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Ecosystem restoration is key to social and environmental benefits: IUCN


Ecosystem degradation is basically seen as the root of several ills including landscape degradation leading ultimately to a state of desertification


By Salam Rajesh


“Ecosystem restoration offers multiple benefits though they may be unevenly distributed”, reads the key message in the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)’s 2021 report of the Science Task Force for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

The report, captioned as ‘Science-based ecosystem restoration for the 2020s and beyond’, particularly emphasizes that, “Ecosystem restoration can produce multiple social and environmental benefits, including enhancing human health and well-being, helping mitigate and adapt to climate change, improving water quality and flows, reducing soil erosion and flooding, regaining soil fertility and preventing species extinction”.

The years between 2021 and 2030 is earmarked for embarking on a global scale to initiate various field-oriented activities to help planet Earth regain on the ground lost worldwide primarily due to negative influences of humans. Anthropogenic activities such as extractive industries have left huge chunks of the planet bare, scrapped and torn beyond repair.

Concerned with the phenomenon of unprecedented climate extremities, which have been related to processes largely induced by human activities during the past decades, the United Nations had declared emergency measures to help Earth leap back to its near natural status. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) is the fallout of this initiative.

A second and important key message in the report is that, “Adaptive management and monitoring are keys to effective and long-term restoration actions”. This is transliterated in intending that, “Transparent monitoring, valuation and adaptive management are integral and cross-sectional components of the ecosystem restoration process”.

The report is specific on its assessment that ‘Baseline ecological and social data and analysis are keys to producing robust restoration action plans’ and that ‘Local communities can be actively engaged in the design of assessment, management and monitoring frameworks and tools’.

Different subsidiary bodies of the United Nations have time and again emphasized on the contributory role of Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs) in ecosystem restoration and in achieving targets set to meet the climate challenges. The IUCN report is particular about the proactive involvement of IPLCs, read as forest and wetland dwellers specifically, in both short and long term strategies to help restore degraded ecosystems across landscapes.

The United Nations specifically emphasizes that, “Restoration is a crosscutting strategy that can help achieve a wide range of social, economic and environmental outcomes. Sustaining diverse and functioning ecosystems, both natural and managed, is essential for human safety, health and continued prosperity”.

This latter reflection finds applicability in the manner how both States and local communities are currently striving hard to work on Nature-based Solutions (NbS) post-haste to meet the urgency in addressing climate issues. The worst case scenario as observed in these past years where rising temperature globally had wreak havoc with the natural systems is too loud to be ignored.

August months during the years 2019 and 2020 were stated as the hottest months recorded in this past one hundred years, with some locations reaching 50 degree Celsius and more. Cyclonic storms and heat waves are more frequently reported, and erratic rainfall and droughts are major concerns today.

The IUCN report stresses that addressing ecosystem restoration is important considering that, “Conversely, ecosystem degradation, by contributing to the irreversible loss of species on land, in freshwater systems and seas, risk of ecosystem collapse, ocean acidification, diminishing freshwater, soil erosion and climate change, increases the risks human communities face in their daily lives. Recent zoonotic disease pandemics, such as the COVID-19 virus, illustrate the strong links between human well-being and ecosystem degradation”.

Ecosystem degradation, therefore, is basically seen as the root of several ills including landscape degradation leading ultimately to a state of desertification, which by itself leads to major human concerns such as the disappearance of water sources that could then lead to out-migration of humans and influencing demographic imbalance in other regions. This, of course, then leads to conflicts between communities and even nations.

Talking about environmental degradation, the famous primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall says, “We brought this pandemic to a large extent on ourselves – we have disrespected the natural world, we disrespected animals, and we’ve been cutting down forests. Animals are being driven in closer contact with people. Animals are being hunted, killed and eaten. They’re being trafficked. If we don’t get together soon and start respecting the natural world and realizing we’re a part of it… then it’s going to be a very, very, very bleak look for our great-great grandchildren” (Sanctuary Asia, December 2021).

The message is simple. Like Dr Goodall looks at it, human intervention into the natural world has to be re-looked and reviewed keeping in mind the extent of damages that are already committed and the rebound that affects human lives in so many different ways – the pandemic, the droughts, the heat waves, the cold waves, the flooding, the food insecurity, the water insecurity – the lists goes on and on.

The IUCN 2021 report while re-emphasizing that ‘local communities must be empowered to lead restoration movements’ has this to say to the decision makers: “Community and landscape right-holders and stakeholders need to be at the centre of restoration movements through their legitimate positions as land stewards, property owners and local decision makers”.

The report further says that, “Local and community organizations can directly address local needs and may have the capacity, motivation and local knowledge to take effective restoration action. Local knowledge can, additionally, be supplemented with technical support to enable restoration based on the best scientific practices. Empowering local decision-making processes for restoration by incorporating local knowledge and cultural traditions can contribute to enduring outcomes”.

This key message is relevant for policy planners and decision makers back home. The conventional model of State-sponsored and restricted planning without local community involvement in forest management and conservation needs to be done away with. The re-thinking on proactive participation of local communities is a priority today in the larger effort to upscale the green cover across the globe. Time, indeed, is running short on the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global temperature rise by 1.5 degree Celsius by the year 2030.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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