In Agenda item 14 in the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly on 1 March 2019, Member States adopted a proposal declaring 2021 to 2030 to be the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Roughly a year in the works, this new endeavor will see the global body focus on mobilizing policymakers, private finance and the general public to address the 2 billion hectares of degraded landscapes worldwide.
The adopted resolution is an amalgam of facts; intentions; pleas; and the myriad other initiatives, agreements, events and decades to which it’s related. Reading of the original is still encouraged (it’s only six pages), but here, we’ve digested it into an easy summary of 10 points to know.
1. The resolution begins by acknowledging that this decade devoted to ecosystem restoration joins a number of other enacted decades, focusing on issues such as desertification, biodiversity, ocean science and family farming. Namely, however, it is designed to enhance the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Set in 2015, the Agenda’s 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include ending extreme poverty; ensuring food security and improved nutrition; and protecting, restoring and promoting the sustainable use of land and oceans. Because several SDG targets related to ecosystem restoration are coming due in 2020, “urgent action is therefore needed to achieve them.”
2. Natural ecosystems including “forests, oceans, wetlands and soil” act as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases. In the Paris Agreement on climate change, countries recognized the importance of “the conservation and enhancement” of such sinks and reservoirs, and the resolution says this must be done through an “ecosystem approach” in which these ecosystems and their resources, both terrestrial and aquatic, are integrated and managed hand-in-hand.
3. From the Aichi Biodiversity Targets to the UN Decade on Biodiversity (2011–2020) to the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity – which will be held in Kunming, China, next year – ongoing initiatives spotlight biodiversity as an imperative issue, and this decade will too. The resolution stresses that biodiversity conservation and restoration must be taken into consideration together, with each supporting the other. The loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services from land degradation translates into an annual loss of more than 10 percent of global gross domestic product. Reducing these ecological – and thus financial – losses must be prioritized.
4. Recalling the U.N. Strategic Plan for Forests 2017–2030, the resolution also deems forests a priority for restoration activities. Between 1990 and 2015, the footprint of forests decreased from 31.6 percent to 30.6 percent of the world’s total land area. The “pace of loss has slowed in recent years,” the resolution acknowledges, but the loss must now be reversed through “sustainable forest management, including protection, restoration, afforestation and reforestation.”
5. Mentioning the Ramsar Strategic Plan 2016–2024, the resolution gives wetlands a big shout-out, again highlighting the importance of ecosystems such as peatlands, tidal marshes, mangroves, seagrass meadows and others. The resolution states that both coastal and inland wetland areas studied between 1970 and 2015 have decreased by 35 percent. Meanwhile, coral reefs are projected to decline by a further 70 to 90 percent with a 1.5 degree Celsius rise in the Earth’s temperature. A 2-degree rise would bring even greater losses.
6. This decade comes in the wake of “the emergence of voluntary restoration initiatives and commitments of all levels.” In particular, the resolution points out the Pan-African Action Agenda on Ecosystem Restoration for Increased Resilience, as well the Bonn Challenge, to which nearly 60 countries had committed to bring more than 170 million hectares of landscapes under restoration at the time of the decade’s adoption.
7. Yet, “in spite of political commitment, additional momentum is needed” in order to truly achieve the transformational change required to restore ecosystems and achieve the SDGs. While not stated explicitly in the resolution, many of its creators and supporters have discussed the importance of the decade being used to mobilize financial muscle through the private sector.
8. It’s widely held that improved, restored ecosystems can help increase societies’ resilience to climate change, alleviate poverty and improve global human well-being. In terms of achieving these social ambitions, the proposal says that restoration must be “carried out… with the engagement of relevant stakeholders, including indigenous peoples and local communities.” In particular, it calls for the “full participation of women at all levels of policymaking and implementation” of conservation and restoration efforts, to aid progress in gender equality.
9. The resolution ends by encouraging Member States to “mainstream ecosystem restoration” through creating policies to boost restoration and decrease degradation; continue working toward existing goals, initiatives and commitments; look holistically at how ecosystem restoration can help achieve other global priorities and commitments; share experiences with one another; and build capacity, scientific research, resource availability and momentum for restoration at all levels – from local villages to international dialogues.
10. Not to be missed, however, is a gem of a sentence tucked on page four, in which the resolution recognizes “that protecting ecosystems and avoiding harmful practices against animals, plants, microorganisms and non-living environments contributes to the coexistence of humankind in harmony with nature.”