2,990 days until 2030

Ending the climate crisis means creating a society that is going in the right direction at the right speed by 2030, a rate of change that will lead to zero net emissions before 2050. That means halving emissions by 2030 and then halving again by 2040. Regeneration starts now.

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Regeneration means putting life at the center of every action and decision. It’s an inclusive and effective strategy to end the climate crisis in one generation.

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Yarra Yarra Biodiversity Corridor in Western Australia

The Yarra Yarra Biodiversity Corridor Project in Western Australia aims to link existing nature reserves by restoring land to create a 200-kilometer corridor. Since 2008, more than 30 million trees and shrubs indigenous to the region have been planted on 14,000 hectares. Over 90 percent of the restored area was cleared in the 1900s and is no longer suitable for traditional agriculture. Pictured above is restoration in progress from one of their earliest plantings. With active management, shrubs and grasses will gradually return to join the overstory trees. Techniques to encourage concurrent seedling and understory growth are being implemented in newer sites, including more dense and close row spacing, curved and contoured row alignment, and full-time removal of sheep.

Credit: Russell Ord

Degraded Land Restoration

Call to action:

Approximately 25 percent of all land on earth exists in a degraded condition. Restoring it to health will sequester large amounts of atmospheric carbon in the soil, feed millions of people, improve wildlife habitat, and make water more abundant.

The United Nations has declared 2021–2030 the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. The UN notes that between now and 2030 the restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded ecosystems could remove 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. A variety of land restoration methods can be implemented by individuals, groups, agencies, and communities, and many of the practices originate in the knowledge of Indigenous peoples. Restoring degraded land is pivotal to ending the climate crisis. Here is a summary of opportunities.

Action Items

Individuals

Learn how land becomes degraded and which practices restore itSources of land degradation, particularly soil erosion, include deforestation and clear-cutting, application of agricultural chemicals, monocropped industrial agriculture, land clearing, mining, overgrazing by livestock, damage from recreation, invasive and noxious species, extended drought, and extreme weather events. Degraded land can damage ecosystem services, which are the essential services that nature provides to humans, such as nutritious food, clean water, pollination of crops, pollution removal, carbon sequestration, and recreational, cultural, and spiritual benefits. Practices that restore degraded land include:

  • Planting trees as part of agroforestry enterprises can stabilize eroding fields and streambanks. So can encouraging native vegetation to regrow, as farmers are doing in Niger.
  • Regenerative agriculture builds soil carbon stocks and can stop erosion. Gabe Brown restored his farm in North Dakota by switching to regenerative agriculture. A summary of the benefits of regenerative agriculture is here.
  • Riparian and stream restoration strategies can restore damaged water cycles on land. Here is a presentation by New Mexico–based riparian restoration specialist Bill Zeedyk on “letting the water do the work.” Here is the first in a series of videos on stream restoration, produced by Oklahoma State University.
  • Reforestation and forest protection heal damaged land and slow erosion. South Korea has successfully implemented a multidecade strategy of reforestation across the peninsula to reverse erosion. Here is a list of reforestation projects around the world. Forest protection has many benefits, including its role in drawing down atmospheric carbon dioxide.
  • Wetland restoration provides multiple ecological benefits, including improved water quality and wildlife habitat. Here is a list of principles that can guide wetland restoration projects.
  • Rehabilitation of degraded patches of land, such as former mines, can reduce sources of soil erosion and sediment transport downstream.

Find a volunteer opportunity on a local restoration project. Many conservation groups in the U.S. have ongoing restoration projects, such as the Katy Prairie Conservancy in Texas;, the Borderlands Restoration Network in southern Arizona, which has a focus on wild pollinator habitat; and the Clark Fork Coalition in Montana. Native plant societies have volunteer projects, such as the Point Lobos Patrol crew in California and the Native Plant Trust in New England. Here is a sample of international projects:

Join an Ecosystem Restoration Camp. This international organization was cofounded by John Liu and Ashleigh Brown. It has forty camps in twenty-eight countries, where individuals and local residents work together on innovative restoration projects, including rehabilitating degraded forest, restoring wetlands, and participating in regenerative agriculture.

Get trained and/or earn an education certificate in restoration. There are opportunities to deepen your knowledge about restoration. Programs include:

Support restoration projects on public lands. Federal agencies, such as the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in the U.S., need to hear from citizens about the necessity of restoration activity. You can contact the agency directly or work through a conservation organization such as the Nature Conservancy or the Sierra Club.

Purchase onsets that support restoration projects. Onsets are carbon credits that create a net reduction in greenhouse gases. Organizations, such as Gold Standard and the Carbon Fund, provide verified onsets via their financial support of projects that improve carbon levels in the soil through regenerative agriculture and reforestation. Examples include:

Speak up. Write an op-ed to a newspaper or social media site advocating restoration work as a climate change solution. Consider writing longer pieces for online sites such as Medium, like this one about ecological restoration. Join a protest or campaigns, such as these focused on the destruction of the Amazon:

Join a social media site run by an advocate for land protection and restoration. A sampling of social media sites:

Join a restoration network. Scientists, activists, landowners, and others can join networks such as Restor, which serve as hubs for efforts around the world, connecting practitioners with research data, funding, and contacts. There are Facebook group sites, such as this one for Texas Society for Ecological Restoration. There are Twitter sites for students and professionals and amateur restorationists.

Groups

Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Landowners

Adopt regenerative agriculture practices that restore depleted stocks of soil carbon, a key to reversing land degradation. Primers on regenerative agriculture include Gabe Brown’s book Dirt to Soil and his workshop Treating the Farm as an Ecosystem; Mark Shepard’s book Restoration Agriculture about growing perennial food crops, and its companion Water for Any Farm. The USDA provides a list of publications and resources on soil health. There are also scientific papers (such as this one) and research journals that can help farmers and ranchers decide on appropriate practices. Here is resource library managed by the U.S. Forest Service for forest projects. Components of regenerative agriculture include:

Join a collaborative restoration effort or a watershed group that is doing restoration work. There are regional, multistakeholder groups in the U.S. that include or feature agricultural producers in restoration activities, such as the Western Landowners Alliance, Sustainable Northwest, the Quivira Coalition, the Sage Grouse Initiative, and Rural Voice for Conservation Coalition. There are localized groups, including the Salmon Falls watershed collaborative in New Hampshire and the Blackfoot Challenge in Montana.

Implement creek and riparian area restoration, which are critical to healthy lands. Let the Water Do the Work by riparian specialist Bill Zeedyk is a manual on how to harness the regenerative power of moving water to reshape stream banks and rebuild floodplains. A multiyear wet-meadow restoration project in the Gunnison Valley of western Colorado featuring Zeedyk’s work has successfully “rewetted” many acres of wildlife habitat. Here’s an online guide to riparian restoration planning.

Consult with land restoration experts. The Rodale Institute, a leader in organic and regenerative farming in the U.S., has a consulting guide for landowners. The Savory Network links progressive ranchers around the world. There are many individual consultants that work with landowners to improve their land and/or teach workshops and seminars, such as the Soil Health Academy, the Land Stewardship Project, and Rhizoterra. The Society for Ecological Restoration has a Directory where you can find local experts and companies that specialize in restoration.

Work with marketing, research, and entrepreneurial businesses that promote regenerative practices. Companies like Indigo Ag are establishing business models for farmers and ranchers that decommodify agriculture with smart technology. The Rodale Institute has developed a certification for an organic regenerative standard that is used by companies. Commonland works with landowners in South Africa, Australia, Spain, and the Netherlands employing social, natural, and financial capital. Here is a research article that estimates the size and impact of the restoration economy.

Remove exotic and invasive trees and vegetation and replace them with native species. Invasive species are a global problem and contribute to land degradation as well as insect and bird species decline. Solutions include fitting the correct native species to the soil type and vegetation class appropriate to local conditions. In arid lands, consider planting willows and cottonwoods or other drought-tolerant species.

Companies

Use onsets to achieve carbon emission reduction goals focused on credible land restoration projects that improve soil carbon. There are many land restoration projects worthy of support, such as community forestry work in Timor and reforestation in Nicaragua (see list under Individuals action)

Support regenerative agricultural practices that reverse land degradation as part of the supply chain. Some food corporations such as General Mills and Danone are beginning to embrace regenerative agriculture. Stay in touch to be sure the companies are implementing complete and authentic regenerative practices. A coalition of companies, including Mars and Nestlé, have formed the One Planet Business for Biodiversity (OP2B) coalition to improve global biodiversity with agriculture. Other businesses that focus on soil carbon and regenerative agriculture include:

Assist in the development of carbon markets that support regenerative agricultural practices. Trading carbon credits to reduce greenhouse emissions was embedded in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Companies are either becoming directly involved in fostering markets for carbon credits or considering how to get involved. Here are examples of international efforts:

Include natural capital and ecosystems services in business plans. An economic case for land restoration can be made based on the value of nature and the ecosystems service it provide, such as clean water. For example, a study in the Thukela basin of South Africa concluded that the benefits of land restoration outweighed the costs. Researchers found that restoring large areas of grassland by removing invasive plants, addressing soil erosion by replanting trees, and other practices would improve the basin’s ability to store carbon, lead to higher stocks of wild foods and medicines, and create more productive rangelands.

  • Ceres, a nonprofit that works with the business community, provides an investors’ guide to Deforestation and Climate Change.

Support conservation projects through private capital. Financial partnerships between investors, nonprofits, private companies, and the public sector can help meet climate challenges faced by vulnerable communities. Blue Forest’s Forest Resilience Bond supports the Yuba reforestation project in Northern California. Another example is Terraformation, which provides private capital for restoration projects.

Partner with conservation organizations to implement natural climate solutions. Apple is partnering with Conservation International to protect and restore the 27,000-acre mangrove forest in Cispatá Bay, Colombia, which is expected to sequester one million metric tons of CO2 over its lifetime. Unilever is creating a $1 billion Climate and Nature Fund to support landscape restoration, reforestation, and carbon sequestration.

Governance

Pass healthy soil initiatives and other legislation that supports restoration and regeneration. State legislatures that have passed initiatives to improve soil health include California, Vermont, Illinois, Nebraska, and New Mexico. These bills can be the foundation for restoring degraded land. At the federal level, ask members of Congress to support bills such as H.R. 8057, the Healthy Soil and Resilient Farmer Act of 2020 and S. 1356, the Healthy Soil and Healthy Climate Act of 2021.

  • In the UK, the government has introduced a law to sanction companies that are linked to rainforest destruction and degradation.

Finance restoration projects. Governments can directly finance or other otherwise financially support land restoration projects, such as China’s large-scale work on the Loess Plateau and the multination Regreening Africa. In nations with public lands, government agencies can take the lead on restoration projects, such as the implementation of prescribed fires in U.S. national forests, and wetlands restoration in national parks.

Adopt land restoration policies and objectives. Government agencies usually require policies to be enacted before they undertake projects. For example, the U.S. Forest Service conducts restoration work on its land under an Ecosystem Restoration Policy issued in 2016. Write to your representative and ask them to support restoration policies.

Protect land from further degradation. Nations have administrative tools or legislative processes that can permanently protect land from degradation, including the creation of national parks and monuments, wilderness designation, and conservation reserves. In the U.S., threatened land can be purchased by the government through a fund that received a boost with the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, signed into law in 2020. Citizens can apply pressure for further action.

Enter into partnerships with universities, NGOs, landowners, and private businesses, to facilitate restoration work. Multistakeholder alliances are often enhanced with governmental partnerships, such as has happened in Canada. These partnerships often are the result of public pressure campaigns.

Respect traditional knowledge and implement traditional practices on public lands. Indigenous experience with fire management has influenced policy and practices on U.S. Forest Service lands. It can influence private conservation efforts as well, such as native plant restoration projects. Pressure from citizens and tribal members will encourage more policy changes.

Bad Actors

Land degradation involves the actions of many types of players, from individuals to governments to multinational corporations. Some of the largest players are companies that profit from widescale destruction and conversion of natural habitats, such as the ongoing deforestation of the Amazon, abetted by the Brazilian government. A partial list of companies that directly or indirectly profit from the Amazon’s deforestation include:

JBS S.A., a Brazilian meatpacking corporation that is the world’s largest supplier of beef, much of it raised on pastureland converted from tropical forests. It has been accused of abetting deforestation and violating forest protection laws. Pressure against JBS is working. In 2021, it made a commitment to produce ‘deforestation-free’ beef, though they have repeatedly broken their promises. The CEO is Gilberto Tomazoni. His email: gilberto.tomazoni@jbs.com.br. His phone: 55 11 3144-7801

Cargill, a family-owned agribusiness behemoth at the center of the global industrial production of soy, corn and other commodities and implicated in a wide variety land degrading, health-damaging, and climate altering activities. The CEO of Cargill is David MacLennan. His email: david_maclennan@cargill.com. Phone: (952) 742-4507

Marfrig, a Brazilian company, is the second largest beef producer in the world (after JBS) and directly linked to deforestation and land degradation in South America. The CEO of Marfrig is Marcos Molina. His email: marcos@marfrig.com.br. His phone: +55 11 3792-8600

ADM and Bunge, two major food commodities traders and suppliers, are failing to protect land from degradation in their supply chains. The ADM CEO is Juan Luciano. His email: juan.luciano@adm.com His Phone: (312) 634-8100 (HQ). The CEO of Bunge is Greg Heckman. His email: gregory.heckman@bunge.com. His phone: (314) 292-2000 (HQ).

BlackRock, one of the largest financial firms in the world, has supported many companies that are actively involved in forest destruction and land degradation. BlackRock’s CEO is Larry Fink. His email: laurence.fink@blackrock.com. His phone: 212-810-5300.

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