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Facing an alarming rate of landscape degradation globally, a coalition of global organizations launched key principles for ecosystem restoration on 7 September at the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France. The principles underpin the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), which aims to reestablish the health of degraded ecosystems in ways that benefit both people and nature.
“If we cannot stop degradation, all of our restoration activities are for naught,” James Hallett, chair of the Society for Ecological Restoration, said as part of a panel discussion on the restoration principles.
Based on feedback from restoration experts, government officials, researchers, Indigenous groups and others, the principles are centered on an initial framework of global contribution. This principle highlights the need to ensure restoration at a cumulative, sustainable scale. The remaining nine principles stress a best-practice approach that draws on local knowledge and the insights of Indigenous groups.
Two task forces, one focused on best practices led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the other focused on science led by the IUCN, along with participants in a global consultation process and members of a number of other organizations invested in the Decade, provided feedback on the 10 principles, polishing them to guide the UN Decade and provide a shared vision for ecosystem restoration activities. Crucially, these activities also help limit global temperature rise as part of the Paris climate accords and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
1.) Global contribution
2.) Broad engagement
3.) Many types of activities
4.) Benefits to nature and people
5.) Addresses causes of degradation
6.) Knowledge integration
7.) Measurable goals
8.) Local and land/seascape contexts
9.) Monitoring and management
10.) Policy integration
“The principles for ecosystem restoration will be a critical tool to guide the implementation of the UN Decade and to maximize the sustainable production of goods and services,” said Christophe Besacier, co-leader of the Task Force on Best Practices and coordinator of the Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism at FAO.
In the coming decade, countries have committed to restore 1 billion hectares, an amount of degraded land equivalent to the size of China. Meanwhile, 4.2 million hectares of primary tropical forests – an area the size of the Netherlands – were lost in 2020. Coastal communities, coral reefs, peatlands, mangroves and other fragile landscapes are also at risk as the climate continues to heat up and extreme weather becomes the norm. Landscape degradation threatens biodiversity, with roughly 1 million species at risk of extinction, along with the well-being of billions of people.
The restoration principles are seen as a key part of reversing these landscape declines.
“These 10 principles satisfy two needs,” said Andrea Romero Montoya, an FAO consultant and task force facilitator, in an email. “The first is the need for a shared vision of ecosystem restoration. The second is the need for principles to underpin all of the restoration activities that are part of the continuum of ecosystem restoration defined by the UN Decade, and which are applicable across all sectors, biomes and regions.”
The next steps include defining criteria for good restoration practices, establishing best practices to guide practitioners, and translating the principles and standards into several languages. Engagement with local communities and Indigenous groups will also be key, as will financing for ecosystem restoration activities.
Said IUCN Congress panelist Luc Gnacadja, president of Governance and Policies for Sustainable Development (GPS-Dev) and chair of the UN Decade Science Task Force, said, “It will take time to reap the benefits of ecosystem restoration while using a bottom-up approach. But we [now] have something to plan for.”
Developed by the FAO-led Task Force on Best Practices, the Society for Ecological Restoration and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Commission for Ecosystem Management, in collaboration with CIFOR-ICRAF, Ecohealth Network, UN Environment and the World Wide Fund For Nature, the principles of ecosystem restoration are the first step in an ongoing process as part of the launch of the UN Decade.