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04 February 2021

Restoring Ecosystems to Curbing Global Warming

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Restoring ecosystems that make up our planet’s natural environment is not only about a commitment to repairing and rebuilding the pieces of a puzzle deconstructed by human intervention retroactively, but rather about a commitment to the Earth’s future. According to United Nations estimates, ecosystem restoration could eliminate up to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, making rehabilitating and restoring the natural environment a crucial strategy in curbing climate change.

Against this background, with the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) begins an international effort led by the UN Environment Program and the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). In addition to being an effective measure in the fight against climate change, the restoration of ecosystems is directly related to food security, water supply, and the conservation of biodiversity as stated in the minutes of the 2019 UN Decade resolution.

Restore natural environments to regain their productivity

Ecosystem restoration is essential to guarantee the necessary levels of agricultural production in order to satisfy the nutritional needs of humans and animals. If erosion and losses of soil fertility continue, the degradation of ecosystems and climate change could reduce agricultural yields by 10 percent globally and up to 50 percent in some specific regions according to the UN.

The United Nations’ Earth and Climate Change Report (2019) shows how climate is affecting the availability, access, nutrition and stability of food. / Image: Unsplash

The process of restoring an ecosystem seeks the reversal of the degradation that many ecosystems (both marine and terrestrial) currently suffer with the aim of recovering their ecological functionality, which translates into an improvement in productivity. Regenerating overexploited ecosystems by reforesting or reintroducing extinct animals in the trophic chain are some restoration strategies.

A fundamental process to guarantee food safety

As recognized by the United Nations, the restoration of ecosystems is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), especially those related to climate change, food security, biodiversity conservation, water supply and poverty eradication.

Ecosystems as varied as forests, grasslands, mangroves, wetlands, savannas, marine life, coastal habitats and even urban ecosystems require a certain level of urgent protection to stop the degradation they suffer globally. When an ecosystem is healthy it acts as a carbon sink that absorbs a large amount of CO2 emissions. In addition, healthy soils store more nutrients and therefore produce higher quality crops, a key issue to meet the food needs of a world population that will grow to 9 billion by 2050. The United Nations estimates that the $9 trillion restoration of 350 million hectares of different landscapes and environments on our planet by 2030 will boost rural economies and remove an additional 13-26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. To meet the restoration goal that the UN has set for this decade, $800 billion will be needed, a figure that, although it may seem very high, is equivalent to less than two years of fossil fuel subsidies, as recognized by Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director.

BLUE CARBON ECOSYSTEMS

Coastal ecosystems with highly productive vegetation such as marshes, mangroves and seagrass beds are called blue carbon ecosystems because of their great capacity to capture carbon. Between 20 and 50 percent of these ecosystems have already been converted or degraded, leading some United Nations analysts to conclude that restoring wetlands can offer 14 percent of the mitigation potential needed to limit global warming to 2 ° C.

To understand its enormous ecological potential, although the area covered by blue carbon ecosystems occupies only 1.5 percent of the total surface of the Earth covered by vegetation, its degradation would mean an increase of 8.4 percent in CO2 emissions derived from land deforestation.

Blue carbon is what is captured by marine plant species found in coastal ecosystems / Image: Creative Commons

With these figures in mind, several international projects are working to rebuild ecosystems. The Bonn Challenge, for example, aims to restore an area equivalent to that of India before 2030. Currently, 61 countries and different private organizations participate in the process launched by the Government of Germany in 2011. As explained by the project’s website, the challenge responds to the urgent problem of degradation of more than 30 percent of the arable lands on our planet, a situation that directly affects the health and nutrition of more than 3 billion people.

Simultaneously, the 20×20 Initiative seeks to restore 50 million hectares of degraded lands in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2030. More than 40 percent of the forests in Latin America and the Caribbean (650 million hectares) have already been completely deforested or degraded, a fact of urgent concern if we take into account that the region contains some of the most ecologically valuable forest ecosystems in the world.

By Dory Gascueña for OpenMind

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