Photo UNEP/Celine Barakat. UN World Restoration Flagship Restoring Mediterranean Forests. Lebanon

Nairobi, 13 February 2024 – Vast areas of degraded forests along the Mediterranean have been restored since 2017 as part of the Restoring Mediterranean Forests initiative, encompassing nations such as Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Türkiye. The initiative has today been recognized by the UN as one of seven World Restoration Flagships, rendering the initiative eligible for technical and financial UN support.

The Mediterranean basin is the world’s second largest biodiversity hotspot, yet 16 per cent of its forest species are threatened with extinction, in part due to prolonged drought, extreme heat waves, and wildfires. Last summer saw the largest wildfire ever recorded in Europe. Flames consumed over 50,000 hectares in Greece, equivalent to around 95,000 football pitches, and fires from Italy to Algeria and Tunisia killed civilians and forced much of the population to be evacuated.

The awarded initiative has already restored an area of around two million hectares across the region since 2017, more than 500 times the size of Athens. Eight million hectares are planned for restoration by 2030, including targeting wildfire-affected areas, under the Agadir Commitment.

The World Restoration Flagship awards are part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) – which aims to prevent, halt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. The awards track notable initiatives following global commitments to restore one billion hectares – an area larger than China. The award for the Mediterranean Forest Fires initiative was announced by UN Environment Programme Advocate and Chef, Leyla Fathallah.

“The Mediterranean basin is rapidly turning into a tinderbox, and firefighting alone will not be enough to protect it in the long run,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “This far-reaching initiative to restore forests from fires presents an incredible opportunity to restore ecosystems that are home for as many as 25,000 species who inhabit the Mediterranean basin, including almost half a billion people.”

The initiative is shifting away from a traditional focus on fighting wildfires and addressing their aftermath, towards prevention through better forest management. As part of risk mitigation techniques, visitors to reserves are educated and local forestry-dependent communities are included instead of keeping them out. During reforestation efforts, biodiverse and heat-resilient plant species are selected for diverse ecosystems, including forests, grasslands and shrublands.

In Lebanon, organizations like the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation Lebanon (AFDC) and the Lebanon Restoration Initiative work directly with communities on preventing and recovering from fires. Local communities are expected to see their incomes rise by up to 40 per cent by 2030. Partners in this initiative anticipate this surge through the generation of tens of millions of dollars from food, aromatic and fuel products, as well as tourism, safeguarding spring water, cultural services, and carbon sequestration.

“In the past, reforestation in the Mediterranean region was primarily aimed at creating forest cover. Today, our approach has pivoted, using forests and reforestation as essential components for landscape restoration, encompassing both forests and rangelands,” emphasized Ümit Turhan, Deputy Head of Department, General Directorate of Forestry of Türkiye. “This paradigm shift includes involvement from shepherds, local communities, youth, and women to reverse degradation, enhance the local dairy product value chain, ensure food security, and alleviate poverty.”

Recognized as a World Restoration Flagship, Restoring Mediterranean Forests is recognized as one of the best examples of large-scale and long-term ecosystem restoration in any country or region, embodying the 10 Restoration Principles of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The announcement of these seven new World Restoration Flagships was made ahead of the 6th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-6), to be held from 26 February to 1 March, 2024, convening the world’s Environment Ministers in Nairobi, Kenya, to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

Photos UNEP/Celine Barakat. UN World Restoration Flagship Restoring Mediterranean Forests. Lebanon

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ℹ️ About the partner organizations:

The UN General Assembly has declared 2021–2030 a UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Led by the UN Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, together with the support of partners, it is designed to prevent, halt, and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems worldwide. It aims at reviving billions of hectares, covering terrestrial as well as aquatic ecosystems. A global call to action, the UN Decade draws together political support, scientific research, and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration.

Countries have already promised to restore 1 billion hectares – an area larger than China – as part of their commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement, the Aichi targets for biodiversity, the Land Degradation Neutrality targets and the Bonn Challenge. However, little is known about the progress or quality of this restoration. With the World Restoration Flagships, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is honouring the best examples of large-scale and long-term ecosystem restoration in any country or region, embodying the 10 Restoration Principles of the UN Decade. Progress of all World Restoration Flagships will be transparently monitored through the Framework for Ecosystem Restoration Monitoring, the UN Decade’s platform for keeping track of global restoration efforts.

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

FAO is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Its goal is to achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active healthy lives. With over 194-Member Nations, FAO works in over 130 countries worldwide.

The FAO Committee of Mediterranean Forestry Questions - Silva Mediterranea works in partnership with member countries, focused on Mediterranean forestry subjects in regional and national policy dialogues, acting as a driving force on emerging forest topics in five working groups. Silva Mediterranea Working Group on Forest Fires is led by the Spanish Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge and co-led by Türkiye, is a central hub for addressing wildfires in the Mediterranean region. Over the years, they have developed three work plans that focus on wildfire prevention through research, technology, firefighting, public awareness, and engaging stakeholders. Their initiatives include creating resilient landscapes, optimizing response operations, working alongside communities and politicians, and integrating various sectors into wildfire management, with a focus on fostering global networks for visibility.

The ministry is responsible for the oversight and regulation of agricultural activities. Its role is to bring awareness to sustainable farming practices, development, and food security. The ministry works to enhance agricultural productivity, support policy, and guarantee a stable supply of quality food. The Lebanon Reforestation Initiative works with Lebanese communities practicing sustainable forest and landscape management, promoting environmental well-being. LRI's mission aims to build resilient communities against environmental challenges, raise environmental consciousness, and champion forest conservation. LRI's goal is to expand, protect, and nurture Lebanon's natural resources for the benefit of both the environment and the community.

The Association for Forests, Development and Conservation (AFDC) is a non-governmental organization that was established in 1994. AFDC aims to protect forests and natural resources and achieve climate and land degradation neutrality through promoting mitigation practices to withstand climate change and building an environmentally educated and responsible society empowered and inspired to preserve and protect forests; advocating for sustainable governance of forests; promoting best sustainable development practices to improve livelihood of communities while conserving the natural and cultural heritage; and adapting evidence-based practices to promote scientific approaches in natural resources management.

The ministry shapes and carries out government policies concerning agriculture and rural development. Their responsibilities encompass multiple areas, including agricultural policy formulation, water resource management, investment promotion, research, data collection, food safety, rural development, trade negotiations, and market monitoring for agricultural products.

The Directorate works towards sustainable management, conservation, and advancement of Tunisia's forests and natural resources. It is committed to protecting the environment and promoting rural development through forestry management, biodiversity protection, fire prevention, and community engagement.

The OGM is committed to sustainable forest management, encompassing responsibilities from safeguarding against illicit activities and disasters to fostering product production, ownership processes, and training programs. They adhere to legislative mandates and collaborate closely with overseeing ministries to foster the growth and protection of forests.

✉️  For more information, please contact: News desk, UN Environment Programme[email protected]

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