Over the last centuries, vast forest areas have been cleared as agriculture has spread and human populations have grown. Today around 30 percent of global forest cover has been completely cleared and a further 20 percent has been degraded. Breaking the spiral of loss and degradation and restoring these lands would bring untold benefits to people and the planet.

More than two billion hectares worldwide offer opportunities for restoration — an area larger than South America.

The Global Partnership for Forest Landscape Restoration recently estimated the world's extent of degraded land available for restoration. They discovered that restoration opportunities with the potential to make real improvements to human lives and environmental quality can be found everywhere but especially in tropical and temperate areas.

Key Findings for the Planet

  • One and a half billion hectares of degraded land offer opportunities for MOSAIC restoration, in which forests are combined with other land uses incorporating trees, including agroforestry, small-holder agriculture, and buffer plantings around settlements.
  • Up to about half a billion hectares of degraded land are suitable for WIDE-SCALE restoration, which would result in closed and continuous forests.
  • In addition to these two billion hectares, there are 200 million hectares of unpopulated lands, mainly in the far northern boreal forests, that have been degraded by fire. These REMOTE restoration areas would be difficult to restore actively but could regain health and function naturally without assistance.

Croplands and densely populated rural areas on former forest lands amount to a further one billion hectares. These lands do not offer extensive restoration opportunities in terms of total land area, but many would benefit from strategic tree plantings to protect and enhance agricultural productivity, watershed health, and other ecosystem functions.

How the Map Was Made

To serve the formation of the Bonn Challenge goal, IUCN commissioned a global analysis of restoration opportunity, undertaken with WRI and the University of Maryland. This analysis produced the World of Opportunity map, which found up to two billion hectares of degraded land that could offer opportunities for restoration.

We first mapped where forests and woodlands could grow according to climatic conditions — their potential extent without human influence. Dry areas such as the Sahel were not included because of their very low potential forest density, even though trees play an important role in them. Second, we mapped the current extent of forests and woodlands. Forest maps were derived from global 250m resolution satellite imagery. Third, we identified restoration opportunities by comparing the maps of potential and current forest extent in light of information about current land use. Intact forest landscapes and managed natural forests and woodlands were considered to have no need or potential for restoration. Fourth, we considered constraints on restoration by mapping human pressure as a combination of population density and land use. Restoration opportunities in remote, unpopulated areas were also identified.

Real limitations: a global map not suitable for national analysis

A global map is great for influencing international policy and decision-making. It's not great for national level planning. This large analysis used only globally consistent datasets at a 1-kilometer resolution — and was not designed to guide precisely where restoration should occur or to decide what interventions may be appropriate for a particular location. Areas of large opportunity on the global map just suggest places where a more refined analysis is warranted.

This global analysis must be complemented by national and sub-national assessments that consider local ecological conditions, engage local experts and stakeholders, use local definitions, and incorporate richer and higher-resolution data. To help with this, IUCN and the World Resources Institute developed a Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology (ROAM) that is now being deployed in nearly a dozen countries across the world.

For resources about the ROAM process and up-to-date information what countries are doing on forest landscape restoration (FLR), visit IUCN's new website, InfoFLR.org

What's my national opportunity?