Reconciling global landscape restoration targets with local livelihoods

Millions of people directly or indirectly depend on ecosystem services provided by montane forest landscapes. The loss and degradation of forests and wetlands in such water tower contexts like the Ecuadorian and Ethiopian highlands affects their ecological integrity, and reduces the flow of ecosystem benefits that local and extra-local (downstream) communities receive. At the same time, restoration frameworks like the Bonn Challenge, Initiative 20x20, AFR100, as well as UN mechanisms (CBD, IPBES, REDD+) are now manifesting ambitious commitments and unparalleled political will to restore 350 million hectares by 2030.


Successful landscape restoration in the world’s water towers is critical for securing their role in water regulation, and as biodiversity habitats and carbon sinks. However, landscape restoration entails a struggle over land use claims and practices, in a cross-sector and cross-level governance context. On the one hand, global frameworks manifest ambitious commitments to restore these areas. On the other hand, local communities in these highlands struggle to secure sufficient space for their landscape-dependent livelihoods.

This project revolves around the pressing challenges that local authorities face to increase the amount of green infrastructure (forest and wetlands) in their jurisdiction, in a context where many livelihood-related land use claims are already present. Research will focus on how local authorities organise manoeuvring spaces to create synergies and trade-offs between restoration targets and local livelihood realities. Special attention is paid to formal and informal networks and bridging institutions that act as intermediary between various (policy and polity) arenas, levels and sectors to facilitate the negotiation of land use-related trade-offs and synergies in a participatory way.

The PhD project draws on adaptive and collaborative governance literature to dissect strategies and institutional frameworks through which local authorities realise locally-adapted landscape restoration in a multi-sector and multi-level governance context. By applying both a participatory and qualitative research approach focused on the local-global nexus, it aims to advance practically-relevant theoretical knowledge on the strategies of local authorities in reconciling global targets with local livelihoods.

This research is conducted in collaboration with partner institutions that are involved in policy and implementation processes related to landscape restoration. These are the World Resources Institute (WRI) in the United States, the Consorcio para el desarrollo de la ecorregión andina (CONDESAN) in Ecuador, the Water and Land Resource Centre (WLRC) in Ethiopia, and the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.