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U.N. declares decade of ecosystem restoration to ‘make peace with nature’

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  • The U.N. has declared the coming decade a time for ecosystem restoration, highlighting in a new report the importance of preventing, halting and reversing ecosystem degradation worldwide.
  • It calls on the world to restore at least 1 billion hectares (2.5 billion acres) of degraded land in the next decade — an area larger than China — warning that degradation already affects the well-being of 3.2 billion people.
  • The report also makes an economic case for restoration, noting that for every dollar that goes into restoration, up to $30 in economic benefits are created.
  • A key message of the report is that nature is not something that is “nice to have” — it is essential to our survival, and we are a part of it.

Earth’s ecosystems are stressed, and people are suffering the consequences. Experts say that conserving what’s left of the natural world is not good enough; we must also restore it — and the clock is ticking.

Last week marked the launch of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration led by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The goal: to prevent, halt and reverse ecosystem degradation worldwide.

A new report released alongside the decade launch presents evidence on the state of global ecosystem destruction and explains why restoration is critical for the economy, food security, clean water, health, climate change mitigation, security, and biodiversity.

“Degradation is already affecting the well-being of an estimated 3.2 billion people — that is 40 percent of the world’s population,” UNEP executive director Inger Andersen and FAO director-general Qu Dongyu, wrote in the forward to the report. “Every single year we lose ecosystem services worth more than 10 percent of our global economic output.”

A felled baobab tree in Kirindy Forest in western Madagascar. The majority of Madagascar’s forests have been cleared. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Over the past five years, the world lost roughly 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of forests per year, an area about three and a half times as big as Belgium. During the last century, 64-71% of all wetlands were destroyed. An estimated one-third of global fisheries are overfished, threatening 60 million fishers around the world. Agriculture alone has cleared an estimated 70% of global grasslands. And 20% of global farmlands are degraded.

The report calls on the world to restore at least 1 billion hectares (2.5 billion acres) of degraded land in the next decade — an area larger than China. Restoring nature at such an ambitious scale will require systemic changes, and will be costly, but the cost of inaction could be greater. Roughly half of global GDP depends on nature, and if ecosystem services decline at a steady rate, an estimated $10 trillion in global GDP may be lost by 2050.

Restoration is also a good investment. For every dollar that goes into restoration, up to $30 in economic benefits are created.

Commercial fisheries output, for example, could be increased by $1.9 billion to $3 billion per year by restoring mangroves to 40-100% of their pre-1980s extent. In the U.S., investing in restoration at a landscape scale creates twice as many jobs as a similar investment in oil and gas. Coral reef restoration in Mesoamerica and Indonesia could provide an extra $2.5 billion to $2.6 billion in ecosystem service benefits each year.

The economy exists within nature and has benefited from the “free” services it provides, such as carbon capture, water filtration, and fisheries. The exploitation of these services with no investment is unsustainable. According to the report, humanity is using nearly 1.6 times the amount of services nature sustainably provides. “In short,” the report states, “we need more nature than we have.”

Sargassum frog fish (Histrio histrio) in a mangrove forest. Commercial fisheries’ output could be increased by billions of dollars per year by restoring mangroves. Image by Lorenzo Mittiga / Ocean Image Bank.

Ecosystem restoration has also been recognized as a critical part of achieving the Paris Agreement climate targets, Aichi biodiversity targets, and many of the Sustainable Development Goals, including clean water, health, peace and security. Halting and reversing ecosystem destruction, for instance, could help to avoid 60% of predicted species extinctions. Agroforestry approaches alone could increase food security for more than 1.3 billion people. 

There is no formula for restoring nature on a global scale. The effort will require many methods, including landscape restoration, regenerative agriculture, and rewilding. These efforts will be aided by advances in remote monitoring, better methods for sharing knowledge, and improved on-the-ground practices.

While no methods are universal, the UNEP and FAO do offer a set of guiding principles. These principles include aiming for the highest level of well-being for people and ecosystems, addressing the drivers of degradation, promoting inclusive and participatory governance, tailoring approaches to local contexts, including plans for monitoring, and integrating policies for longevity.

Monitoring is a key guiding principle of the U.N. Decade. And to that end, the FAO and UNEP have also launched the digital hub for the U.N. Decade, which includes a framework that countries and communities can use to measure progress. Also within the hub is the Drylands Restoration Initiatives Platform, intended to share lessons and help people design restoration projects for grasslands, deserts and savannas.

Women planting seedlings in one of the oldest remaining dry Afromontane forests in Ethiopia. Photo © DVCorstanje via WeForest.

Time and again, successful restoration projects have demonstrated the importance of involving all stakeholders and communities throughout the process. And this inclusivity must extend to youth and women. Depending on the culture, men and women hold different knowledge about the environment and have different restoration priorities. Plans that ensure women and men can benefit equally from and fully participate in are often more sustainable.

“Restoration projects need to be more inclusive,” said Marlène Elias, a gender researcher at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, said in a press release. “If you’re looking at major goals like restoring millions of square kilometers of land, planting a trillion trees, or rehabilitating marine ecosystems, you’re almost certainly not going to have success unless you put people at the center of the work.”

In a press briefing, Wanjira Mathai, vice president and regional director of the World Resources Institute, Africa, made the point that the average age in Africa is 19, so restoration efforts need to include youths and to create economic opportunity and hope.

The leadership and traditional knowledge of Indigenous people is also paramount. An estimated 37% of all remaining natural lands (28% of the world’s land surface) are managed by Indigenous peoples, and these lands protect a majority of intact forests and 80% of global biodiversity.

A key message of the report is that nature is not something that is “nice to have” — it is essential to our survival, and we are a part of it.  Restoring the planet will take a massive global effort, and that effort can happen at all scales, from a backyard to a country.

“Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century,” António Guterres, the U.N. secretary-general, said in a statement. “It must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere.”


11 Comments on "U.N. declares decade of ecosystem restoration to ‘make peace with nature’"

  1. FamousDrScanlon on Fri, 11th Jun 2021 5:37 pm 

    All the monkeys, including the talking ones, are doomed.

    Drought Drives Lake Mead to Its Lowest Water Level Since It Was Filled in the 1930s

    At a Glance

    Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, dropped to 1,071.48 feet early Thursday.

    Officials expect the level to keep falling until November.

    Climate change is making the expansive Western drought worse.

  2. FamousDrScanlon on Fri, 11th Jun 2021 5:38 pm 

    Record heat forecast to bake Southwest next week, amid worsening drought
    Las Vegas, Phoenix and Salt Lake City face a long duration, punishing heat wave.

  3. FamousDrScanlon on Fri, 11th Jun 2021 5:39 pm 

    The area around Arizona’s wildfires is so dry, firefighters’ heavy equipment is causing small flareups

  4. FamousDrScanlon on Fri, 11th Jun 2021 5:41 pm 

    “Unheard of”: drought, dry conditions leading to some culling herd

    “The dry situations across the country is forcing some North Dakota ranchers to cull their herd. There is little to no grass to graze and feed costs are high.

    A livestock auction in Rugby, North Dakota will be selling more than 1,000 cow-calf pairs, which a field representative says is “unheard of.”

  5. FamousDrScanlon on Fri, 11th Jun 2021 5:44 pm 

    Historic Central Minnesota Heatwave Continues for Eighth Day in a Row

    “he Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says the heatwave that began June 3rd is of historic duration and intensity so early in the season.

    Records were set in the St. Cloud area on June 4th and 5th, beating old records that had been in place for close to or over 100 years. St. Cloud missed the record June 9th by one degree, but the record for June 10th is in danger of being tied or beaten as the National Weather Service is predicting the high temperature today to hit 97. The old record is 96, which was set in 1933.”

  6. makati1 on Fri, 11th Jun 2021 6:08 pm 

    “U.N. declares decade of ecosystem restoration to ‘make peace with nature’”

    How about making peace between humans? THAT is the UN mandate. The animals are going to disappear anyway as climate changes.

  7. FamousDrScanlon on Fri, 11th Jun 2021 11:19 pm 

    Blip – Humanity’s 300 year self-terminating experiment with industrialism

  8. FamousDrScanlon on Fri, 11th Jun 2021 11:20 pm 

    Utah faces worst drought period since Middle Ages

  9. FamousDrScanlon on Fri, 11th Jun 2021 11:25 pm 

    Amid mega-drought, rightwing militia stokes water rebellion in US west

    Demonstrations have sparked fears of a confrontation between law enforcement and rightwing anti-government activists

  10. FamousDrScanlon on Fri, 11th Jun 2021 11:36 pm 

    <b<The Pandemic That Lasted 15 Million Years

    “Our DNA holds evidence of a huge, ancient pandemic, one that touched many different species, spanned the globe, and lasted for more than 15 million years.”

  11. Out with old and in with the new on Sat, 12th Jun 2021 3:37 am 


    You are a dense old man and your attitude demonstrates why the old must go the sooner the better. Dumb Mak fails to realize his food and water and air exist only thanks to a vibrant ecosystem.

    The world is changing as the old and sick way of thinking and acting that got us into this mess die-off one at a time. The question is can they get planted fast enough?

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