06 Mar 2019 Story Ecosystems

New UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to inspire bold UN Environment Assembly decisions

Photo by Pexels

The UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, is the world’s leading decision-making forum. From 11 to 15 March 2019, it will be considering how best to improve outcomes for people and planet. Ecosystems will be high up on the agenda.

The timing looks good. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, declared on 1 March 2019 by the UN General Assembly, aims to massively scale up the restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems as a proven measure to fight climate change, and enhance food security, water supply and biodiversity.

The degradation of land and marine ecosystems undermines the well-being of 3.2 billion people and costs about 10 per cent of the annual global gross domestic product in loss of species and ecosystems services. Key ecosystems that deliver numerous services essential to food and agriculture, including supply of freshwater, protection against hazards and provision of habitat for species such as fish and pollinators, are declining rapidly.

Restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded land between now and 2030 could generate US$9 trillion in ecosystem services and take an additional 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

UN Environment and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations will lead implementation of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

Discussions by Member States and other entities in the week prior to the Assembly will focus on the following areas specifically relating to ecosystems:

  • Innovations on biodiversity and land degradation
  • Protection of the marine environment from land-based activities
  • Protecting the ecological balance of food chains by conserving and sustainably using mangrove ecosystems
  • Sustainable coral reefs management
  • Deforestation and agricultural commodity supply chains
  • Sustainable nitrogen management
  • Rangelands and pastoralism
  • Sustainable blue economy
  • Sustainable peatland management for tackling climate change involving the recently established International Tropical Peatland Center

The high-level section of the Assembly, starting on 11 March, will make the final decisions.

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Degraded land in Ethiopia. Photo by Flickr

The Decade will accelerate existing global restoration goals, for example the Bonn Challenge, which aims to restore 350 million hectares of degraded ecosystems by 2030—an area almost the size of India. Currently, 57 countries, subnational governments and private organizations have committed to bringing over 170 million hectares under restoration. This endeavour builds on regional efforts such as the Initiative 20x20 in Latin America that aims to restore 20 million hectares of degraded land by 2020, and the AFR100 African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative that aims to bring 100 million hectares of degraded land under restoration by 2030.

“We have a small window of opportunity, but I believe there is every reason to be hopeful. There are many opportunities to halt land degradation and shift to a more sustainable world,” says Tim Christophersen, head of UN Environment’s Freshwater, Land and Climate Branch, and Chair of the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration.

Ecosystem restoration is fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, mainly those related to climate change, poverty eradication, food security, water and biodiversity conservation. It is also a pillar of international environmental conventions, such as the Ramsar Convention on wetlands and the Rio Conventions on biodiversity, desertification and climate change.

The UN Environment Assembly deliberations began on the same day as the launch of UN Environment’s flagship science-policy report, Frontiers, which identifies five key issues of emerging global concern: synthetic biology, permafrost peatlands, ecological connectivity, the nitrogen fix, and maladaptation to climate change—all of which are highly relevant to the future of the ecosystems on which we depend for our economies, and well-being.