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For sustainable reforestation, it is imperative to change the model and scale

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By Adrien Pages

· 4 min read

Two years ago, the UN initiated the Decade for Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). To embark on such a project, we must comprehend the immense complexity and vast diversity inherent in all of the planet's ecosystems. Forests, the primary carbon sink alongside oceans, serve as a prime example. They come in various forms—tropical, temperate, coniferous, humid, arid, mangrove, boreal, etc.—and are at the forefront of the climate emergency due to massive deforestation.

So, how do we approach reforestation? Surprisingly, 45% of new reforestation projects consist of single-species plantations (World Resources Institute). This approach involves replanting a single tree species, neglecting biodiversity, long-term carbon capture, and soil stabilization. It is high time to demand a more sustainable model.

Multiple consequences of overexploitation

Whether driven by industrial or agricultural needs, global deforestation carries dire consequences for biodiversity. In regions like South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia, which are most severely affected, 420 million hectares of forests vanished between 1990 and 2020 (FAO)—an area larger than the European Union.

Deforestation not only removes trees but also undermines the unique carbon-capturing ability of plants. Endemic species also face the brunt of deforestation's impact, along with animals and plants. Furthermore, the livelihoods of 1.2 billion people worldwide depend on forests. The rights and needs of indigenous communities residing in these coveted natural areas are under constant threat.

We must restore forests, not just plant trees

The key to effective and sustainable reforestation goes beyond simply "planting trees." It requires a profound understanding that a forest is more than just a collection of trees; it's a complex ecosystem shaped by its continent, soil characteristics, and local climate. We must restore entire ecosystems where wildlife and flora can thrive—a more intricate yet essential objective.

Sustainable reforestation demands a thorough environmental analysis and long-term ecosystem monitoring. Each reforestation site must undergo comprehensive scrutiny, considering specific land features, sediments, air quality, density, and more. To plant efficiently and ensure long-term growth, selecting the appropriate species based on the available nutrients is crucial.

Furthermore, effective carbon storage and combating global warming rely on a healthy ecosystem. Planting trees is just the beginning. It necessitates ongoing monitoring and potential adjustments over several years to ensure growth and mitigate risks. The forest must achieve equilibrium, allowing the revival of the plant and animal biodiversity that once thrived. This benefits not only fauna, flora, and humans but also improves soil, air, and water quality.

Lastly, forests should directly benefit local communities by creating jobs, forming partnerships, and enhancing the social conditions of the populace.

Technology augmenting local ecosystems

This decade offers the opportunity to swiftly regenerate native forests by restoring as many ecosystems as possible. To meet the climate targets set by France, Europe, and the world for 2030, 35% of carbon elimination potential should come from forests, according to the IPCC. The UN aims to reforest 80 million hectares per year, while the current rate is only 8 million hectares. An expedited reforestation process is imperative!

To achieve a tenfold increase in efficiency, our current reforestation methods must evolve. New technologies provide the means to support commendable reforestation initiatives worldwide.

Consider aerial visualization technologies, such as satellites or drones. In analyzing areas earmarked for reforestation, especially steep and hard-to-reach terrain, these technologies outperform ground assessments. They facilitate the reforestation of much larger areas without on-site damage. Aerial methods also replace manual and time-consuming ground planting with calculated and far-swifter drone dispersal.

When coupled with artificial intelligence and image recognition, aerial ecosystem observation becomes vastly more effective. Seed selection for replanting becomes more precise and safer. The quality and sustainability of reforestation are significantly improved.

In the realms of analysis, selection, planting, and monitoring, technology can help close the gap and expedite reforestation efforts. It paves the way for a near-term reversal of trends and the restoration of endangered forest ecosystems, benefiting wildlife, flora, and humanity.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Adrien Pages is co-founder and CEO of MORFO, a company that has developed a unique technology for large-scale ecological restoration of forest ecosystems.

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