Countries have committed to restoring up to 1 billion hectares of land lost to development, an area roughly the size of China, according to a new study released ahead of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030).
If implemented, the commitments made under various international agreements could go a long way to addressing climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss as well as achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including those on dignified work, and food and water security.
According to the study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, 115 countries have made commitments to restoring land under at least one of three major international environmental conventions – the Land Degradation Neutrality targets, Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Climate Agreement and National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans – along with the Bonn Challenge, an effort to restore degraded and deforested lands.
Some of the commitments may overlap. Still, the Dutch agency estimates that the area currently earmarked for restoration is between 765 million and 1 billion hectares. Almost half of the area to be restored is in sub-Saharan Africa, with significant commitments also in Asia and Latin America. Restoring forests and farmland accounts for three-quarters of the area pledged. And not all commitments have been quantified or officially announced.
“At the onset of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration in 2021, the plans and commitments are there,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. “Restoration is an idea whose time has come; investing in land restoration is generally economically profitable, socially acceptable and environmentally desirable.”
The upside of restoration
Restoring the health and productivity of land on this scale would bring massive benefits for people and nature. The commitments roughly match an estimate of the global land area that is becoming less productive. And it is double the amount of land that may be converted to agriculture between 2010 and 2050.
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is an opportunity to turn existing and new commitments into urgently needed action on the ground. The 10-year effort will involve individuals, communities, businesses, organizations and governments undertaking restoration at all scales and in all types of ecosystems on land or in water. About US$ 1 trillion would be needed between now and 2030 to implement restoration at a truly planetary scale, based on all the existing commitments.
A restoration economy will create millions of green jobs and enhance humanity’s resilience to future shocks and stresses, say experts. Revitalizing terrestrial ecosystems, such as farmlands, grasslands, forests, wetlands and peatlands, rebuilds their ability to store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Done well, it can also protect habitat for biodiversity, build soil fertility and reduce water scarcity. Well-functioning natural ecosystems are also key to combating zoonotic diseases, like COVID-19.
“We have seen a spirit of positive competition when it comes to restoration. More countries and people want to grow more and more trees,” said Tim Christophersen, Coordinator of the UN Decade with the United Nations Environment Programme. “But what is important to ensure now is that the right trees are planted at the right time, in the right place, and with the support of local communities. And that we uplift the ecosystems that are still somewhat undervalued in these global restoration commitments – for example our coasts, seas and rivers.”
The Rio Conventions, which emerged from the Earth Summit in 1992, are the main vehicles for international action on our critical environmental problems. In a demonstration of how fixing ecosystems can bring multiple benefits, many countries have made restoration pledges under all three agreements. Below are brief descriptions of the conventions and the Bonn Challenge and how they support the UN Decade’s vision.
The climate convention bundles the massive international effort to slow global warming and adapt to its impacts. After the burning of fossil fuels, emissions from deforestation and unsustainable land use are a main source of greenhouse gas emissions. Restoring healthy and resilient ecosystems is important to our chances of keeping global heating to well below 2°C, a key target of the Paris Agreement, and for adapting to unavoidable climate change.
Under the biodiversity convention, countries work to protect and sustainably use the astonishing diversity of life on Earth, including through the restoration of degraded ecosystems and the protection of natural habitat. Governments are currently negotiating new targets for 2030 that are expected to ramp up international ambition.
A major focus of the desertification convention is to promote sustainable land and water management practices to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030 (SDG target 15.3). The convention helps countries to identify priorities and plan restoration activities that can both prevent land degradation and recover the health of soils, farmlands, forests and other terrestrial ecosystems.
Launched by Germany and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2011, the world’s largest landscape restoration initiative aims to bring 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares into restoration by 2030. The challenge is supported by several regional initiatives, including Initiative 20×20 in Latin America and AFR100 in Africa.
UNESCO ‘eDNA’ initiative to ‘unlock’ knowledge for biodiversity protection
To understand the richness of biodiversity across World Heritage marine sites, the UN scientific organization launched on Monday a project to protect and preserve biodiversity, based on the study of environmental DNA – cellular material released from living things into their surroundings.
Launching the new programme, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that scientists and local residents would take samples of genetic material from fish waste, mucous membranes or cells, eDNA, to monitor species.
“Marine World Heritage sites play a critical role in protecting marine ecosystems of exceptional universal value and provide opportunities for the public to appreciate and preserve marine environments”, reminded UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, Ernesto Ottone Ramírez.
Species under threat
UNESCO said that the two-year initiative would help measure the vulnerability of marine biodiversity to climate change and its impact on the distribution and migration patterns of marine life across World Heritage sites.
The eDNA project, which involves collecting and analyzing samples from the environment – such as soil, water and air – rather than an individual organism, will also better monitor and protect endangered species included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
“Climate change is affecting the behaviour and distribution of underwater life and we must understand what is happening so we can adapt our conservation efforts to evolving conditions”, explained the UNESCO official.
Beneath the waves
UNESCO’s marine World Heritage sites are recognized for their unique biodiversity, outstanding ecosystems, or for representing major stages in Earth’s history.
In the context of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), the project was launched to contribute to the understanding of global trends and knowledge to preserve marine ecosystems.
Since 1981, when Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was inscribed at UNESCO’s first marine site, a global network of 50 others are now included as “beacons of hope for healing the ocean”, according to the UN agency.
Guided by expert support, the eDNA project will engage local citizens to gather material, so samples such as particles gathered through water filtering, can be genetically sequenced in specialized laboratories, without having to disturb animals themselves.
Implemented by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and World Heritage Centre, IOC chief Vladimir Ryabinin described the project as “a step toward the Ocean Decade’s vision of unlocking the knowledge we need to create the ocean we want by 2030”.
Breaking new ground
The use of eDNA in ocean monitoring and data collection is still in its infancy and standard protocols for sampling and data management will be streamlined in UNESCO’s groundbreaking eDNA project.
For the first time, it will apply a consistent methodology across multiple marine protected areas simultaneously, helping establish global standards, data monitoring and management practices while making that information available to the public.
All data will be processed and published by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS), the world’s largest open-access data system on the distribution and diversity of marine species, maintained and collectively supported by a worldwide network of scientists, data managers and users.
The project works to advance the world’s understanding of life in the ocean, and establish conservation and management policies indicators.
“eDNA sampling can provide an innovative, affordable, and long-awaited capacity to better understand the ocean ecosystems, their composition and behaviour, and to start managing ocean resources more sustainably”, said Mr. Ryabinin.
Act Urgently to Preserve Biodiversity for Sustainable Future — ADB President
The world must act urgently to preserve ecosystems and biodiversity for the sake of a sustainable future and prosperity, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Masatsugu Asakawa said at the opening of a global event on biodiversity here today.
“The world is at a critical turning point. If we are to reverse the alarming decline in nature, we must respond with urgency and coordinated action,” Mr. Asakawa said. “These efforts are needed to ensure the survival of our ecosystems, and for the sake of our shared future and prosperity.”
Asia and the Pacific is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world—home to 17 of the 36 global biodiversity hotspots, 7 of the 17 megadiverse countries, and the greatest marine diversity. “If restored and well-managed, these natural capital assets can help to mitigate global climate change and biodiversity loss in a cost-effective and impactful manner,” Mr. Asakawa said in his opening remarks at the Ecological Civilization Forum at the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Kunming, the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
The event is cohosted by the PRC’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, Yunnan provincial government, and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Participants include high-level representatives from governments, the private sector, development agencies including ADB, and civil society.
ADB is committed to helping accelerate and increase nature-positive investments in Asia and the Pacific. “Through our ADB Nature-Positive Investment Roadmap, we are working with partners to scale up finance, develop knowledge of natural capital, and generate financially sustainable projects that deliver on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems,” Mr. Asakawa said.
At COP15, ADB is launching a new publication, Greening Development in the People’s Republic of China, which outlines how ADB and the PRC have successfully partnered to promote green development and ecological restoration in a way that complements economic and social priorities.
In partnership with the Chinese Academy of Science and Stanford University, ADB is sharing progress on its new Natural Capital Lab due for launch in 2022. This will be a digital platform for sharing methods for valuing biodiversity and ecosystems, and for building knowledge, capacities, and alliances across the region.
In addition, ADB with partners will be launching the Regional Flyway Initiative that will conserve ecosystem services that support people and critical habitats for more than 50 million migratory waterbirds.
Greenpeace Africa reacts to DRC President’s decision to suspend illegal logging concessions
The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Félix Tshisekedi, ordered on Friday, October 15th, the suspension of all dubious logging concessions, including the 6 granted in September 2020. Greenpeace Africa, one of the civil society organizations that denounced these concessions, applauds the decision taken by the Head of State and encourages him to remain vigilant and ensure its effective execution by Deputy Prime Minister Ms. Eve Bazaiba.
Greenpeace Africa reiterates its call for maintaining the moratorium on new industrial logging concessions to prevent a human rights and climate catastrophe. This logging sector, characterized by bad governance, favors corruption and remains out of touch with the socio-economic needs of the Congolese people and the climate crisis we live in.
Irène Wabiwa Betoko, Head of the International Congo Basin Forest Project of Greenpeace: “The decision of H.E. President Tshisekedi against the illegal actions of former Minister Nyamugabo sends an important message to the Congolese people and their government. It is also a red light for the plans of Ms. Ève Bazaiba, current Minister of the Environment, to open a highway to deforestation by multinational logging companies through lifting the moratorium on new industrial concessions.”
The President asks to “Suspend all questionable contracts pending the outcome of an audit and report them to the government at the next cabinet meeting.” Greenpeace Africa maintains that the review of illegalities in the forest sector must be transparent, independent, and open to comments from civil society organizations.
Ms. Wabiwa adds that “Both the protection of the rights of Congolese peoples and the success of COP26 require that the moratorium on granting new forest titles be strengthened. We again call on President Tshisekedi to strengthen the 2005 presidential decree to extend the moratorium.”
Ms. Wabiwa concludes that “instead of allowing new avenues of destruction, the DRC needs a permanent forest protection plan, taking into account the management by the local and indigenous populations who live there and depend on them for their survival.”
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