By Jennifer Mcnulty
Tropical reforestation is an important part of the global effort to mitigate climate change, but ecologist Karen Holl says current international goals may be overly ambitious.
“The science and practice of restoration are often quite separate, says Holl, an expert in tropical forest restoration. “Scientific research takes place at a small scale, and we’ve rarely tried to integrate results on the broad scale people are talking about. There’s a mismatch between these really big goals and what’s being done on the ground.”
For decades, tropical forests around the world have been cleared to make way for agricultural and wood products, leaving a wake of environmental devastation behind. Tropical deforestation is a significant contributor to climate change, generating 12-15 percent of global carbon emissions.
To turn that around, the international environmental community has embraced ambitious forest restoration goals: Thirty countries have signed on to restore areas equivalent to the size of Venezuela by 2020; participants at the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit set a global target of nearly four times that by 2030.
Given the current scale of scientific research, those goals may be unattainable, warns Holl, who advises nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and policy makers around the world and recently authored a “Perspectives” column in Science magazine on this topic.
Most scientific studies are done on relatively small plots—typically a few acres—and results are literally rooted in local conditions, making them difficult to scale up to anywhere near the scope of international agreements.
Restoring vast amounts of forest will require major shifts in planning and science, says Holl.