Word of Chairman

Word of Chairman

By all means, 2020 was COVID-19’s first year.  A pandemic that, like an inverted magnifying glass, opened the world’s eyes to the relationship between deforestation, natural degradation, zoonosis, healthcare and local food production. In countries such as Brazil and India, COVID-19 caused mass migration to rural areas and increased poverty and insecurity. Thus, the pandemic triggered a global debate about the balance between long-term caring for the commons or increasing short-term private interests: from healthcare to a healthy food system and from nature conservation and restoration to agriculture. More than ever, we were confronted with the lack of long-term policies from governments, business and investors. For Commonland and partners, the focus on the relationship between nature and unsustainable land use was a blessing in disguise. At the same time, the consequences of the pandemic itself were, in some places, a disaster for our local landscape partners. Not only did they face droughts, but also an economic recession. The wider picture did not help: in countries with tropical forests, 12.2 million hectares of tree cover were lost, an increase of 12% in 2019, according to the World Resources Institute Global Forest Watch.

However, despite the pandemic, 2020 was also the year in which themes such as inequality and diversity moved up agendas worldwide. The extinction crisis – our life support system – received more attention. Business and investors increasingly agree that the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be seen in isolation from each other. New and fair economics based on restoring the ecological foundation is the critical factor that unites those. In an annual letter to CEOs, BlackRock, the largest private investor, stated that “climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects. But awareness is rapidly changing, and we believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.” A signal that even the finance industry is changing. 


Already topics such as regenerative agriculture, agroforestry, carbon and tree planting receive more attention. In 2020, we could even speak of a ‘carbon and tree planting hype’. Also, biodiversity accounting is in the spotlight, as well as ‘true pricing’. All of these themes are heading in the right direction, provided that this will contribute concretely to restoration, conservation and regenerative agriculture within a sound holistic landscape approach. After seven years of building a proof of concept, we at Commonland experienced that more parties want to use the 4 Returns Framework to guide these efforts.


Due to COVID-19, the world of international conferences came to a standstill in 2020. UN Conferences of the Parties related to the Climate and Biodiversity Conventions were postponed to 2021. We hope that in 2021 these agreements will be settled, as the world needs binding treaties for the management of the commons. A ray of hope was the EU Green Deal, whose long-term strategies on Farm to Fork, Biodiversity and Rural Areas are a shining example for many countries, including those outside the EU. Our ambition is to increase our efforts and work with many partners in 2021 to achieve our goal of having 100 million hectares under restoration using the 4 Returns Framework. In this annual report, you can learn more about the challenges we faced and lessons we learned with our landscape and policy partners in the field to create investable holistic landscape initiatives.   


Béla Jankovich, Chairman of the board