Restoring the loss of forests is fundamental for mitigating climate change and conserving biodiversity. The European Research Council has given Dr Johan Oldekop a €2 million grant to explore sustainable forest transitions.
SDG 15 seeks to maintain, restore, and promote the long-term use of ecosystems and biodiversity. The Bonn Challenge focuses on restoring 350 million hectares of forests globally by 2030 — an area larger than India – amid increased research on natural climate solutions such as tree planting programmes surrounding the UN climate deliberations.
While experts have focused on deforestation, we know very little about the factors that drive the opposite phenomena – regeneration – and its socioeconomic repercussions. This misunderstanding poses a substantial danger of compromising environmentally sustainable and socially equitable forest restoration operations.
The REFOREST research project, coordinated by Dr Oldekop, will explore the environmental and social consequences of reforestation operations over the next five years. The project will examine high-resolution public social and environmental statistics at an unprecedented scale across Mexico, Brazil, India, and Nepal, all of which have globally significant forest cover. The data will be utilised to create key performance indicators, data visualisations, and a spatial mapping tool to aid in the planning and assessment of forest restoration activities.
Dr Oldekop’s world-leading studies on forests and livelihoods, as well as his internationally recognized collaborations, serve as the foundation for the REFOREST initiative. Prior studies in Nepal published in Nature Sustainability have shown that community forest management decreases both deforestation and poverty, while Nature Plants released work evaluating the major trends that will affect forests over the next decades.
Dr Oldekop will be in charge of a team of two postdoctoral research assistants and three PhD students. The team will engage with four local partners and a global advisory committee.
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