Ten golden rules for reforestation to optimize carbon sequestration, biodiversity recovery and livelihood benefits

Glob Chang Biol. 2021 Apr;27(7):1328-1348. doi: 10.1111/gcb.15498. Epub 2021 Jan 25.


Urgent solutions to global climate change are needed. Ambitious tree-planting initiatives, many already underway, aim to sequester enormous quantities of carbon to partly compensate for anthropogenic CO2 emissions, which are a major cause of rising global temperatures. However, tree planting that is poorly planned and executed could actually increase CO2 emissions and have long-term, deleterious impacts on biodiversity, landscapes and livelihoods. Here, we highlight the main environmental risks of large-scale tree planting and propose 10 golden rules, based on some of the most recent ecological research, to implement forest ecosystem restoration that maximizes rates of both carbon sequestration and biodiversity recovery while improving livelihoods. These are as follows: (1) Protect existing forest first; (2) Work together (involving all stakeholders); (3) Aim to maximize biodiversity recovery to meet multiple goals; (4) Select appropriate areas for restoration; (5) Use natural regeneration wherever possible; (6) Select species to maximize biodiversity; (7) Use resilient plant material (with appropriate genetic variability and provenance); (8) Plan ahead for infrastructure, capacity and seed supply; (9) Learn by doing (using an adaptive management approach); and (10) Make it pay (ensuring the economic sustainability of the project). We focus on the design of long-term strategies to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises and support livelihood needs. We emphasize the role of local communities as sources of indigenous knowledge, and the benefits they could derive from successful reforestation that restores ecosystem functioning and delivers a diverse range of forest products and services. While there is no simple and universal recipe for forest restoration, it is crucial to build upon the currently growing public and private interest in this topic, to ensure interventions provide effective, long-term carbon sinks and maximize benefits for biodiversity and people.

Keywords: afforestation; climate-change mitigation; ecological restoration; forest landscape restoration; large-scale tree planting; natural regeneration; nature-based solutions; stakeholder participation.

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity
  • Carbon Sequestration*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Ecosystem*
  • Forests
  • Humans
  • Trees