THE NEED to pull out the stops on restoring earth’s ecosystems – including forests, farmlands and oceans – has been reinforced by a 2021 report of the United Nations Environment Programme, published to launch the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030.
The report, titled Becoming #Generation Restoration: Ecosystem restoration for people, nature and climate, makes the case to prioritise nature.
“… We have been overexploiting and degrading the world’s ecosystems and wild species, causing the erosion of the very services we depend on. Driving this degradation are the ways we produce food and alter our landscapes and oceans, along with climate change, pollution and invasive species,” the report noted.
“The global economy has seen incredible growth over recent decades – growth that has been fuelled by the erosion of the world’s natural assets. Thus, our massive gains in income and poverty reduction come at the expense of a significant deterioration of the health of the biosphere. We are using the equivalent of 1.6 earths to maintain our current lifestyle and are putting the future of our economies at extreme risk,” the document warned.
Between 2015 and 2020, for example, the world lost some 10 million hectares of forests, whose service to people include the regulation of the climate through the absorption of carbon; providing a home for 80 per cent, 75 per cent and 68 per cent of all amphibian, bird and mammal species, respectively; and providing one-third of the world’s largest cities with drinking water.
At the same time, the degradation of mountain ecosystems presents a risk to food and water security. Referred to as the ‘water towers of the world’, they “fulfil the fresh water needs of half the global population,” the report explained.
Further, a third of the world’s oceans’ commercial fish stock are overfished, threatening the livelihood of the 60 million fishers worldwide, while the 1.15 to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic entering the ocean annually is estimated to reduce ecosystem services to the tune of at least US$500 billion annually.
There is a call, too, to be mindful of the particular vulnerabilities of certain groups.
“Because ecosystem degradation does not affect everyone equally, its worst impacts mainly affect people living in poverty, women and girls, members of indigenous and traditional communities, older persons, persons with disabilities, ethnic, racial or other minorities, and displaced persons,” the report said.
“These are the same groups of people who are suffering the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it is exacerbating pre-existing inequalities,” it noted.
That there is an urgent need to restore and conserve nature’s assets does not appear to be in question.
“The need to restore damaged ecosystems has never been greater. Degradation is undermining hard-won development gains and threatening the well-being of today‘s youth and future generations, while making national commitments increasingly more difficult and costly to reach. None of the agreed global goals for the protection of life on earth and for halting the degradation of land and oceans have been fully met.. .” the report said.
“We need to recreate a balanced relationship with nature, not only by conserving ecosystems that are still healthy, but also by urgently and sustainably restoring degraded ones. Ecosystem restoration alone cannot solve the crises we face, but it is key to averting the worst of them,” it insisted.