Let’s Help Save the Global Climate by Restoring Local Land

As part of its presidency of the UN Climate Conference (COP26), the UK launched a “Nature Campaign” to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss. Nature based solutions (NbS) can make land use more sustainable and slow climate change – but only if they work locally. An opinion piece by Dr. Gerrit Hansen, former program director in the field of climate change at the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

Dr. Gerrit Hansen | November 2021
Fresh plants growing on fertile soil
Peter Irungu

The COP26 in Glasgow is placing a heavy emphasis on looking after and planting trees – they are an equal part of the priorities “coal, cars, cash and trees” touted by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson a few weeks ago. He is pushing for world leaders to pledge an end to deforestation by 2030 – and for big producers and consumers of commodities like soya or palm oil to end land clearances. But he should be aware that there has been no lack of international initiatives to protect or restore ecosystems – and that they can easily fail.

The New York Declaration on Forests has not delivered, while the Great Green Wall and the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) are over-pledged but under-implemented. NbS have led to conflict with communities over land and some countries to think planting trees absolves them from decarbonizing their economies. But as our climate goals require the availability of natural carbon sinks, it’s lucky there are NbS that look after human rights and local livelihoods – and build resilience, store carbon, protect biodiversity.

More on the topic

The Robert Bosch Stiftung promotes a regenerative world, in which life and livelihoods are sustained by a just transition of land use – in keeping with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

Successful NbS empower locals – in grassroots groups, villages, towns, sub-national administrations – to design and participate in land restoration. For example, the Global Landscapes Forum is the largest knowledge-led platform on sustainable landscapes. It is building a global community of practitioners (GLFx), whose local chapters bring stake-holders together, online or offline. They mobilize the local community and coordinate projects – growing trees and hedges, or restoring watersheds and grasslands, or both.  

The Robert Bosch Stiftung gave GLFx chapters in the greater Sahel region seed funding, enabling local activities and targeted capacity building – meeting GLFx representatives at GLF’s Forest Food Finance Conference in Glasgow was a highlight. We’re also excited to team up with the World Resources Institute to put national AFR100 pledges into inclusive and decisive action on the ground. AFR100 initially sought to restore 100 million hectares of Africa by 2030. But since COP21 in Paris, 32 countries have pledged to restore 128 million.

WRI will use subnational platforms to integrate local stakeholders and marginalized groups – including women and youths – to help design and identify best policies – and bring local successes to scale (and other AFR100 regions). This shows NbS can be crucial not only for tackling the climate crisis. They can make livelihoods sustainable, improve health and biodiversity, strengthen climate resilience and reduce inequalities. After meeting so many enthusiastic practitioners from around the world in Glasgow, I am sure this can be done.