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“The Critical Importance of Ecosystem Restoration”

Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim

PORT LOUIS, Mauritius, Jul 8 2021 (IPS) - June 2021 marked the launch of UN Decade on Ecosystem restoration. This effort aims at reversing the damage that us humans have caused and are still causing to Nature. It is clear that we have to reverse course and spare no effort into making this ‘Decade on Ecosystem Restoration’ a success. Preserving Nature and maintaining its services are critical for our survival on this planet and for our livelihoods.

Unfortunately, the World Bank is already forecasting that in Sub-Saharan Africa, the collapse of ecosystem services will result in contraction of GDP by 9.7% annually by 2030. This dovetails with the seminal work on of Prof. P. Dasgupta entitled ‘The Economics of Biodiversity” which reports that “Humanity now faces a choice: we can continue down a path where our demands on Nature far exceed its capacity to meet them on a sustainable basis; or we can take a different path, one where our engagements with Nature are not only sustainable but also enhance our collective wellbeing and that of our descendants”.

We could ask – How did we get there?

At the heart of the problem lies deep-rooted, widespread institutional failure. The solution starts with the understanding that and accepting a simple truth: our economies are embedded within Nature and not external to it. Yet, every single year, we lose ecosystem services worth more than 10 per cent of our global economic output. A third of the world’s farmland is degraded, about 87% of inland wetlands worldwide have disappeared since 1700, and a third of commercial fish species are overexploited and one million species are on the brink of extinction. Degradation is already affecting the well-being of an estimated 3.2 billion people – almost 40% of the world’s population.

Ecosystem restoration is needed on a large scale as it delivers on multiple benefits and helps us deliver on the sustainable development agenda. Restoration will no doubt curb the risk of mass species extinctions and future pandemics. Restoration of forest landscapes, farming, livestock and fish-producing ecosystems require special care and have to be brought to a healthy and stable state. Reviving ecosystems and other natural solutions could contribute over 1/3 of the total climate mitigation needed by 2030.

For this effort to be sustained on a global scale, institutions require sustained investments and there is growing evidence that it more than pays for itself. Policy makers and financial institutions are only slowly realizing the huge need and potential for green investment.

Agroforestry revival alone could increase food security for 1.3 billion people. Countries like Costa Rica has seen ecotourism grow to account for 6% of GDP by doubling its forest cover.

If by 2030, Mesoamerica and Indonesia could add 2.5BN $ to their economy simply by restoring coral reefs. A restored population of marine fish can deliver a maximum sustainable yield that could increase fisheries production by 16.5 million tonnes, an annual value of USD 32 billion.

Actions that prevent, halt and reverse degradation are needed if we are to keep global temperatures below 2°C. This implies better management of some 2.5 billion hectares of forest, crop and grazing land (through restoration and avoiding degradation) and restoration of natural cover over 230 million hectares.

Large-scale investments in dryland agriculture, mangrove protection and water management will make a vital contribution to building resilience to climate change, generating benefits around four times the original investment.

With careful planning, restoring 15% of converted lands while stopping further conversion of natural ecosystems could avoid 60% of expected species extinctions. Achieving successful ecosystem restoration at scale will require deep changes, including the adoption of inclusive wealth as a more accurate measure of economic progress. This will rest on the widespread introduction of natural capital accounting thus creating an enabling environment for private sector investment, including public-private partnerships.

Progress can be made by increasing the amount of finance for restoration, including the elimination of perverse subsidies that incentivize further degradation and fuel climate change, and also through initiatives that will raise awareness of the risks posed by ecosystem degradation.

Such bold transformations will happen when we start reforming agriculture; by changing how we build our cities; by decarbonizing our economies and by moving to circular economic models.

So far, 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. UNEP report of 2021 reports that only 6 of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets have been partially achieved. Ecosystem restoration alone cannot solve the crises we face, but it is key to averting the worst of them.

We need to rethink and re-create a balanced relationship with nature, not only by conserving ecosystems that are still healthy, but also by urgently and sustainably restoring degraded ones.

For too long, we have been using the planet as a sink for our waste products, such as carbon dioxide, plastics and other forms of waste including pollution. Degradation is undermining our hard-won development gains and is threatening the well-being of today‘s youth and future generations, while making national commitments increasingly more difficult and costly to reach.

We need to change how we think, act and measure success as transformative change is possible – we and our descendants deserve nothing less.

Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim
6th President, Republic of Mauritius


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