Altyn Dala
Image by: Darya Kuznetsova/UNEP


UN recognizes vast grassland restoration initiative in Kazakhstan with special award

  • Effort to bring Saiga antelope back from the brink of extinction named World Restoration Flagship Initiative now eligible to receive United Nations support, funding or technical expertise
  • News celebrated in Kazakhstan

Montreal, 13 December 2022 The United Nations has recognized an initiative to protect Kazakhstan’s sprawling steppe as one of 10 pioneering efforts to revive the natural world.

The UN designated the initiative, which has created a haven for the once-endangered Saiga antelope, as one of its inaugural World Restoration Flagships. These initiatives, which are eligible to receive UN -backed support, funding or technical expertise, are designed to showcase how environmental advocates are mending damaged ecosystems across the planet. Human activity has significantly altered three-quarters of the Earth’s land and two-thirds of its marine environment, pushing 1 million species towards extinction.

The announcement came as leaders gathered in Montreal, Canada for the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, where governments from around the world will agree to a new set of goals for nature over the next decade. Talks are expected to include a potential global target for ecosystem restoration.

Kazakhstan’s sprawling steppe holds important carbon stocks and supports a wide diversity of resident and migratory species, including 95 percent of the global population of the Saiga antelope. In many parts of the world, grasslands are under threat from climate change, chronic overgrazing and expanding farms. Kazakhstan is engaged in a long-term effort to conserve and restore its steppe, semi-desert and desert ecosystems across the historical range of the Saiga antelope, an area which spans 750,000 km². That has created a refuge for the once-endangered Saiga. Today, there are more than 1.3 million of the animals, up from just 50,000 in 2005.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said: “The return of the Saiga antelope to Central Asia is one of the world’s great conservation success stories and so very worthy to be included in the inaugural World Restoration Flagships. It is a stellar example of what humanity can do when we act decisively to restore vulnerable ecosystems. Our livelihoods, our health and, indeed, the fate of humanity is interlinked with every species, plant and animal, with whom we share the planet.”

Aliya Shalabekova, Vice Minister, Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources of the Government of Kazakhstan, said: “The establishment of nearly 5 million hectares of protected areas has made major strides in restoring and protecting Kazakhstan’s vast steppe ecosystems. These results could only be achieved through strong collaboration. We look forward to continuing our long-term partnership with national and international conservation organizations.”

The effort and other flagship initiatives were selected under the banner of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global movement coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It is designed to prevent and reverse the degradation of natural spaces across the planet.

Qu Dongyu, Director General of the FAO, said: “FAO, together with UNEP, as co-lead of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, is pleased to award the 10 most ambitious, visionary and promising ecosystem restoration initiatives as 2022 World Restoration Flagships. Inspired by these flagships, we can learn to restore our ecosystems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all, leaving no one behind.”

Vera Voronova, Executive Director of the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), said: At ACBK, the leading national civil society conservation group in Kazakhstan, we recognize the immense support we receive from international partners and our close collaboration with the Government of Kazakhstan. It is so inspiring to see our initiative share a stage with the world’s most ambitious restoration projects.”

Referring to the steppe’s name in Kazakh, she added: “We hope our nomination raises the profile not just of Altyn Dala but of grasslands in general which play a vital part in global biodiversity and are also an important carbon sink.”

The world restoration flagship awards are part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem 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.  Progress of all 10 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.


About the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 

The United Nations General Assembly has declared the years 2021 through 2030 the 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. 

About the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative:

This World Restoration Flagship is coordinated by the Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan, Fauna & Flora International, Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

About the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

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.


For more information, please contact:

Moses Osani, Media Officer, UN Environment Programme

For media interviews with officials from Kazhakstan please reach out to:

Vera Voronova, Executive Director, Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan

Type of article
Press Release