World Environment Day 2021: the generation of restoration
As every year, on June 5 we celebrate Word Environment Day to raise awareness and encourage action to tackle an urgent environmental problem, and this time the focus is on restoration. But 2021 is a year like no other. We have been exploiting and destroying the planet's ecosystems for too long, without really being aware of the impacts (or not wanting to see them) and 2021, after the emergence of COVID-19 – showing the disastrous consequences of ecosystem loss – is a crucial moment for our generation.
If we are the generation that can slow down the impacts of climate change, we are also de generation that can make peace with nature, restoring what we have destroyed. Restoring ecosystem means, according to the UN, “preventing, halting and reversing this damage – to go from exploiting nature to healing it”. Ecosystems sustain all life forms on Earth, and so the health of our planet and its inhabitants depends directly on their health. Did you know that restoring 15% of converted lands in the right places could prevent 60% of projected species extinctions?
The UN warns that every three seconds, the world loses enough forest to cover a football pitch and over the last century, we have destroyed half of our wetlands. As much as 50 per cent of our coral reefs have already been lost and up to 90 per cent of coral reefs could be lost by 2050, even if global warming is limited to an increase of 1.5°C. However, restoration and other natural solutions can provide a third of the mitigation needed by 2030, to keep global warming below 2°C, while, at the same time, they help societies and economies adapt to climate change.
The value of ecosystems
The importance of aquatic ecosystems
Aquatic ecosystems range from mangroves that protect our coasts from erosion and extreme events such as tsunamis, to inland lakes and rivers teeming with flora and fauna, as well as wetlands that filter and moderate water inflows at the same time as they store large amounts of carbon.
According to the UN, ecosystem degradation is already affecting the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people – 40% of the world’s population. Freshwater ecosystems have been particularly degraded due to several reasons: they are exposed to pollution by chemical substances, plastics and wastewater, as well as overfishing and excessive water withdrawal. Specifically, some 30% of natural freshwater ecosystems have disappeared since 1970, and their restoration, together with forest restoration, could save water utilities in the world’s largest cities $890 million each year in water treatment costs. This video by the Iberian Centre for River Restoration (CIREF), portrays in a concise and educational way the importance of preserving our rivers, as well as of restoring those which have been deteriorated.
Without a doubt, freshwater plays a fundamental role to support the environment, society and the economy. Thus, freshwater ecosystems are vital for directly ensuring a range of benefits and services such as drinking water, water for agriculture and energy, habitats, and natural solutions for water purification and climate resilience, among many other uses. Moreover, the UNEP affirms that, managed effectively, freshwater ecosystems also directly support terrestrial ecosystems, large marine ecosystems and coastal zones. In this regard, to function properly and to remain healthy, freshwater ecosystems require the effective management of both quantity and quality of water resources. Restoration means halting pollution, reducing and treating waste, managing demand for water and fish, and reviving vegetation above and below the surface.
Aquatic ecosystems range from mangroves that protect our coasts from erosion and extreme events
Water is essential for life on our planet, but the demand for human purposes is increasingly higher, and it is threatened by the effects of climate change. This is why last March 22 World Water day intended for each person to reflect on the role of water in his/her daily life, thus learning what water means for the planet, to be able to find the best solutions to ensure water conservation and protection. Because we cannot afford the luxury of being careless with our most vital resource. 2021 must be the year for human-nature reconciliation.
UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030
2021 is also a unique year because on June 5, World Environment Day, the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 will be formally launched: a ten year effort to halt and reverse the deterioration of the natural world.
It is a call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world, for the benefit of people and nature, because "only with healthy ecosystems can we enhance people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change, and halt the collapse of biodiversity".
This way, led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Decade is building a strong, broad-based global movement to ramp up restoration and put the world on track for a sustainable future.