Land degradation results from the interactions among multiple climate and human factors. Solving the problem requires a holistic strategy that deals with all significant factors simultaneously. However, it is difficult to solve such problems because few researchers have studied the simultaneous effects of these interactions, making it difficult to develop a truly holistic strategy. To help land managers find such a strategy, we have proposed and tested a new approach for ecological restoration in which we calculated the simultaneous contributions of multiple factors during vegetation cover change in Yan'an City, Shaanxi Province, China, from 2000 to 2016. After implementing the new approach, the vegetation cover increased by 35.7% during the study period, which is 2.3 times the rate in the rest of Shaanxi Province, where only the national Grain for Green program was implemented. The new approach accounted for 74.0% of the increased vegetation cover in the first year, and comparable values in the second and third years. Our results provide important information to guide sustainable development in China, and our approach can be adapted for use in other nations that are facing similar problems.