The Amazon rainforest is an ecosystem the UN seeks to save. Image: Ivars Utināns/Unsplash
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- The UN recently announced the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration project, which aims to restore ecosystems with the efforts of millions of people worldwide.
- The UN Decade's Task Force on Best Practices has released 10 principles to guide restoration initiatives.
- The main idea is that it is a collaborative effort in which both nature and people are supported.
To date, 115 countries have joined the campaign, making commitments to restore crucial ecosystems like forests, rivers and grasslands. Taken together, these pledges would revitalize over 1 billion hectares – an area larger than China. Millions of everyday people have also thrown their support behind the UN Decade.
“The enthusiasm for restoration is growing. We see countries, citizens and companies joining Generation Restoration”, says Tim Christophersen, Coordinator of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “But now it’s time to act. And to get restoration right.”
To help with that, the UN Decade’s Task Force on Best Practices this week released 10 principles to guide restoration initiatives. This major effort brought together hundreds of organizations. Besides Decade Lead Agencies UNEP and FAO (the coordinator of the Task Force), the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Commission for Ecosystem Management (CEM) acted as main convenor
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The principles, released at the World Conservation Congress in Marseilles, France, detail what defines good ecosystem restoration practices. They were the result of feedback from hundreds of restoration experts and practitioners, including government officials, researchers, NGOs, businesses, indigenous peoples and religious leaders.
“It was great to see how deeply people engaged with the topic but most importantly, the open consultation gave us pointers for strengthening the principles,” said one of the task force’s coordinators, Vera Boerger of the Food and Agriculture Organization.
“This includes the realization that in healing Earth, we need to draw on all kinds of knowledge, including traditional and indigenous sources.”
Principle 1: Global Contribution
Healthy ecosystems underpin all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and are essential for preventing climate catastrophe and mass extinction. Successful ecosystem restoration contributes to the achievement of the SDGs and brings together the goals of the three Rio Conventions by simultaneously tackling climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation.
Principle 2: Broad Engagement
People are at the heart of restoration. Currently, over 40 per cent of the world’s population suffers from drying soils, water insecurity and other adverse impacts of ecosystem degradation. Restoration implementers should include affected people throughout the process – and pay special attention to the voices of underrepresented and marginalized groups, such as indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, women, youth, and LGBTIQ+ people.
Principle 3: Continuum of Activities
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the difficult task of bringing back what has been lost. Sometimes, it is enough to give nature space; mangroves, for example, often regrow on their own once disturbances are removed. But ecosystems that are severely degraded may require more effort, such as large-scale tree planting. There is one thing that all good restoration activities have in common, however: They result in a net gain for biodiversity and ecosystem health while benefitting people.
Principle 4: Benefits to Nature and People
While ecosystem restoration activities can range from planting fruit trees in school gardens to reviving coral reefs, they should aim for the biggest benefits possible. Under no circumstances should restoration lead to further degradation of the environment or the people that depend on it.
Principle 5: Addressing Causes of Degradation
Ecosystem restoration is not a substitute for conservation. Likewise, in the case of climate action, increasing natural carbon sinks needs to go hand-in-hand with the decarbonization of the economy. Effective restoration, therefore, needs to tackle the drivers of degradation, from the direct contributors, such as resource extraction, to indirect factors, like climate change.
Principle 6: Knowledge Integration
The idea that humans can bring back degraded ecosystems has a long history in academia and practice. To be successful, ecosystem restoration should integrate various kinds of knowledge. This includes scientific work but also indigenous and traditional knowledge and the experience of local communities. Best practices and innovations should also be captured, assessed and made widely available.
Principle 7: Measurable Goals
At the onset of every restoration journey, implementers and those affected by restoration should decide where they want to go. This should include setting defined targets – such as the number and variety of trees to be replanted, for example – as well as economic and social goals. All targets should be measured against a baseline to determine the impact restoration has made.
Principle 8: Local and Land/Seascape Contexts
Restoration is a global mission. To revive Earth by 2030, action must span all continents and oceans. But restoration is also local in nature. Measures that are beneficial in one place can have adverse effects elsewhere. For example, introducing trees and other species that are not native to the environment can lead to further degradation. Restoration needs to be tailored to local contexts.
Principle 9: Monitoring and Management
Restoration is complex and real impacts of initiatives are hard to predict. Continuous monitoring is essential to ensure measures are progressing towards a project’s goals. But not everything can be controlled. Restoration initiatives should therefore follow adaptive management practices and adjust interventions as needed.
Principle 10: Policy Integration
Restoration does not happen in a vacuum. A number of factors, including financing, can determine the long-term success of an initiative. Governance instruments, such as laws and policies, are critical to sustaining the revival of ecosystems.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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