A Landmark Event: UN Declares “Decade of Ecosystem Restoration”

A Landmark Event: UN Declares “Decade of Ecosystem Restoration”

In the first week of March, the United Nations declared 202130 as the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. The resolution promoted by El Salvador has been supported by the international community's call for ecological restoration to be at the forefront of the national agenda. The Ecological Restoration Association (SER) called this step an important step in focusing the world's attention on the need to restore degraded ecosystems. The UN declaration is expected to bring political commitment, scientific research, and financial strength to significantly expand the recovery.

NEED

Ecosystem degradation is one of the greatest environmental threats facing the world. The combined effects of development, human and social pressures, and invasive alien species have caused considerable damage to almost all types of ecosystems. Biodiversity and the capabilities of ecosystem services have been compromised. This has led to a number of impacts, such as deterioration of wildlife habitats, increased human-animal conflicts, water security and protection against natural disasters, increased risk of species extinction and reduced of carbon sequestration. Some protected areas are protected by law, but are ecologically exposed. In the absence of scientific methods for restoration, the use of methods such as tree planting and afforestation has brought about changes in the ecosystem. Although the degradation of terrestrial ecosystems is more pronounced, it is equally serious in other environments such as freshwater and marine ecosystems.

Opportunity

Ecological restoration provides space for large-scale restoration of damaged natural systems. Take India as an example: almost two-thirds of our terrestrial forests are outside the protected area. Due to high human pressure and low protection priorities, many of these forest areas have been degraded. The protected area is also affected by factors such as the presence of invasive alien species. A rough estimate is that around 4050% of our forests may face varying degrees of degradation. This provides a great opportunity to enhance biodiversity, restore precious habitats for our wild animals, and improve the quality of human life. Importantly, based on activities aimed at building ecological resilience, restoration provides unique potential to create rural livelihoods, allowing local communities to become active partners in overall conservation efforts. At an economic level, considering the scale of effort required, the potential for generating GDP is enormous. In fact, these social benefits should strengthen the political will necessary for this push.

Restoration and climate change

One of the main goals of the UN Declaration is to mitigate climate change. It is estimated that restoration can remove up to 2.6 billion tons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Although this is a commendable goal, it must be treated with caution, and at the same time the basic principles of ecological integrity as the basis for restoration must not be sacrificed. We have seen India trying to designate areas with low vegetation density as non-productive sites that need greening. Increasing canopy cover is considered a top priority. These goals may have serious consequences for our diverse biodiversity and lead to the destruction of many unique ecosystems, such as arid, semi-arid, and bush forests. This in turn threatens the unique fauna that depend on these habitats. The design of restoration policies and methods must take ecological priorities into consideration. In fact, empirical evidence shows that natural ecosystems are more effective and more sustainable in achieving the dual goals of climate change and ecosystem services.

Restoration ecology and conservation biology

Restoration ecology and conservation biology are two complementary branches of ecological protection. The latter focuses on the protection of individuals or related species of fauna. Restoration focuses on restoring the biological and non-biological components of the ecosystem, and one of the goals is to improve the habitats of different groups of animals. In fact, the success of recovery projects is often measured by the breadth of recovery in the food chain. Restoration makes the protection of flagship or threatened fauna more effective and sustainable. Environmentalists in these two disciplines have great potential for cooperation.

Challenges in the Indian context

The first challenge is the resource gap. Restoration ecology accounts for a very low proportion of academic courses in India and there is a lack of specialized degrees or postgraduate courses. Most of the practitioners are self-taught. Restoration ecology is a complex and professional field, and foreign institutions offer programs to train qualified restorers. Unless we have a sufficient number of well-trained restoration professionals on the ground, ecological restoration cannot be successful in ten years. In this case, SER has a certification program and also cooperates with academic institutions to initiate teaching programs. The second challenge is standards. The International Standard for Ecological Restoration was released in 2016 and provides the basic principles of restoration practices. It is best to make these recommendations for the project to ensure a greater degree of consistency in methods and methods. Large-scale financing is the third challenge. Recovery is a long-term activity and requires large amounts of funds from the state. Although there is an intention to use compensatory afforestation funds for restoration, only by shifting the scope from afforestation to restoration and properly training forest managers can it succeed. Finally, the issue of long-term commitment. A typical restoration project lasts more than 6 years, which poses a challenge for keeping the project cautious over such a long period of time. The forestry department can work with recovery agencies with relevant qualifications and experience to deal with this problem.

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