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Land Use

Tropical Forests

Burning continues to be the preferred means of clearing land in the Amazon to make way for cattle. It is a delusional act because the thin acid soils quickly degrade and fail. This picture was taken in Rondonia State, just northeast of Bolivia.

In recent decades, tropical forests have suffered extensive clearing, fragmentation, degradation, and depletion of biodiversity. Once blanketing 12 percent of the world’s landmass, they now cover just 5 percent. While destruction continues in many places, tropical forest restoration is growing and may sequester as much as six gigatons of carbon dioxide per year.

As a forest ecosystem recovers, trees, soil, leaf litter, and other vegetation absorb and hold carbon. As flora and fauna return and interactions between organisms and species revive, the forest regains its multidimensional roles: supporting the water cycle, conserving soil, protecting habitat and pollinators, providing food, medicine, and fiber, and giving people places to live, adventure, and worship.

The specific mechanics of restoration vary. The simplest scenario is to release land from non-forest use, such as growing crops or damming a valley, and let a young forest rise up on its own. Protective measures can keep pressures such as fire, erosion, or grazing at bay.

Other techniques are more intensive, such as cultivating and planting native seedlings and removing invasives to accelerate natural ecological processes. Because forests and people rarely exist in isolation in today’s heavily populated world, local communities need to have a stake in what is growing, if restoration is to sustain.  


[coverage] of the world’s landmasses: Seymour, Frances, and Jonah Busch. Why Forests? Why Now? Washington: Center for Global Development, 2014.

“largest forest area…highest carbon uptake”: Pan, Yude, Richard A. Birdsey, Jingyun Fang, Richard Houghton, Pekka E. Kauppi, Werner A. Kurz, Oliver L. Phillips et al. “A Large and Persistent Carbon Sink in the World’s Forests.” Science 333, no. 6045 (2011): 988-993.

[sequestration] of carbon dioxide per year: Pan et al, “Carbon Sink.”

equivalent to 11 percent of…emissions: Seymour and Busch, Forests.

Tropical forest loss…emissions: Busch, Jonah, and Jens Engelmann. “Tropical Forests Offer up to 24–30 Percent of Potential Climate Mitigation.” Center for Global Development. November 4, 2014.

percent of…forestland…cleared…degraded: Minnemeyer, Susan, Lars Laestadius, Nigel Sizer, Carole Saint-Laurent, and Peter Potapov. A World of Opportunity. Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration, 2011.

[sizing] “opportunities for restoration”: Minnemeyer et al, Opportunity.

“number of trunks…quality of the forest”: McKibben, Bill. “An Explosion of Green.” The Atlantic. April 1995.

[ability of] tropical forests [to] recover: Poorter, Lourens, Frans Bongers, T. Mitchell Aide, Angélica M. Almeyda Zambrano, Patricia Balvanera, Justin M. Becknell, Vanessa Boukili et al. “Biomass Resilience of Neotropical Secondary Forests.” Nature 530, no. 7589 (2016): 211-214.

forest landscape restoration: Laestadius, L., K. Buckingham, S. Maginnis, and C. Saint-Laurent. “Before Bonn and Beyond: The History and Future of Forest Landscape Restoration.” Unasylva 66, no. 245 (2015): 11-18.

“landscape as an integrated whole”: Lapstun, S. “Editorial.” Unasylva 66, no. 245 (2015): 2.

guiding principles for restoration: FAO. Forest Restoration and Rehabilitation. Module from the Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Toolbox. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

[potential impact of] Bonn Challenge…New York Declaration on Forests: Verdone, M., N. Olsen, P. Wylie, C. Saint Laurent, and M. Maginnis. Making the Case for Forest Landscape Restoration. White paper, initial working draft for future discussion. Post-Bonn Challenge 2.0 Ministerial Event, March 20–21, 2015. International Union for the Conservation of Nature; Laestadius et al, “Bonn.”

active forest restoration…[cost] per acre: Delgado, Christopher, Michael Wolosin, and Nigel Purvis. Restoring and Protecting Agricultural and Forest Landscapes and Increasing Agricultural Productivity. Working paper. London and Washington, D.C.: New Climate Economy, 2015.

estimates [of]…“net benefits…and carbon dioxide”: IUCN. “Bonn Challenge Approaches Target to Restore 150 million Hectares of Degraded Land.” International Union for the Conservation of Nature. September 4, 2016.

source of income…food security…energy…health…and safety: Seymour and Busch, Forests.

AFR100; Brazil: Pearce, Fred. “Paris COP 21—How ‘Landscape Carbon’ Can Be Part of a Solution on Climate.” Yale Environment 360. December 7, 2015.

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p. 116

Deletion: Only carbon stored in soil organic matter and aboveground biomass is accounted for; below-ground biomass is not included.

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