Reforestation under the microscope again

Thousands of global experts warn against the large-scale planting of exotic tree species by signing a declaration calling for urgent action at COP26.

Release date: 13 October 2021

  • Over 3,000 global experts and concerned citizens from 114 countries sign the Kew Declaration on reforestation
  • Policymakers called on to use nature-based solutions to protect and restore global forests for maximum carbon capture and to protect biodiversity
  • Declaration is the first of its kind and is based on Kew & BGCI’s ’ten golden rules for restoring forests’ paper following the ‘right tree, right place’ principles

Over 3,000 global experts and concerned citizens have joined together to sign the ‘Kew Declaration on Reforestation for Biodiversity, Carbon Capture and Livelihoods’, spearheaded by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew) and Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). The declaration calls for the implementation of policies and frameworks to protect intact forests and for policymakers to adopt effective reforestation strategies that recover ecosystems and improve local livelihoods, whilst maximising long-term carbon capture to mitigate global warming.

The declaration, published today in leading journal Plants, People, Planet, was co-signed by 423 organisations and 2,612 individuals from 114 countries. Signatories include scientists, botanic gardens, NGOs, foresters, tree planting programmes, tree nurseries, reforestation financiers, and policy specialists.

Tree planting is often touted as an easy answer to the climate crisis as well as a convenient way for corporate companies to mitigate their carbon emissions. However, inappropriate tree planting can cause considerably more damage than benefits for both nature and people. The Kew Declaration is based on a synthesis of evidence, discussions and conclusions presented at the Reforestation for Biodiversity, Carbon Capture and Livelihoods conference, hosted by RBG Kew and BGCI earlier in the year. The conference brought together thousands of people from across the globe to debate and challenge the myth that ‘all tree planting is good’ and to discuss best practice for protecting and restoring the world’s forests.

It additionally draws on evidence from the scientific literature, including a multi-authored paper
led by Kew and BGCI scientists, Ten golden rules for reforestation to optimise carbon sequestration, biodiversity recovery and livelihood benefits’, published prior to the conference. These rules cover all stages of the reforestation process, from selecting the right site and the right species, and considering opportunities for natural regeneration, through to using the forest to generate a sustainable income for local people. They emphasize the importance of protecting existing forest and working collaboratively.

Professor Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science at RBG Kew says: “The Kew Declaration is a pivotal piece of work and the result of several years of hard work to challenge and change the way we currently plant trees and restore forests. We’re thrilled to have the backing of thousands of experts, businesses and other stakeholders from more than a hundred countries to support us. Our declaration expresses deep concern at the current loss of natural forest habitat which is having a devastating impact on biodiversity, climate change and the livelihoods of indigenous people. Whilst we support global initiatives to restore forests, we are alarmed at the predominance of large-scale planting of exotic tree species which have been shown to have detrimental impacts on native biodiversity and livelihoods, and often sequester less carbon than natural forests in the long term.

“As we approach COP26, which will be critical for agreeing vital global climate change agreements, we must ensure that reforestation projects follow ‘right tree, right place’ principles, to maximise benefits for people and the planet.”

Specifically the Kew Declaration requests that:

  1. Policymakers, financiers and practitioners:
  • Adhere to biodiversity safeguarding principles
  • Ensure that the interests of local and indigenous peoples are paramount
  • Where trade-offs are not realistically avoidable, ensure that there is always a ‘net gain’ biodiversity offset
  • Safeguard and restore the populations of threatened plant species
  • Monitor and manage restored habitat, ensuring successful tree establishment
  • Learn from past mistakes
  1. Reforestation should not replace the imperative to transition away from fossil fuels and wood-based energy production and to de-carbonise supply chains
  2. Incentives and subsidies that promote clearing or degradation of natural ecosystems should be removed, and positive financial incentives that promote the protection of existing forest and the conservation and sustainable use of native biodiversity should be instigated
  3. Policymakers and practitioners of large-scale reforestation programmes should partner with the botanical, ecological, agroforestry, and wider conservation and scientific communities and holders of traditional knowledge.

Scientists now plan to present the Kew Declaration and ‘Ten golden rules for reforestation’ paper at the forthcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow, where they will ask reforestation stakeholders to commit to implementing the principles going forward.

Dr Paul Smith, Secretary General at BGCI and co-author of the paper says: “The topic of reforestation has garnered huge interest over the past year and so it is extremely important that we use this momentum to call upon leaders, businesses and civil society to do what they can to help prevent further loss of biodiversity. We hope the Kew Declaration will be considered by a wide range of policymakers during COP26 discussions to ensure that the right policies are in place to protect our existing forests and to maximise the impacts for people, biodiversity and carbon capture when planting new forests. We’re confident that if policymakers, practitioners and businesses work together with local and indigenous communities and the scientific community, we can herald a new era for the world’s forests that benefits everyone.”

Pieter Van Midwoud, Chief Tree Planting Officer at Ecosia: “With over 130 million trees planted worldwide, Ecosia understands that tree planting and restoration are complex activities that need to be done right. Following the 10 Golden Rules, provides a powerful and science-based framework that ensures our reforestation efforts benefit both the planet and the local communities we work with. With the severity of the climate crisis, we urge decision makers to adopt proven solutions and join us in protecting our global forests."

To read the Kew Declaration in full, please visit:


Paper details: The Declaration Drafting Committee. (2021). Kew declaration on reforestation for biodiversity, carbon capture and livelihoods. Plants, People, Planet.

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About the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world-famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant and fungal diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international and a top London visitor attraction. Kew Gardens’ 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Wakehurst, Kew’s Wild Botanic Garden, attract over 2.5 million visits every year. Kew Gardens was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 260th anniversary in 2019. Wakehurst is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. The Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre is Kew’s third research centre and only overseas office. RBG Kew receives approximately one third of its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and research councils. Further funding needed to support RBG Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales.

About Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI)

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) is the world’s largest plant conservation network, comprising more than 600 botanic gardens in over 100 countries. Our vision is a world in which plant diversity is valued, secure and supporting all life, and our mission is to mobilise botanic gardens and engage partners in securing plant diversity for the well-being of people and the planet. BGCI was established in 1987, is a registered charity with offices in the UK, US, Singapore, China and Kenya. BGCI leads the Global Tree Assessment, an ambitious initiative to assess the conservation status of every tree species in the world. In response to the increasing number of tree species on the brink of extinction, BGCI launched the Tree Conservation Fund, an initiative enabling businesses, philanthropic organisations, and governments around the world to contribute to the essential effort to save the world’s threatened tree species.

The Kew and BGCI ‘Reforestation for Biodiversity, Carbon Capture and Livelihoods’ conference and research for the 10 golden rules paper was made possible thanks to generous funding from Sky Zero, which was supplemented by existing core staff costs. Additional conference funding was kindly provided by Foundation Franklinia. The funders had no influence on the research conducted. The conference was also supported by collaborating partners CIFOR-ICRAF.