Recognizing the equity implications of restoration priority maps
A growing number of studies seek to identify global priority areas for conservation and restoration. These studies often produce maps that highlight the benefits of concentrating such activity in the tropics. However, the potential equity implications of using these prioritization exercises to guide global policy are less often explored and articulated. We highlight those equity issues by examining a widely publicized restoration priority map as an illustrative case. This map is based on a prioritization analysis that sought to identify places where restoration of agricultural land might provide the greatest biodiversity and carbon sequestration benefits at the lowest cost. First, we calculate the proportion of agricultural land in countries around the world that the map classifies as a top 15% restoration priority. A regression analysis shows that this map prioritizes restoration in countries where displacing agriculture may be most detrimental to livelihoods: countries that are poorer, more populated, more economically unequal, less food secure, and that employ more people in agriculture. Second, we show through another regression analysis that a similar pattern appears sub-nationally within the tropics: 5 km × 5 km parcels of land in the tropics that are less economically developed or more populated are more likely to be top 15% restoration priorities. In other words, equity concerns persist at a subnational scale even after putting aside comparisons between the tropics and the Global North. Restorative activity may be beneficial or harmful to local livelihoods depending on its conceptualization, implementation, and management. Our findings underline a need for prioritization exercises to better attend to the risks of concentrating potentially negative livelihood impacts in vulnerable regions. We join other scholars calling for greater integration of social data into restoration science.
Bill Schultz et al 2022 Environ. Res. Lett. 17 114019