There is no global one-size-fits-all definition for restoration, which is always site-specific and specific to socio-economic context. The UN Decade strategy based on the restoration concept by the Society for Ecological Restoration, a Global Partner of the UN Decade. As such, restoration is understood as a process rather than a result.
Restoration is not just limited to large scale ecosystems, but it can also be carried out at individual levels. The 3 R’s: Reimagine, Restore and Rebuild are the soul of this decade. We have been successful in reaching to the people who were not aware of the concept of restoration, through our various campaigns like the use of hashtags #GenerationRestoration and Snap Challenge.
FAO and UNEP have established a Multi Partner Trust Fund to channel finance to core activities of the Decade. These funds will be limited and will mainly fund activities implemented by UNEP and FAO. Discussions are on-going with GCF and GEF to establish windows for Ecosystem Restoration. Furthermore, matchmaking between restoration initiatives and funding facilities will be supported as will crowdfunding be encouraged and facilitated on the Digital platform. Finally, lessons learned of restoration initiatives including successful funding modalities and options will be disseminated on the digital platform and during Dialogue Fora
There are various estimates for costs of restoration per hectare. It depends on the local conditions, including restoration objectives; state of degradation; and many other factors. For the purpose of the UN Decade, we take an average across many different studies that sets costs at around 3,000 USD per hectare for terrestrial ecosystems. When taking a more specific needs assessment, we have estimated in UNEP’s recent ‘State of Finance for Nature’ report that forest-based solutions alone would amount to USD 203 billion/year, followed by silvopasture with USD 193 billion/year, peatland restoration USD 7 billion/year, and mangrove restoration USD 0.5 billion/year. However, it is important to view these costs in the context of the benefits they can provide – for each 1 USD invested, restoration can generate up to 30 USD in economic benefits over time.
The ecosystem restoration principles of the UN Decade, and similar tools such as IUCN’s Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions and other principles that the Decade endorses and which will be available on our Digital Hub, can ensure that restoration takes a human-rights based approach, and always is based on societal choice. Other tools such as Free, Prior and Informed Consent, and progress on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, will also be promoted widely on the UN Decade’s Digital Hub.
As our report makes clear, investments in nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation cannot be a substitute for a deep decarbonization of our economies across all sectors. And ‘Net Zero’ commitments by the private sector, with possible offsetting of residual emissions, have to follow stringent criteria such as the Science Based Targets Initiative or the recently updated criteria for the UNFCCC ‘Race to Zero’. There is more work to do to have clarity in this field. What is clear already now is that nature-based solutions have benefits well beyond climate action, and they can and must play an important part in an overall package for climate action. We also need to ensure the long-term stability of ecosystems to ensure the carbon they store remains in place. The UN Decade is building on decades of experience with ecosystem restoration across all types of ecosystems, including more than 10 years of experience with ‘REDD+’, the forest mechanism outlined in Article 5 of the Paris Agreement. This includes valuable experience of accounting, permanence of carbon, and safeguarding the rights of indigenous and local communities.
The UN Decade’s main aim is to ‘prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide’. This clearly includes conserving the nature we have left. Conservation and restoration go hand in hand. But the pace of biodiversity loss is now so rapid, with 1 million species at risk of extinction, that we must go beyond conservation. Protected areas alone cannot stem the loss, let alone turn the tide. In particular, farmlands, forests, fisheries, and other managed ecosystems must take biodiversity and climate objectives more into account, and play a lead role in restoring healthy and productive ecosystems.
As recent IBES and IPCC reports have pointed out, there are win-win options for increasing agricultural productivity and increase the amount of carbon in soils and vegetation. Agro-forestry alone has the potential to increase food security for 1.3 billion people, while also increasing carbon storage and biodiversity on farms, particularly in the tropics. It is important to take a holistic approach to restoration efforts such as tree planting, and not focus on objective alone (like carbon sequestration) at the expense of other benefits that trees and forests could provide. Taking a landscape approach helps to achieve this. The UN Decade has drafted basic Principles for Restoration (outlined in our launch report) to ensure restoration yields multiple benefits and meets sustainable development objectives.
The importance of green and blue spaces, including in urban areas, for mental health has been shown by COVID, and UNEP is working on such analysis. The importance of restoration approaches, including in productive lands, for direct nutrition benefits is also essential. UNEP’s GEF supported work on Agrobiodiversity has contributed to this evidence base and creates a foundation to build upon. Clean air and water, essential for health, are other important benefits that require additional attention. WHO has become a collaborating Agency of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, and this can help expand evidence on health co benefit of restoration in the long run. UNEP supports strengthening a holistic approach to health, to look at co-benefits for human, animal and environmental health.
Indeed, UNEP and FAO signed a strategic MoU in 2014 and amended it in 2019. Cooperation covers four broad areas: Sustainable Food Systems; Ecosystem services and biodiversity in agriculture, forestry and fisheries; Data and Statistics, and International legal instruments, legislation and regulatory matters. We are finalizing the Action Plan to support joint activities until 2024. While specific and in-depth cooperation in the framework of the Decade features prominently in the Action Plan translating into joint planning and running of various task forces and working groups, we will also scale up our engagement in a number of areas that would have measurable impacts for the objectives of the Decade: The One Planet Network on Food Systems, Food Systems and Urban Agenda, One Health, Biodiversity Mainstreaming, Regional Ocean Governance, joint work on relevant SDG indicators, REDD+ and many others. These proposed action areas span across all divisions of FAO and UNEP and will become tangible inputs to the Decade implementation.
In fact, we are very conscious that 70% of our current audience are not working professionally in ecosystem restoration or have any deep background knowledge. However – many are looking for information and tangible actions they can take in their own ecosystems, or in support of existing initiatives (see more analysis here: https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/five-things-world-saying-about-ecosystem-restoration). Our communication strategies aim at activating these groups. For World Environment Day, we produced an “Ecosystem Restoration Playbook” – the first of its kind – explaining easy actions in an accessible way. What is more, we gamified this PDF document, turning it into a fun quiz that everyone can take to “level up” their actions. More than 50,000 people have now read the playbook or played the game. And 10,000 of those have already taken action for ecosystems. We are also working with mass communication outlets that reach audiences who are not necessarily part of the “converted” – DJ Don Diablo has produced a song for #GenerationRestoration together with Hip-Hopper Tu Dolla $ign, we have hosted a virtual concert to launch the Decade, which was featured in Rolling Stone Magazine, a documentary on restoration is currently screened on Television in 45 African countries, reaching millions, and we will soon co-launch a comic book with Marvel Artists. We are also in discussion with different producers on upcoming formats for Netflix and other streaming services. Together with “Streetart for Mankind”, we will produce 50 restoration murals over the next ten years, together with world-famous artists. These are just a few examples of what we are doing to reach a wide and new audience.
The UN Decade strategy recognizes the importance of indigenous knowledge and the inclusion of indigenous peoples as active stakeholders across the UN Decade activities. The UN Decade adheres to ensuring the inclusion and participation of indigenous peoples’ authorities and representatives. This inclusion recognizes indigenous peoples’ role as guardians of biodiversity in the world and as holders of ancestral food and knowledge systems. As such, the UN Decade strategy for indigenous peoples will be developed, led by UN Decade partners (TBD). Partners further comply to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples. And indigenous peoples representatives have joined the Advisory Board of the UN Decade.
Principles on Ecosystem Restoration developed under the leadership of the Best Practices Taskforce take participation and involvement of indigenous peoples and local indigenous knowledge into consideration.
In February 2021, FAO and UNEP jointly presented an action plan for Ecosystem Restoration in Latin America and the Caribbean, which was adopted at the XXII Meeting of the Forum of Ministers of Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean, as part of a decision to prevent future pandemics and accelerate sustainable recovery in the region through the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems. The Action Plan focuses on cooperation mechanisms and outlines 10 actions following 3 pathways: (1) Regional movement will be achieved by promoting public awareness, giving visibility to ecosystem restoration champions and bringing ecosystem restoration to schools; (2) Political engagement will be pursued by supporting leadership in ecosystem restoration, developing an innovative financing strategy, and promoting high-level regional dialogues, and (3) Technical capacity will be built by encouraging investment in long-term scientific research, ensuring access to knowledge, promoting collaboration, and training professionals in ecosystem restoration. ( Action Plan )
This collaborative effort aims at reverting the negative impacts of degradation that are already underway (in the Amazon, La Plata Watershed – (CIC Plata- OEA) and Chaco (PAS Chaco (GEF-PNUMA-OEA); , as well as those that are likely to emerge in the near future. “Healthy ecosystems underpin sustainable development. With the adoption of this Action Plan, Latin American and Caribbean countries will have better conditions and more effective cooperation mechanisms to recover their ecosystems, halt biodiversity loss, and to advance regionally towards the 2050 vision of living in harmony with nature”. The overarching vision is that, by 2030, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean will have significantly advanced in defining policies and plans and implementing projects to restore marine, terrestrial and inland water ecosystems at a spatial scale that is relevant to revert the negative impacts of degradation.
Brazil, UNEP and FAO will co-lead a UN joint process to work on "Amazonia Legal", which is the name of the conjunction of the 8 Brazilian states accounting with Amazonian Forest. The purpose is to agree and develop governments commitments in the eight states towards the Decade for ecosystems restoration.
The implementation strategy for the Decade defines ecosystem restoration as “encompassing a wide continuum of practices that contribute to conserving and repairing damaged ecosystems”. As the specialized agency of the United Nations leading international efforts to defeat global hunger and malnutrition, FAO takes an active role in framing a vison for the implementation of the Decade from the perspective of its mandate to make agricultural systems (crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture) more productive, efficient and sustainable, while managing and protecting the environment and the natural resources base that these systems depend upon. The restoration of forest landscapes, farming, livestock and fish-producing ecosystems should primarily contribute to restoring these ecosystems to a healthy and stable state and full productive capacity of ecosystem goods and services, so that they are able to support human needs for sustainable food production and livelihoods. The ultimate objective of these restorative efforts should be to reverse the trend in many unsustainable agricultural systems, optimizing the ecological interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment, while leaving no-one behind.
The need for restoration is particularly demonstrated in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. Land degradation is costing over 10% of the annual global gross product in loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. It is estimated that one third of land used for food, fibre and feed production are degraded, representing 1.6 billion ha affecting all countries in the world1, and the restoration of degraded soils is considered central to the function and service provision of many ecosystems.
Inland waters and freshwater ecosystems also show among the highest rates of ecosystem decline, with only 13 per cent of the wetland present in 1700 remaining in 20002. Marine ecosystems, from coastal to deep sea, are also showing the increased impact of human action, with coastal ecosystems showing large historical losses of extent and condition. Deterioration of these ecosystems reduces service provision, as well as livelihoods opportunities to coastal communities.
The Ecosystem Restoration Playbook : A Practical Guide to healing the Planet is a joint publication by UNEP and FAO focussed on the same purpose of educating individuals about the ecosystem restoration. In the encouraging, empowering, and self-organizing spirit of actors for the UN Decade, a community of Restoration Implementers and individuals is being created through the Digital Hub with its one-stop “Yelp” function to allow for the community to network, engage, and get active.
The Task Force on Monitoring, established 1 year ago has been working to answer - how good monitoring and reporting can move the restoration commitments and planned investments to ecosystems. Good data is key to catalyzing and scaling investments in restoration, and FAO and UNEP are well positioned to provide this data. The Task Force on Monitoring consists of many colleagues across FAO and UNEP, in fact, in total 277 experts are contributing across 100 organizations. Good geospatial data is key, we have been working with FAO’s Hand-In-Hand Geospatial Platform to develop the Framework for Ecosystem Restoration Monitoring (the FERM), to deploy geospatial data across FAO domains to help monitor and report restoration progress for all ecosystems, terrestrial and aquatic, and not only biophysical but also the socio-economic data. We will launch the FERM next week, and we hope that it can support UN member countries to monitor and report restoration progress, which are indeed needed to catalyze and scale investments. (ToR Monitoring Task Force)
The UN Decade aims at restoring degraded land- and seascapes for PEOPLE and NATURE. Investment in restoration yields economic returns and increases green jobs and other livelihood opportunities (as can be seen in case of the Great Green Wall Initiative), particularly in the context of building back better and green investments as part of recovery investment packages for the COVID pandemic. Investments in nature-based solutions create low-skill and fast-implementing jobs — on average, between 7 and 40 jobs per $1 million invested, which is equivalent to up to 10 times the job creation rate of investments in fossil fuels.
To mainstream the UN Decade into formal and informal education, UNESCO as Collaborating Agency together with other partners are taking the lead of the education pillar. The year 2021 is dedicated to analyzing and mapping existing programmes and activities suitable to support the UN Decade and its goals which will be followed by an education pillar outlined for the UN Decade. More partners will join and lead on education activities. UNEP is contributing through its environmental education experience and programmes, including collaboration with the gaming industry.
The Advisory Board is the main external body of the UN Decade’s governance structure which is established for the purpose of providing guidance and thoughts during the implementation of the UN Decade. The Board will also help in providing support and guidance to the different Task Forces of the UN Decade and expected to promote the decade through their respective organisations and networks. Board members must have significant public profiles. Please see the Advisory Board ToR for UN Decade. The Advisory Board is the main external body of the UN Decade’s governance structure which is established for the purpose of providing guidance and thoughts during the implementation of the UN Decade. The Board will also help in providing support and guidance to the different Task Forces of the UN Decade and expected to promote the decade through their respective organisations and networks. Board members must have significant public profiles. Please see the Advisory Board ToR for UN Decade.
The official, public-facing launch of the UN Decade will take place with the next World Environment Day – on June 5, 2021. This will be a unique opportunity for us to reach millions across the globe and motivate others to get involved in ecosystem restoration.
But the movement to protect and restore our ecosystems has already taken off! September 2020 saw the reveal of the UN Decade’s strategy and brand. Since then, everyone is invited to take the Decade’s call to action and make it their own. Use our visual and communication assets on your publications, at your restoration sites or communication products. Tell your #GenerationRestoration story and follow what others are doing. Read up on restoration knowledge, news and what can be done to conserve and revive different ecosystems.
This decade cannot wait another day.
#GenerationRestoration is open to everyone. Addressing our global environmental problems means restoring ecosystems covering hundreds of millions of hectares. This will require a major shift in how societies perceive and value ecosystems. To achieve this transformation, every action counts, whether it is restoring native vegetation to a school yard, managing farms or forest sustainably, or protecting a whole valley or an estuary. Helping raise awareness, encouraging community participation and providing resources, labour and expertise are equally crucial to initiatives of all scales. The UN Decade’s website and other platforms offer ideas, materials and a virtual meeting place for people and organizations to help them join and build restoration initiatives everywhere.
The UN Decade aims to accelerate action on restoration in order to achieve global goals within these ten next critical years. Anyone who wants to pick up the baton for restoration is welcome. A consultation on the UN Decade strategy drew more than 2,000 comments from governments, civil society, researchers, Indigenous People’s groups, youth organisations and others around the world. The strategy focuses on three pathways: building a global restoration movement; increasing political will; and building the required technical and financial capacity for restoration at scale.
Trees are astonishing. They bind carbon from the atmosphere, protect and fertilize soils, supply firewood and timber, and harbour many of the planet’s animals, birds and insects. Reforestation in the right places is a key solution to the climate crisis. However, all ecosystems from savannahs to wetlands, from the peaks of mountains to the depths of the ocean – provide valuable functions and harbour unique biodiversity. Planting trees on natural grassland may destroy more than it creates. Peatlands may receive less spotlight than forests, but they store even more carbon and can be easier to restore. Wetland are the ecosystems that have suffered the most at human hands, with some 85 per cent of them already lost.
Whether planting trees, promoting soil-friendly farming practices, or designing a sustainable fishing regime, restoration on the ground needs careful planning. Any initiative must take account of factors including the type of ecosystem and its condition, the pressures it faces, agreement among stakeholders about what to do, and the resources and expertise at their disposal. In many cases, support from local communities and Indigenous Peoples and disadvantaged groups including women is vital. Restoration can also be achieved by providing to support to existing conservation or restoration projects, or pressing for more sustainable policies at all levels of government.
Massive government investments being lined up in response to the pandemic-induced downturn are a unique opportunity to create a “restoration economy” that will provide millions of jobs in future-proof industries and help put human societies on a sustainable track. Economists estimate that the benefits of restoration can exceed the cost of investment many times over. Halting the loss of natural habitats will also make the emergence of more zoonotic diseases – infections that spread from animals to humans, like COVID-19 – less likely to recur.
Ecosystem restoration brings so many benefits that it can address several urgent environmental issues at the same time. Protecting and reviving natural systems – such as tropical forests or coastal mangroves – and other natural solutions could provide one-third of the answer to the climate crisis. Climate scientists identified restoration as critical to staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. Protecting Earth’s landscapes and seascapes will sustain the habitat for its stunning biodiversity, from whales and elephants to the tiniest microbes. By supporting agriculture, forestry, fisheries and many other activities, healthy ecosystems underpin the livelihoods of billions of people around the world, especially in developing countries. They are key to our hopes of meeting all of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, including those on poverty, and food and water security. Restoration can prevent conflict and migration triggered by environmental degradation.
Ecosystems are the basis of life on Earth, and their degradation through conversion, over-exploitation, pollution and other impacts poses an existential threat to humanity. More than 3.2 billion people are already affected by land degradation. The loss and degradation of natural habitats for plants and animals has helped drive an estimated 1 million species toward extinction. Many of the world’s commercial fish species are seriously overexploited. Climate change is both a driver and a result of ecosystem degradation in a spiral that threatens to accelerate our environmental crisis.
Ecosystem restoration means assisting in the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed, as well as conserving the ecosystems that are still intact. Healthier ecosystems, with richer biodiversity, yield greater benefits such as more fertile soils, bigger yields of timber and fish, and larger stores of greenhouse gases. Restoration can happen in many ways – for example through actively planting or by removing pressures so that nature can recover on its own. It is not always possible – or desirable – to return an ecosystem to its original state. We still need farmland and infrastructure on land that was once forest, for instance, and ecosystems, like societies, need to adapt to a changing climate.
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world, for the benefit of people and nature. It aims to halt the degradation of ecosystems, and restore them to achieve global goals. Only with healthy ecosystems can we enhance people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change, and halt the collapse of biodiversity. Above all, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is building a strong, broad-based global movement to ramp up restoration and put the world on track for a sustainable future. It runs from 2021 through 2030, which is also the deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals and the timeline scientists have identified as last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change.