*This article was written by Ana Maria Lebada and originally appeared on the IISD SDG Knowledge Hub.
The UN General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed 2021-2030 UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The Decade will be implemented “within existing structures and available resources,” with the aim of supporting and scaling up efforts to prevent, halt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide and raise awareness of the importance of successful ecosystem restoration.
By the text adopted on 1 March 2019 in New York, US, UNGA invites the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) to lead the implementation of the Decade, in collaboration with the Secretariats of the Rio Conventions (the UNFCCC, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)), and other relevant multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and entities of the UN system.
The resolution emphasizes that ecosystem restoration and conservation contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the achievement of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.
Restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded land between now and 2030 could generate USD 9 trillion in ecosystem services.
The text was introduced by Lina Dolores Pohl Alfaro, Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, El Salvador. Noting that ecosystem degradation affects 3.2 billion vulnerable people in the world, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America, she explained that the resolution aims to serve as a framework for action and to “revitalize” existing environment-related international agreements and commitments.
Such international agreements and commitments include, for instance: the Bonn Challenge, which aims to restore 350 million hectares of degraded ecosystems by 2030; the Initiative 20×20 in Latin America, which aims to restore 20 million hectares of degraded land by 2020; and the AFR100 African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative, which aims to bring 100 million hectares of degraded land under restoration by 2030. Currently 57 countries, subnational governments, and private organizations have committed to bring over 170 million hectares under restoration.
Announcing the decade, UNEP highlighted that restoration could remove up to 26 gigatons (Gt) of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere. Noting that the degradation of land and marine ecosystems costs about 10% of the annual global gross product in loss of species and ecosystems services, the UN Agency said restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded land between now and 2030 could generate USD 9 trillion in ecosystem services. UNEP further added that research shows that more than 2 billion hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded landscapes offer potential for restoration. This will be key to enhance food security, water supply and biodiversity, the Agency said.
The resolution encourages Member States to mainstream ecosystem restoration in policies and plans that address national developmental priorities and challenges caused by the degradation of marine and terrestrial ecosystems, biodiversity loss, and climate change vulnerability, in order to create opportunities for ecosystems to increase their adaptive capacity, and maintain and improve livelihoods.