#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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.