A million hectares of land will be protected and restored by communities across the Northeast India, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal in a historic initiative inspired by India’s historic G20 presidency, announced in New Delhi.

The Great People’s Forest of the Eastern Himalayas, one of the largest restoration and conservation efforts in the history of South Asia, is a partnership between Conservation International of Washington DC, USA and the Balipara Foundation of Assam, India. This initiative seeks to raise US$1 billion, plant 1 billion trees and restore and protect 1 million hectares of land across the Eastern Himalayas, from the mountains to the mangroves, indirectly benefiting around 1 billion people who depend on this connected ecosystem.

An unprecedented network of local organisations will work together to deliver this project, born out of over a decade of cooperation and knowledge sharing through the Eastern Himalayas Naturenomics™ Forum.

The Eastern Himalayan region spans the mountains, valleys, plains and delta of Northeast India, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. It is a massive single connected ecosystem, with its two major rivers – the Ganges and Brahmaputra – fed by the glaciers of the world’s tallest mountains. These rivers meet to form the world’s largest delta in Bangladesh, which is in turn guarded by the world’s largest mangrove forest in the Sundarbans. It is a region of staggering ecological significance, representing over a twelfth of all biodiversity on the planet, including two biodiversity hotspots.

It is also a region of vital significance to humanity, home to some of the most densely populated areas on Earth with 1 billion people relying directly on its land and water for their livelihoods and survival. Despite this, the region’s status as an environmental and societal asset of global importance has not been matched by international awareness of its significance, nor investment in its protection and restoration. But there is an urgent need for greater awareness as every year 100,000 hectares of tree cover is lost in the region. Just last year, 1.5 million people in the region were displaced by extreme weather events. By 2050, a third of its glaciers could be lost as a result of climate change, with devastating consequences for those living in the valleys and along the rivers below.

The Great People’s Forest initiative is an urgent response to the shared challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, through which local conservationists are joining together to protect the region they call home. Partners from every corner of the Eastern Himalayas are putting forward oven-ready plans for the urgent scaling of their work to protect and restore their forests for the benefit of people and the planet. All of the conservation work undertaken through this mission will prioritise the lives and livelihoods of local people, with a pro-nature and pro-economy approach. The initial implementing partners of the project will be:

  • The Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment
  • The Balipara Foundation
  • The Energy and Resources Institute
  • Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation
  • Bhutan Ecological Society
  • Green Hub
  • Friendship NGO

Ranjit Barthakur, President of the Balipara Foundation, said“This historic effort will put the Eastern Himalayas, and the 1 billion people who rely directly on it, on the international conservation agenda. The Great People’s Forest is our movement to protect the region we call home. India’s G20 presidency has encouraged us to design this ambitious, creative initiative and we hope to better the lives of the people who rely on the land and water of this beautiful region.”

Dr. Richard Jeo, Senior Vice President of Conservation International-Asia Pacific, said: “People have rightly highlighted the urgent plight of the Amazon and the Congo Basin. But we don’t speak with anywhere near the urgency we should about the Eastern Himalayas and its vast ecological significance for the planet. The people of the Eastern Himalayas are some of the most climate vulnerable on our planet, threatened by melting glaciers, rising sea levels and ever more frequent and more violent storms. And they have contributed only the tiniest fraction of the historic emissions that have caused the climate crisis that they are now on the frontlines of. The Great People’s Forest is their response to this crisis and its historic ambition and scale should rightly bring international attention to the ecological importance of this region. We are excited to partner with the Balipara Foundation, regional partners and India’s G20 presidency to design and deliver this historic initiative.”

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