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Intense restoration of nature needed to address climate and biodiversity crises, says joint UNEP-FAO report
The triple threat of climate change, loss of nature and pollution requires the world to deliver on its commitment to restore at least one billion degraded hectares of land in the next decade - an area about the size of China states the report “Becoming #GenerationRestoration: Ecosystem restoration for people, nature and climate,” launched today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO).
The report is also an urgent call for action to address the climate and biodiversity crises.
“Ecosystem faces massive threats, forests are being cleared, rivers and lakes polluted, wetland and peatlands drained, coast and oceans are degraded and overfished, just to mention a few examples”, said Dominique Burgeon, Director of the FAO Liaison Office at the UN in Geneva”. He added that “the conservation of healthy ecosystems is essential, but it is not sufficient. We need to go beyond and restore all ecosystem that can be restored”.
Ecosystems requiring urgent restoration include farmlands, forests, grasslands and savannahs, mountains, peatlands, urban areas, freshwaters, and oceans. Communities living across almost two billion of degraded hectares of land include some of the world's poorest and marginalized.
“The ecosystems are degraded in alarming ways and humanity is using about 1,6 times the amount of services that nature can provide sustainably to its survival”, said Bruno Pozzi, Director of the Europe Office, UNEP. “So definitely the conservation and the way we treat healthy ecosystems as of today is not enough. So we need to restore what we lost or what we have degraded and we need to invest”.
FAO and UNEP stressed that countries should consider building their post-COVID-19 recovery in a greener way. According to UNEP’s Bruno Pozzi, “the Covid-19 pandemic has just reminded us that when we treat nature badly, well there are consequences. It is therefore an opportunity with the trillions of dollars and Euros and Swiss Francs that are coming on the market to accelerate a change and to build back differently, greener and restore our ecosystems”.
Tim Christophersen, Head of the Nature for Climate Branch at UNEP’s Ecosystems Division said that “if we do this at the necessary scale, it will have benefits far beyond climate change and biodiversity. It will have benefits for food security, for health, for clean water, for jobs, restoration can benefit all these Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)”.
Actions that reverse degradation are necessary to meet the Paris Agreement target of keeping global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius. Restoration, if combined with stopping further conversion of natural ecosystems, may help avoid 60 percent of expected biodiversity extinctions. Agroforestry alone has the potential to increase food security for 1.3 billion people, while investments in agriculture, mangrove protection and water management will help adapt to climate change, with benefits around four times the original investment.
“In the last 30 years we have lost an area of forest of 420 million hectares, that’s the size of two countries, India and Nigeria combined, so we are currently still losing 10 million hectares a year”, said Mette Wilkie, FAO Director of the Forestry Division. “That is two and a half time the size of Switzerland. That has to stop and we can do that. The major reason for deforestation varies across the world but largely it’s because of agricultural expansion”.
UNEP and FAO estimate that global land restoration costs are to be at least USD 200 billion per year by 2030. The report outlines that every 1 USD invested in restoration creates up to USD 30 in economic benefits.
While the need for terrestrial restoration is urgent, the coastal and marine protection is even more important for everyone’s wellbeing.
“Two thirds of ocean ecosystems are already being damaged, degraded or modified. If we consider that this planet is about 70% ocean, then that is an enormous amount”, said Tim Christophersen, Head of UNEP’s Nature for Climate Branch and Ecosystems Division. “Keep in mind that his includes also plastic pollution in the ocean which is now so ubiquitous that it is very hard to avoid plastic even in fish that we catch and eat. One third of commercial marine fish populations are fished unsustainably, so this is a real risk to food security.”