage and linked ecosystem service benefits.

The New York Declaration on Forests[9], signed at the 2014 UN Climate Summit, is a non-binding global pledge endorsed by dozens of governments, thirty of the world’s biggest companies and more than fifty influential civil society and indigenous organisations to restore 350 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes by 2030. The Declaration aims to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020 and end it by 2030, cutting between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tons of carbon remobilisation annually (approximating that emitted by the United States). Commitments to landscape restoration by other nations under the New York Declaration on Forests include:

  • Ethiopia (15 million hectares);
  • Uganda (2.5 million hectares);
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (8 million hectares);
  • Colombia (1 million hectares);
  • Guatemala (1.2 million hectares); and
  • Chile (100,000 hectares).

Many nations are expected to follow with their own commitments, with restoration of degraded land likely to qualify for carbon credits. The Bonn Challenge was established at a ministerial roundtable in September 2011 at the invitation of the German Government and International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), calling for restoration of 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded lands by 2020 and facilitating implementation of existing international commitments requiring such restoration[10]. 150 million hectares of forest could sequester an additional 1 GtCO2e per year, a significant contribution to cutting global climate-active gas emissions, restoring ecological integrity and improving human wellbeing. Many governments, private companies and community groups have signalled their intent to align with the Bonn Challenge.


This piece is an excerpt from Regenerative Landscapes a report funded by the RICS Research Trust and published by RICS. The RICS Research Trust became fully independent of RICS in January 2021 and has been rebranded as the Property Research Trust.