The writer is former chairperson, UP Forest Corporation; former principal secretary, forest & environment; former chairman, UP Pollution Control Board, and former Honorary Secretary, Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), UP Regional Branch
The Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) was launched by the UNO on World Environment Day (June5, 2021). The creation of the decade was proposed earlier by Lina Pohl, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, El Salvador in a speech delivered at the General Assembly of the UN. The proposal was supported by 70 countries from different parts of world; and the UN General Assembly on March1, 2019 adopted a resolution proclaiming 2021-2030 as the Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. In June 2021, in a report to help launch the decade, the UN called upon nations to deliver on existing eco-restoration commitments. Finally, the Decade was launched on June 5, 2021.
The programme aims to restore damaged ecosystems, following the Covid-19 pandemic. This will help in improving habitat for wildlife, protect soils and watersheds, safeguard biodiversity, food security, water supply and will support efforts to meet the challenges in climate change and economic recovery post Covid-19. It will not only help improve the quality of natural habitats but has the potential to foster global co-operation, innovation in climate related technologies and infrastructures as well as better management of natural resources and ecosystem services. The decade has committed to restoring over one billion hectares of degraded ecosystems.
It is not that ecosystem restoration has not been on the agenda earlier. About 40 % of the world’s population suffers due to ecosystem degradation. Bonn’s challenge is one earlier project of ecosystem restoration which aims to restore 350 million hectares of degraded habitats by 2030. India joined the Bonn Challenge in 2015 with a commitment to restore 21 million hectares of degraded habitats by 2030; this goal was revised to 26 million hectares in 2019. Similarly, the Global Mangrove Alliance also supported restoration of millions of hectares of degraded ecosystems. Then there are regional initiatives such as AFR100 and Initiative 20x20. AFR100 is an international partnership between African nations, financial interests, technical organisations, and local interests which aims to restore more than 100 million hectares of land in Africa by 2030. Initiative 20x20 is an initiative of 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries and three regional programs that have committed to improve more than 52 million hectares of land.
There are several benefits of ecosystem restoration. A recent study indicated that restoring 15 percent land in priority areas could prevent 60 percent of suspected extinctions. The UN report of June, 2021 has revealed that eco-restoration efforts could contribute about a third of the climate change mitigation needed by 2030. It may also protect biodiversity and nature. It may also improve health and living conditions by supplying clean water and sustainable food in urban as well as rural areas. Eco-restoration also may enhance adaptivity to climate change. For instance, wetlands act as a natural barrier against typhoon damage. They also increase green employment opportunities. India’s GDP suffers a loss of 2.5 percent on account of land degradation. Therefore, the investment in ecosystem restoration has its financial benefits as well. Further, the positive impact of eco-restoration on climate change will also result in preventing reduction in agricultural income. The rise in unemployment rates caused by Covid-19 will also be reduced by investment in ecosystem restoration.
The Decade Programme has listed following nine eco-systems for restoration:
1.Farmlands and agricultural areas
2. Forests and protected wildlife reserves
3. Freshwaters and wetlands
4. Grasslands and plantations
5. Shrub-lands and Savannahs
7. Oceans and coasts
9. Urban areas.
These nine types of eco-systems are to be restored through agro-forestry, soil enhancement measures, natural or assisted regeneration, new plantation including new mangroves and grass plantings, improved management of land, water and marine areas. It is estimated that an investment of about 1 trillion US dollars will be needed over the decade long eco-restoration programme.
The UN Decade programme also supports the implementation of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to climate change mitigation and adaptation, water and food security, conservation of biodiversity, poverty alleviation and economic growth under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This is being done through improved access to financing, capacity building and renewed enthusiasm for implementation. Such a large-scale restoration programme is a great challenge from political as well as societal perspective.
Objectives of the Decade are:
1. To showcase successful initiatives to halt ecosystem degradation and restore already degraded ecosystems;
2. To enhance knowledge exchange on what works and what does not work (in policies, economics, technical and implementation aspects at a scale);
3. To connect initiatives working in the same region or topic to increase efficiency and impact;
4. To create links between businesses and ecosystem restoration initiatives and opportunities;
5. To demonstrate the importance of ecosystem restoration for conservation as well as generation of social and economic benefits so that a broader spectrum of actors is brought on board.
The decade programme is being led by two agencies of the UNO – the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The other international bodies involved are the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF). These agencies have decided to involve governments, private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community and individuals in implementing the programme. In all senses, it is a global eco-restoration programme.
Six barriers have been identified in the implementation of the programme:
1. Low awareness in societies about the damage caused by degraded eco-systems and the benefits likely from eco-restoration;
2. Lack of finances for the eco-restoration programme;
3. Absence of political will, legislation and policies to encourage and support eco-restoration;
4. Limited technical knowledge and capacity for the programme,
5. Low investment in scientific research related to eco-system restoration.
These barriers have to be overcome by promoting and building a global movement. Ecosystem restoration as a subject need to be incorporated into the mainstream education. For information exchange, a digital hub is needed to be set up at global as well as local levels. Media channels have to be involved to create awareness. Standard guidelines will have to be developed for ecosystem restoration.
New policies are needed to support the restoration programme. Financial Investments in eco-restoration programme require priority for this sector. Support to the programme at the level of heads of national governments can go a long way in catalysing financial investments and other support. There is a need to prioritise ecosystem restoration opportunities at local, national and global level.
The programme has the potential to promote a healthy and green recovery in the wake of Covid-19, especially with the active support of over 70 countries. India has a major role to play in the Decade programme on eco-restoration. Let us hope India meets these expectations of world community by according, during the decade, eco-restoration programme the priority and support it deserves.