Berlin: Top government, business and civil society leaders from several countries, including India, have formed a unique alliance to deal with climate change and launched an ambitious programme to restore 150 million hectares of lost forests and degraded land within nine years.

The alliance was formed at the two-day conference on climate change organised jointly by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the German Ministry for Environment in the city of Bonn.

The meet titled 'Bonn Challenge on Forests, Climate Change and Bio-diversity' was aimed at securing a broad support from government, business and civil society leaders for forest conservation efforts and thereby making a contribution to reducing global warming.

The participants pledged to work together to stem rapidly expanding deforestation in many parts of the world and reverse the loss and degradation of forests in an area equivalent to half the size of Asia till 2020.

They also agreed to mobilise active participation of governments, business and industry, NGOs, environmental organisations and the local communities in their campaign.

"The goal set by the conference is realistic and can be achieved," Ashok Khosla, President of IUCN, said at the conclusion of the meeting on Saturday.

Studies by his organisation showed that restoration of 150 million hectares of lost forests could bring economic benefits of around 85 billion dollars a year to national and international economies, he said.  Restoration of forests is also a highly cost-effective way to combat climate change, create new jobs and to enhance rural development, Khosla said.

"The restoration of forests will increase carbon stocks and result in healthy and resilient ecosystems and lead to an increase in bio-diversity," he said.

New studies published by IUCN, the world's oldest organisation for conservation of nature, showed that more than two billion hectares of the world's lost forests and degraded land offered opportunities for restoration.

This global estimate is almost double the area previously considered restorable as technological improvements allow scientists to map forest areas and degraded land more precisely, IUCN said.

German Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen, who hosted the conference, said around 13 million hectares of forests are destroyed every year and the international community can no longer tolerate this "massive loss" of global forest resources.

"We must undertake every possible efforts to preserve the remaining forests and at the same time to restore the destroyed forests," he told the delegates.

Stewart Maginnis, IUCN's Global Director of Environment and Development, said the "landmark commitment" in Bonn is a "robust and realistic" response to the depletion of forests worldwide.

"What is needed urgently is a country-by-country assessment of how this commitment could be achieved in line with national economic development and conservation priorities, something we have already started doing in Ghana and in Mexico," he said.

Maginnis described Ruanda's announcement earlier this year to restore the country's degraded forests till 2035 as a good example for other nations to follow. It is regarded as the most ambitious forest restoration programme world wide.

Japan and El Salvador announced at the conference that they intended to take similar measures to preserve their forests.

Former Swedish Prime Minister and board member of the World Resources Institute informed the conference participants about the creation of a "global advisory board" to secure high-level political support for restoration of forests.

The CEOs of some internationally operating companies announced their contributions to the global campaign to restore and preserve forests.

(Agencies)