Researchers Identify Restoration Hotspots to Boost Climate and Environment

Scientists have identified over 100 million hectares of lost lowland tropical rain forests that are spread out across Southeast Asia, Africa, and South and Central America. These observations have been reported in a peer-reviewed report released recently.


Considered as restoration hotspots, the tropical rain forests present the most convincing restoration opportunities to address water pollution and shortages, rising global temperatures, and the extinction of animal and plant life.

The largest accumulated area of restoration hotspots is located in Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, and Madagascar. Six African countries, such as Uganda, Rwanda, Togo, Burundi, Madagascar, and South Sudan, are home to the regions that present the best restoration opportunities on average.

Restoring tropical forests is fundamental to the planet’s health, now and for generations to come. For the first time, our study helps governments, investors and others seeking to restore global tropical moist forests to determine precise locations where restoring forests is most viable, enduring and beneficial. Restoring forests is a must do—and it’s doable.

Pedro Brancalion, Study Lead Author, University of São Paulo, Brazil

Twelve authors contributed to the study titled “Global restoration opportunities in tropical rainforest landscapes, and recently published in the journal, Science Advances.”

The authors utilized the latest peer-reviewed research and high-resolution satellite imagery on four forest benefits, that is, water security, biodiversity, climate change adaptation, and climate change mitigation, and three aspects of restoration effort such as investment risk, cost, and the possibility of restored forests surviving in the coming days. This was done to evaluate and “score” all tropical areas in the world, located in 1 km square blocks and which, in turn, retained <90% of their forest cover.

Restoration hotspots are referred to as those kinds of lands that scored in the top 10%. That means it would be extremely beneficial and also the least risky and costly to restore those lands.

  • Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, and Madagascar are the five countries with the largest restoration hotspot by area.
  • The top 15 countries with the largest restoration hotspots were discovered across all the tropical forest zones, or biomes — seven in Australasia and Indo-Malaysia, five in the Afrotropics, and three in the Neotropics.
  • The six African countries with the highest mean score were Uganda, Rwanda, Togo, Burundi, Madagascar, and South Sudan. “We were surprised to find such a concentration of highly ranked countries in a single continent,” stated co-author Robin Chazdon. “The study really highlights the high potential for successful rainforest restoration outcomes in these African countries.”
  • Almost 87% of the restoration hotspots were discovered within biodiversity conservation hotspots — regions holding high concentrations of species that cannot be found anywhere else, yet are at increased risk for deforestation.
  • Among the restoration hotspots, 73% were found in countries that have made commitments for restoration as part of the Bonn Challenge — a universal effort to bring 350 million hectares of the world’s degraded and deforested land into restoration by 2030, and 150 million hectares by 2020. “It’s encouraging that so many hotspots are located in countries where restoring forests and landscapes is already a priority,” stated Brancalion.

In a majority of cases, restoration hotspots overlap with pastures and fields that are being used by farmers. Consequently, the study demonstrates that forest restoration is the most viable on low-value lands meant for agricultural production.

On the other hand, the scientists argue that restoration efforts can be combined with income-generating kinds of production through — for instance — harvesting forest-based products like rattan, enriching pastures with trees, and growing cocoa or coffee beneath a forest canopy.

Local communities should be fully engaged if any decisions are made about changing the land use because restoration should complement and not compete with land rights and food security. These hotspots, in other cases, include government lands or degraded and abandoned farmlands.

Restoration involves far more than simply planting trees. It starts with the need for mutually beneficial agreements with those currently using the land and doesn’t end until forests host the rich diversity of plant and animal life that make them so awe-inspiring and valuable. But, fortunately, studies show it doesn’t take long for the benefits of new forests to kick-in.

Robin Chazdon, Study Co-Author, University of Connecticut

Consensus is evolving that forest restoration, along with the preservation of natural and old-growth forests, is among the most readily available and economical solutions to present climate and environment problems.

The previous year, 40 scientists signed a statement that laid out the “five often overlooked reasons why limiting global warming requires protecting and sustainably managing the forests we have, and restoring the forests we’ve lost.” The researchers emphasized that the world should concentrate on rapidly reducing the use of fossil fuels and stopping deforestation, and look for means to boost carbon sinks.

The researchers also cautioned that while ramping up restoration can help in meeting climate goals, it cannot supersede the urgent requirement to cut down emissions.

While certain countries, India and China, in particular, have already implemented large-scale tree-planting efforts with some amount of success, such efforts are receiving mixed reviews with respect to the quality of plantation cover and its value for preserving native species.

In certain cases, countries are implementing monoculture tree plantations — that is, a single species of tree planted repeatedly — to fulfill restoration commitments. However, experts caution that instead of planting monoculture plantations, focus should be given to protecting and restoring natural forests to meet various co-benefits of restoration, including climate.

Pledges and agreements like the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration on Forests show that there is will to restore and protect forests. With the tools we have developed, countries, companies and other actors who have pledged to restore forests have the precise information they need to roll up their sleeves and dive into the difficult work of bringing our forests back. There are no shortcuts when it comes to forest restoration, but there is low-hanging fruit that we need to seize now, before it’s too late.

Pedro Brancalion, Study Lead Author, University of São Paulo, Brazil


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