Towards solutions for landscape restoration finance at scale: raising ambitions for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

by | July 7, 2021 | Finance and Economics

Rainforest Alliance and EcoAgriculture Partners hosted a high-level panel for the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The event was organized by the 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People initiative, which is committed to working with the UN Decade to develop and implement landscape finance strategies for restoration at scale by 2030. The purpose of the event was to explore these landscape-scale finance strategies to achieve the 2030 goals.

The virtual session featured a distinguished list of speakers from Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the United States, addressing the scientific rationale for restoration; strategies for scaling restoration finance through regenerative economic development; holistic risk management to facilitate investment; emerging landscape finance innovations; and government support for landscape finance. The panelists made a Call for Actions to advance the landscape finance for the restoration agenda.  For more information on the event, you can access the agenda and information about the panelists, the event recording, and the notes from the chat.

The Role of Finance in the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

“The UN Decade is a rallying cry for us all that urgent action is needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. These ambitious targets for people and nature everywhere and for everyone will not be met unless ecosystem degradation is stopped, and restoration is undertaken at the scale of 100’s of millions of hectares globally. Landscape partnerships are critical to achieving this by working together for a shared vision of a sustainable future, managing risk, and increasing returns on investments”, explained Emma Harbour, Director of Global Advocacy of Rainforest Alliance, moderator for the event.

Ana Maria Hernandez Salgar, Advisory Board Member of the UN Decade and Chair of IPBES (Inter-Governmental Science-Policy Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), highlighted the role of science in ecosystem restoration and the costs of inaction. She emphasized that “the need for investments in ecosystem restoration has been proven by scientific evidence on nature’s contributions to human well-being. Biodiversity and natural processes are essential to the future of humanity. However, there is a mismatch in current investment logic and time-frames needed for natural regeneration that can be decades or centuries”. She concluded that landscape partnerships and multi-stakeholder collaboration are the way forward to be effective agents of change. Financing restoration must be seen as an investment and not a cost for society, given that benefits far exceed the investment costs, also validated by IPBES analysis showing there is a ten-to-one return when investing in restoration.

Sara Scherr, President and CEO of EcoAgriculture Partners opened her remarks by saying that “To be successful in regenerating ecosystems, we need to regenerate our economy from degrading to restorative investments. The landscape is the scale at which these connect across multiple benefits for socio-economic, cultural, and environmental returns. Restoration means thinking beyond field projects for reforestation or soil restoration towards sustainable place-based economic development for whole landscapes”. She considers that the UN Decade offers an opportunity to integrate these agendas with three interrelated strategies: i) promote businesses and project models across all sectors that benefit ecosystem restoration, as building blocks for green growth ii) promote sustainable development planning through a landscape lens, with spatially coordinated investments across sectors that sustain whole ecosystems; and iii) promote innovations in the finance system that will shift funding flows to the public, private and community investments that advance restoration. Landscape partnerships are the vehicle to aggregate spatially coordinated investments through an action plan to develop landscape portfolios of investable projects to achieve their local and our global restoration goals.

Mao Amis, Founder and Impact Investment Lead of the African Centre for a Green Economy (AfriCGE), commented on opportunities and obstacles to developing the business cases and financing for green growth. He noted that “working on the ground in local communities, there is a challenge for building nature-based solutions, as it is difficult to assign value to public goods generated. On the other hand, investors are looking for a robust business case in landscapes with quantified benefits for economics, social and environmental value. But he argued that there is already rich experience and learnings from smaller interventions. These can be scaled and coordinated at a landscape level to bring about the level of changes required for ecosystem restoration, manage competing demands and support the communities most at risk, particularly women, in the local context. He closed by sharing an example on developing work mapping just transition pathways in Uganda.

Daniel Zimmer, Director of Sustainable Land Use, EIT-Climate KIC, focused on the need to analyze and manage risk holistically to support the scaling of finance. This requires moving away from sectorial and siloed approaches, and that practitioners can clearly demonstrate the added-value of integrated approaches–that benefits are greater than the sum of the parts. He highlighted the need for systemic analysis to understand financial and non-financial risks and support landscape-scale intervention to ensure that risk is managed across stakeholder groups given the interdependent relationships within landscapes. He provided examples of developing work in Africa that connects parametric insurance and guarantee mechanisms for smallholder farmers with contractual arrangements with off-takers and input providers, to secure and catalyze resource mobilization across the entire supply chain system.

Ulrich Apel, Senior Environmental Specialist, Global Environment Facility (GEF), highlighted the lessons learned from a decade of experience from GEF programming and work with executing agencies. He stressed the need for countries to take ownership of integrated landscape management initiatives with a long-term view. Governments and policymakers need to ensure the enabling fundamentals of governance are in places, such as tenure security and gender inclusion, and that financial arrangements reflect socio-cultural realities. The GEF is integrating these lessons into their next funding cycle and is experimenting with financial and de-risking mechanisms to support these outcomes at the landscape scale.

Call from the 1000 Landscapes initiative to the UN Decade for Finance Action

Significant funding flows are emerging for climate action, biodiversity conservation, post-covid recovery, and sustainable development. There is a risk that if not set up correctly, these funds will go back to the same ways of siloed spending, with conflicts instead of synergies across landscapes and ignoring the priorities of local people. A key way to integrate these funding flows to achieve multiple benefits is through coherent action plans organized by Landscape Partnerships, translating their multi-stakeholder action plans to spatially coordinated portfolios of investable projects. The opportunity is not to raise funds narrowly for ecosystem restoration, but rather to embed these actions in investments for a new regenerative economy.

The diverse panel and the members of the 1000 Landscapes Finance Solutions team offered six specific and actionable recommendations for scaling landscape finance for restoration, that the UN Decade can support:

  1. Policymakers: Pursue comprehensive strategies for regenerative development that advance i) businesses and projects that incorporate restoration, ii) landscape-wide investment portfolios that deliver restoration at scale, and iii) financial instruments that support landscape investments.
  2. National Governments: Create an enabling framework for the different ministries to coordinate at a landscape level and build landscape ministries to address the multiple competing land-use interests and benefits. Embrace the restoration investment agenda, connecting field projects and business with private sector capital as well as public funding, supporting projects with technical assistance facilities, promoting an inclusive approach, job creation and building capacity for landscape finance across all stakeholders.
  3. Landscape Partnerships: Analyze financial resources and flows within the landscape, as a central aspect of planning and strategy, and include financial actors committed to sustainability within your multi-stakeholder partnerships from the beginning, to co-develop the vision for the future of the landscape, and develop a practical, fundable Action Plan.
  4. Financial Analysts: Strengthen the evidence on synergies among landscape investments,  design instruments for landscape-scale investment; evaluate investment potential for financial actors:
  5. Financial Actors: Build a finance market infrastructure that supports regenerative local economies and investment, including taxonomy, monitoring, and standardization of products, drawing on lessons from the renewable energy transition. Develop interconnected risk instruments, insurance and financial mechanisms across supply chains and unlock access to finance for smallholders and SMEs.
  6. All Decision-makers:  Use data-based tools, science and local knowledge to achieve restoration goals; link knowledge sharing, technical and financial mechanisms together.
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