Forest restoration in Extrema, Brazil.
Extrema, Brazil Forest restoration in Extrema, Brazil. © Felipe Fittipaldi

Perspectives

The Reforestation Accelerator: A Powerful Tool for Driving Natural Climate Solutions

Led by TNC and World Resources Institute, this program’s goal is to catalyze reforestation of 150 million hectares by 2030.

Reforestation is a Powerful Natural Climate Solution

We are at a critical juncture for the future of the planet: We need to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century to keep global temperature increases under 2°C. While most efforts toward this goal have been focused on reducing fossil fuel use, new science shows that natural climate solutions can deliver up to 37 percent of the emission reductions needed by 2030. These natural climate solutions include improvements to the way people conserve, restore and manage forests, grasslands and wetlands. Reforestation is a powerful natural climate solutions pathway, with the potential to capture 8-10 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030 (the equivalent of removing up to 2.16 billion cars from our roads).

But this requires that we find a way to reforest 200-675 million hectares by 2030. This won't be easy. It requires a dramatic shift in how we think about reforestation—from a site-by-site "tree planting" focus to a focus on finding the levers that can quickly scale successful reforestation approaches while ensuring people benefit as well.

Graph showing need for reforestation as a way to mitigate climate change.
THE NEED FOR REFORESTATION and the hope it can provide for tackling climate change.

Most of the Reforestation Potential Requires Incentives for Land Use Change

A portion of the land identified in the Natural Climate Solutions study as available for reforestation is either naturally regenerating or available for assisted natural regeneration. Most of this land, however, is currently under some alternative economic use and will require some form of incentive to drive land use change. This is the primary challenge for large-scale reforestation.

Graph showing the need for incentives for reforestation.
INCENTIVES can drive reforestation as an attractive option for landowners.

The Reforestation Accelerator: Focusing on Incentives

The Reforestation Accelerator was launched in 2017 to develop and manage a portfolio of innovative projects designed to test and deploy levers that can catalyze 150 million hectares of sustainable and responsible reforestation by 2030. (That’s an area the combined size of Germany, Spain and France.) The core global Reforestation Accelerator program is led by The Nature Conservancy and the World Resources Institute and has been generously funded by Good Energies FoundationCOmON Foundation, and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. The individual projects have been directly supported by more than 100 donors and partners.

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Sustainable and responsible reforestation of 150 million hectares by 2030 would capture roughly two gigatons of carbon dioxide per year, or almost 10 percent of the maximum natural climate solutions mitigation potential. Where reforestation is driven by demand for sustainably supplied long-lived wood products, there could be substantial sequestration and substitution impacts outside of the forests. In addition to tackling climate change, reforestation improves water quality and quantity, air quality, and biodiversity, while providing powerful benefits for society.

The accelerator’s portfolio currently includes projects that seek to drive reforestation through:

  • Environmental Transactions - An efficient on-line global trading system could unleash massive pent-up demand for environmental services and carbon. 
    In Brazil, we are creating a prototype for a  system that will simultaneously increase transaction volume and decrease transaction costs through automation of all aspects of the environmental transaction process.
  • The Forest Economy - Increasing demand for sustainable forest products could simultaneously make forests more competitive with other land uses while sequestering and storing more carbon.
    We are currently supporting a robust body of research to determine if and how the accelerating growth in mass timber can be harnessed to deliver maximum climate mitigation impact. We have also launched the Europe Forest Economy Coalition, whose role will be to guide and mobilize policy action based on information from our research. Future work will include developing a framework for quantifying the impacts and creating regional and global supply plans for increased demand scenarios.
  • Ecological Fiscal Transfers - Central tax policies can incentivize reforestation by allocating a higher portion of funding to jurisdictions that increase their forest cover.
  • Impact Investment Funds - Regional investment funds that focus on reforestation opportunities can deliver triple-bottom-line returns.
    We are working with partners in Africa on an initiative known as the Africa Tree Fund, which is designed to scale up the most promising reforestation and forest conservation projects on the continent. More details will be announced shortly.
  • Innovation Incubation - Grant programs designed to provide seed capital to innovative ideas have potential to unlock landscape-scale deployment of natural climate solutions.
    Our United States Natural Climate Solutions Accelerator is now operating autonomously and on its third grant cycle.
  • Forest Sector Redesign – A coalition of experts can assist committed governments in planning a transition to a sustainable and modern forest economy.
    We are working with multiple national governments on transitioning to a sustainable and modern forest economy using a methodology that incorporates avoided deforestation, improved forest management, and responsible reforestation strategies.

The role of the Reforestation Accelerator is to develop and support these projects to the point where they become self-sustaining.

Planting of new reforestation areas in Extrema, Brazil
The Mantiqueira Restoration Project Planting of new reforestation areas in Extrema, Brazil © Felipe Fittipaldi

Future Reforestation Accelerator Projects

In the coming years, the Reforestation Accelerator will work to test and scale new projects around the globe that meet the following criteria:

  • Reforestation Impact: Directly or through replication result in large-scale reforestation.
  • Social Impact: Reforestation that also improves the quality of life of local communities. 
  • Feasibility: Enabling conditions to provide high probability of success.
  • Innovation: Different in form or substance from previous initiatives.
  • Reforestation Accelerator Value Added: Accelerator involvement is both critical and beneficial to the project.

Shifting the Way We Think about Reforestation 

None of this work will be easy. But when we can use policy, incentives, collaborations, and innovative financing, we can leverage the power of nature to tackle climate change.

Contact Us

For more information on the Reforestation Accelerator, contact Barry Ulrich, conservation finance specialist for The Nature Conservancy and interim director of the Reforestation Accelerator.