Nature and Biodiversity

Global forest restoration goals can be achieved with youth-led ecopreneurship

The next generation workforce needs certainty and a clear professional career in forest restoration.

The next generation workforce needs certainty and a clear professional career in forest restoration. Image: Unsplash/https://unsplash.com/@geraninmo

Agustin Rosello
Program Manager, Cerro Guido Conservation
Anali Bustos
Biodiversity Lead, Nativas
Fernando Morales de Rueda
Researcher, University of Granada
Jennifer Hong
Policy Analyst, Natural Resources Canada
Paula Sarigumba
Consultant, Asian Forest Cooperation Organization (AFoCO)
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Forests

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate
  • Forests play an important role in safeguarding livelihoods, combating global climate change and preventing biodiversity loss.
  • The United Nations has declared 2021-2030 as the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and forest restoration will play a vital role.
  • Youth engagement and ecopreneurship will be key to restoring degraded lands and accelerating action on decarbonization goals.

The Earth is undergoing significant changes that are impacting its ability to sustain life as we currently know and understand it. Each day, a growing body of scientific evidence reinforces the fact that forests play a key role in maintaining the stability of the planet's ecosystems and climate, providing vital services such as carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation.

The United Nations has declared 2021-2030 as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, creating political commitment among national governments to jointly restore the world's degraded lands – an initiative which will only succeed if youth play a part.

Have you read?

Inspired by purpose, urgency and the need for action, young people are increasingly stepping into leadership roles to contribute to global forest restoration in support of the United Nations' Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

By bringing new perspectives to important multi-lateral discussions, catalysing innovative solutions and implementing actions on the ground in their communities, youth are proving to be key drivers of the #GenerationRestoration global movement.

In particular, ecopreneurship – which centres the protection and restoration of nature at the heart of a grassroots or business enterprise – has become increasingly embraced as a viable career option by young people to restore landscapes and accelerate sustainable transformations in forest management at a local and global level.

Scaling forest restoration by supporting young ecopreneurs

Science tells us that the success of efforts to halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems must prioritize human well-being and biodiversity so that carbon capture is not the only goal but becomes a successful by-product of action taken. This means that supporting community, indigenous and youth-led initiatives is crucial.

Ecopreneurship has emerged as a promising approach, creating sustainable business models that contribute to local natural resource restoration and address global environmental challenges.

Fernando Morales, PhD candidate and Co-Chair of the #GenerationRestoration Youth Hub co-convened by the World Economic Forum’s 1t.org initiative and the Global Landscapes Forum, emphasizes the need for effective governance mechanisms that target youth-led ecopreneurship and provide a conducive environment for scaling up restoration actions.

“Young people are already restoring their landscapes. Sparking real solutions on the ground will be critical for large-scale implementation in the decades to come," he says.

The #GenerationRestoration Youth Hub connects youth with relevant restoration stakeholders and supports youth-led ecopreneurship. According to Morales, “We need to integrate the strengths of top-down approaches with the realities of bottom-up initiatives. It's not one or the other; it's both.

“High-level restoration objectives will succeed only if they are effectively connected to the knowledge, capabilities and aspirations that exist at different levels of governance, especially among the youth, as stewards of future restoration outcomes.”

How governments and private sector can enable scaling ecopreneurship

Analí Bustos, XV WFC Youth Forest change-maker winner and GLF Restoration Steward 2021, reflects on the real importance of youth involvement in forest restoration: “In the coming years, it will be the younger generations who will have to face the consequences of the political decisions that are being made today, within governance schemes in which they are not considered. That is why it is an absolute priority and a moral obligation to involve them in decision-making processes at all scales and levels."

Bustos believes that restoration policies must be consistent across government administrations to ensure continuity over time and prevent drastic policy shifts in short periods. “By giving implementation strategies enough time to mature, the expected results can materialize, not only at the socio-economic level but also – and mainly – in the natural environment," she adds.

On the other hand, Jennifer Hong, a young professional in the Canadian federal government and a Global Ambassador for Youth4Nature, believes that “governments play a key role as one of the largest consumers of goods and services, and when creating policies, they send signals about what values are important to their societies and what values are worth investing in".

She has seen first-hand how youth leadership can simultaneously create momentum to push, and be pushed by, the policy world to move the needle forward in scaling ecopreneurship.

For example, dedicated discussions amongst youth and policy-makers have led to the emergence of new youth councils which allow for a space to directly provide perspectives on topics such as how to enable youth action in forestry, conservation and biodiversity, to senior decision-makers.

Similarly, following intense advocacy for a seat at the table, there is growing recognition of youth as contributors to climate and environmental solutions in a ‘whole of society’ approach by increasing their accessibility to capacity-building streams, providing youth with the opportunity to apply for funding opportunities aimed at meeting national environmental priorities that align with the Paris Climate Agreement targets, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (to name a few).

“As consumers, governments should take investment risks that other stakeholders may not be able to, ultimately helping to create markets that can enable youth ecopreneurial efforts," she says.

Empowering the restoration economy through the next generation

The growing recognition of the younger generation's capability to act has affirmed their status as key stakeholders in nature and climate discussions. “I’ve witnessed how young people are increasingly becoming active agents of change”, says Paula Sarigumba, former Nature Partnerships Lead at Veritree, a youth-led technological solution that connects businesses with verified tree planting projects.

“Through our partnerships, we are seeing young local actors on the ground at the forefront driving the restoration movement. Now is the opportune moment to harness the determination and environmental awareness of youth toward meaningful investments in nature.”

However, investments for young people – whether through capacity-building, capital, or knowledge-sharing – still lag. Organizations such as the International Forestry Student Association (IFSA), are working to empower, support, and connect students in their efforts to achieve the Global Forest Goals.

With over 50 years of history, 12,000 active students from 135 universities in 65 different countries, the IFSA has been a key stakeholder in promoting “a world that appreciates forests” through capacity building, political advocacy and grassroots-level forest stewardship.

Agustín Rosello, former president of IFSA, emphasizes the importance of working closely with youth-led initiatives to improve restoration efforts: “There are strong international policies in place, but implementation mechanisms need to bridge the gap between funding sources and the next generation's projects and innovators."

Youth-based organizations have managed to generate huge mobilization and impact with limited resources, but as Rosello states: “The next generation workforce needs certainty and a clear professional career in forest restoration. Rooted in meaningful opportunities for stable green jobs, financial investment and business accelerator programmes."

Youth-led ecopreneurship key to forest restoration

In order to scale on-the-ground actions globally, it will be necessary to emphasize the key role of youth-led ecopreneurship in forest restoration; which includes collaboration across generations and a willingness to empower those who have been historically marginalized.

Using the argument that recovering the planet's balance is costly is no longer a valid reason for inaction. Rather, we must acknowledge that nature itself holds the solutions to the dire scenario we face – our work now is to protect and work with it.

Discover

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

Today, we have the certainty that much can be done to help ecosystems bounce back; that is why youth are raising their voices, changing rules where necessary and seizing this chance to create a brighter present and future.

We claim that the time for action is now. That is why we need to unite, everyone and everywhere, and become the #GenerationRestoration.

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