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Why Restore Land? How much land is under restoration? Tracking progress on forest and landscape restoration

There is no debate: People need to restore the world's degraded land by growing trees and transforming farms, forests, and pasture into more productive ecosystems. That's how we can produce more food, safeguard biodiversity, and store carbon.

But to know where we're going, we need to know where we have been. We need to track progress toward our goals, but that's not as simple as it may sound.

This guide showcases the latest advances in monitoring from World Resources Institute's Global Restoration Initiative. You will find examples of our work on individual tree-growing projects, across landscapes and countries, and globally.

  • Degraded land threatens the well-being and livelihoods of over 3 billion people in nearly every country. Almost half of Earth’s forests have already been cleared or degraded to make way for agriculture and other human uses, leading to food insecurity, poverty, biodiversity loss, soil erosion, water pollution, and a host of other environmental, social, and economic challenges.
  • To better understand the extent of degraded land globally and where there is opportunity to improve it, WRI, IUCN and partners produced the Atlas of Forest and Landscape Restoration Opportunities, which found that 2 billion hectares of land could benefit from restoration.

From growing trees on farms to reforesting bare patches of land, forest and landscape restoration activities all share one common vision: Making land work for people and nature; creating opportunity while safeguarding biodiversity. Protecting and restoring land also has major climate benefits. According to the IPCC, healthy land removed a net 6 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 per year from 2007 to 2016, equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the United States. And research shows that for every $1 invested, restoration can bring up to $30 in economic benefits .

  • Measuring progress can also put the spotlight on farmers and others who have restored their land using a grassroots approach. Across the dry Sahel, for example, farmers have restored millions of hectares of land, boosting crop yields and stopping the southward creep of the Sahara Desert. These success stories and the lessons they hold can't be shared unless people can systematically identify and measure changes in the landscape.

People monitoring restoration can then take the information that they are regularly collecting from the landscape and turn it into a Sustainability Index for Restoration, a simple 0 to 1 scale that shows total progress toward the criteria that local actors had identified.

Tracking restoration helps governments, companies, and NGOs show progress on their pledges, encourages people to replicate successful projects and tweak struggling ones, and inspires funders to continue investing where they can see positive results.

If you are someone actively restoring land, we hope that this inspires you to invest in showing the impact of your work. If you are funding restoration, we hope that you will gain a new appreciation for this challenge and recognize why measuring progress is key to success. And if you are a researcher working in this field, we hope you can join us in tackling some of our remaining questions.

To sum it up, think of this as WRI effort to track progress toward answering a tough, yet important question: How much land are people restoring?

Want to go more in depth? You can check out more resources here:

Further reading UNCCD Libraryland restoration ; ecological degradation ecosystems restoration 

  land res