COP27 | COP26

AREST Partnership at COP27

COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh from 11-16 November 2022. ATREE had organised four events this year at the Food Systems and India pavilions. Discussions on helping farmers build soil organic carbon, tree-based food systems, and the importance of Open Natural Ecosystems. We had also discussed the handbook we put together that details socially and ecologically responsible restoration practices.

ATREE’s Alliance for Reversing Ecosystem Service Threats (AREST) team is very proud to be showcasing our work at the esteemed second COP summit in the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030).

Event 1:
Creating win-wins on soil? Rewarding smallholder farmers for building soil organic carbon | Food Systems Pavilion | 11th November 2022

Brief description
COP26, the United Nations climate change conference last year, emphasized the urgency to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, both via emission reductions and the sequestration of atmospheric CO2, while ensuring a just transition to a low carbon economy.

These calls, however, have resulted in a massive push toward tree planting. But the potential of soils to store carbon, has hitherto not received as much attention as tree planting. Indeed, the earth’s soils contain about 2,500 gigatons of carbon, more than three times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and four times the amount stored in all vegetation.

Soil carbon markets, however, have had difficulties even in advanced economies with very large farm sizes (>1000 ha) because anyone wanting to avail of the carbon credits has to use an approved methodology to demonstrate the carbon sequestered. While smallholder farmers would benefit greatly from being able to avail of carbon credits for shifting to regenerative practices and managing their land better, the question of whether, in practice, any of these funds will ever reach them remains to be seen.

The panelists will discuss successful approaches by which smallholder farmers have been successfully rewarded for boosting soil organic carbon. How can such efforts be scaled? What are the institutional architectures needed to overcome the transaction cost problem while protecting smallholders interests?

Key Points discussed:
Leigh spoke on ecosystem services, nutritious food and the need to find ways to stop degradation and reversing it. This would need partnerships. R&D can bridge the gap between science and implementation. She elaborated the need for evidence based solutions to scale restoration on farms. Storing carbon in soil is very important as most things land up there after their life cycle.

Bharat spoke on the need for food security for farmers. He elaborated on how BAIF has carried out work in empowering small farmers. Their integrated approach of management of soil, land, and food security will help in the long run getting sustainable production and income . Partnerships are the key. Civil society , Research orgs and government play important roles for a shared future.

Berry spoke on how Finance, Livelihood, Technical systems ,access to market, digital aids, health etc are central to smallholding farmers. Integrating on ground data with tech and monitoring growth will make way to issue carbon units . Farmers will take care of trees when they know they will get money for that . Risk assessment is very integral and evolving . We account for risks. They work to reduce risk of the system.

Anuj spoke on how local knowledge of people helps to preserve ecosystems. We need to find a way to empower them. Technology can help in this. The technology developed by them uses satellite data to measure physical indicators. We need to find ways to pay small farmers for sequestering carbon on their land and in the soil.

Overall , as the panelists represented Research, Implementation , Financing and Technology- 4 important pillars of restoration - there was a consensus on how all of them needed to come together to strengthen work on soils and protect it.

Speakers: Leigh Winowiecki (ICRAF), Berry Marttin (Robo Bank), Bharat Kakade (BAIF), Sandeep Hanchanale (ATREE), Anuj Sharma (ALSISAR Impact & Earth Analytics India)

Event 2:
Tree-Based Food System Transformation for Improving Lives and The Environment | India pavilion | 11th November 2022

Dr Abi Vanak spoke about ATREE’s role in the Trees Outside Forest consortium. It is to implement the principle of Right Place, Right Tree, Right Reason while carrying out tree planting and ecological restoration. For instance, planting too many trees in the wrong place can exacerbate the groundwater problem.

It is important to plan what species we plant, and at what density as hyper-dense plantations may be ecologically unsuitable. We also want to plan for what’s going to happen in the next 10-20 years, with respect to changes in climate and rainfall regimes, so that the mix of species does not provide a shock to farmers if there is a drought or excessive rainfall. We hope to build upon and develop these ideas through using new tools and techniques.

Event 3:
Open Natural Ecosystems for People, Carbon, and Biodiversity | India pavilion | 15th November 2022

Key points:
  • Presentation by Dr. Abi Vanak on Open Natural Ecosystems in India and their importance for livelihoods of people, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity conservation. He presented the first ever high resolution map of Open Natural Ecosystems in India.
  • Screening of the film Karayal which showcases the Banni grasslands of Gujarat and the challenges faced by the people and biodiversity due to invasion of the exotic tree Prosopis juliflora
  • Presentation by Dr Mihir Mathur on a participatory approach to understanding complex system dynamics and its application for modelling changes in land-use and land-cover in future climate scenarios
  • Presentation by Dr. Ilse Kohler on the interdependencies between pastoralists and rangelands and how pastoralism as a form of livelihood is compatible with biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration
  • Presentation by Dr. Vivek Saxena on the need to realign policies so that ecosystem restoration is designed based on the specific ecosystem services that are unique to that landscape
  • Launch of film Saving the Savannahs that highlights the unique flora and fauna of Indian grasslands and the importance of conserving Open Natural Ecosystems (ONEs) in India for people, carbon, and biodiversity
Speakers: Prof. Abi T. Vanak, Director, Centre for Policy Design, ATREE
Dr. Mihir Mathur, Founder of DESTA (Developing Ecosystems for Systemic Transformation and Adaptation)
Dr. Ilse Kohler Rollefson, Founder, League for Pastoral People
Dr. Vivek Saxena, APCCF and CEO Haryana CAMPA

Event 4:
A restoration handbook: What does socially and ecologically responsible ecosystem restoration look like? | Food Systems Pavilion | 16th November 2022

Brief description Humanity currently faces multiple, interlinked existential crises. The catastrophic consequences of climate change, ecological degradation, and biodiversity loss have cascading knock-on effects on human health and well-being. As the UNCCD recognises, food supply disruptions will become more frequent and food insecurity will rise if land degradation is not immediately reversed by careful restoration practice. By reversing the threats to soil, biodiversity, water, and other ecosystem services, we can deliver benefits both for the planet and people. However, planning and implementing ecological restoration requires careful planning and executing meaningful partnerships. Even though there are various global efforts towards ecological restoration, the progress has been slow and disparate due to financial, institutional, and governance bottlenecks towards implementing ecological restoration. Given this challenge, the Alliance for Reversing Ecosystem Services Threats (AREST) came together to catalyze convergence, collaboration and cooperation at multiple levels, embracing socio-ecological complexities and gendered aspirations.Through years of on-field research, novel analysis, as well as engagement with experts, we have developed a restoration handbook that will guide practitioners, policymakers, and the civil society towards ecologically and socially responsible restoration. This restoration handbook will focus on semi-arid and sub-humid areas in India. It addresses questions about identifying land for restoration, building partnerships, co-designing interventions, mobilising finance, and finally, scaling up restoration practices.

Speakers: Abi Vanak (ATREE), Anuja Malhotra (ATREE), Milind Bunyan (ATREE), Kavita Sachwani (World Bank), Paul Chatterton (Landscape Finance Lab), Veena Srinivasan (ATREE), Richie Ahuja (EDF), Ruchika Drall (Government of India)

Anuja Malhotra presented a summary of the AREST handbook: 7 steps to restore degraded land in India Milind Bunyan spoke about the concept of socio-ecologically responsible restoration where we plant the right species (not necessarily trees, but also include grasses, shrubs, herbs), at the right place, for the right reason.

Veena Srinivasan talked about the carbon-water trade-off that exists in semi-arid ecosystems and how to balance it in semi-arid ecosystems. She added that in addition to the 3 Rs mentioned above, it is important to look at restoration through plantations with a watershed perspective. For instance, water budgeting for agroforestry to avoid unintended consequences may be a way forward. We need institutional models to help farmers transition from field cropping to agroforestry.

Ruchika Drall gave an overview of the Government of India’s programmes and initiatives for ecological restoration of our natural assets such as the Green India Mission, CAMPA, Soil Health Programmes such as PKVY, and Jal Jeevan Mission. India has had a long tradition of preserving and conserving elements of nature. She mentioned examples of community participation in conservation. India’s vision is to carry out restoration such that it improves livelihoods, while sequestering carbon, and enhancing biodiversity. This vision requires collaboration between government and civil society, where scientific organisations can help in creating robust restoration programmes. These programmes need to be designed with close involvement of communities in these ecosystems. Research & Development (R&D) is key in these thematic areas, as PM Modi added the importance of R&D in his speech on the 76th Independence Day of India.

Kavita Sachwani spoke about financing mechanisms for ecosystem restoration. Every $1 invested in ecological restoration generates $7-30 in economic benefits. Carbon financing, which is gaining momentum around the world, is one of such mechanisms. Self sustaining mechanisms such as Payment of Ecosystems (PES) should also be explored. Mixing commercial and development finance with CSR funds is also a way forward. For instance, the Narmada restoration project in Madhya Pradesh has been implemented as a PES model to enhance ecosystem services, primarily for water has good learnings.

Paul Chatterton mentioned that the lessons from India, as illustrated by the panel, are very good. We can’t work on biodiversity, climate, and livelihoods as separate issues. The landscape approach allows us to look at it together. On financing, carbon programmes are one way of unlocking large-scale finance. The world of biodiversity credits is also opening up. There is no “biodiversity credit” as of now, but large banks are now interested. There are also business opportunities- beverage producers want to invest in peatland restoration. There are also purely commercial investments, such as wildlife-friendly rubber where the rainforest is growing back around the rubber plantations. Large carbon and commercial investments need to be brought together.

If you would like to collaborate with us, please write to any of the email IDs above or to