World Environment Day 2021: Ecosystem Restoration – by Jason Reeves

For World Environment Day last year, I wrote about 2020 being an incredibly important year for biodiversity and the environment. That emphasis has now moved to 2021 due to delays caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. The reality however is that whilst major international agreements have been delayed the decline of biodiversity and the climate emergency have continued.

The United Nations has declared World Environment Day 2021 as the start of the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. They call it a “rallying cry to heal our planet” by “preventing, halting and reversing the degradation of ecosystems worldwide”.

“There has never been a more urgent need to revive damaged ecosystems than now. Ecosystems support all life on Earth. The healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet – and its people. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. It can help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent a mass extinction. It will only succeed if everyone plays a part.”

The launch of the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration was accompanied by the publication of a synthesis and call to action report – Becoming #GenerationRestoration: Ecosystem Restoration for People, Nature and Climate. It has seven key messages:

  1. Countries need to deliver on their existing commitments to restore 1 billion hectares of degraded land and make similar commitments for marine and coastal areas.
  2. Unfortunately, we are still going in the wrong direction.
  3. Ecosystem restoration is needed on a large scale in order to achieve the sustainable development agenda.
  4. Ecosystem restoration delivers multiple benefits.
  5. Achieving successful ecosystem restoration at scale will require deep changes.
  6. Everyone has a role to play in ecosystem restoration.
  7. Achieving the aims of the UN Decade will require action by many.

It’s important to recognise the significance of habitat and ecosystem restoration, both nationally and internationally, in the context of the many benefits that we get from healthy and functioning ecosystems and particularly in the fight against climate change. CIEEM Fellow Penny Anderson’s recent publication, Carbon and ecosystems: restoration and creation to capture carbon, shows the clear link between habitats and tackling climate change. And the Dasgupta Review pointed out, as others have before, how our societies and economies rely on the natural environment – and how we are undermining these ‘stocks’ and ‘flows’.

On the global stage, national governments need to remember this as they agree new frameworks for biodiversity action at CBD COP15 in October and for climate action at FCCC COP26 in November. Governments must then make sure that these targets and frameworks are embedded across their national policy-making, and not undermined by disjointed decision-making.

Governments would do well to invest – and create fair and inviting conditions for private investment – in nature-based solutions (see CIEEM’s briefing) as a way to restore ecosystems, which will tackle both the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. The UN’s recent State of Finance for Nature report says that, globally, the annual investment in nature needs to be quadrupled if we are to maintain the services that nature provides (see video below). As one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, the UK has a lot to do – and not just at home, we have a significant global ecological footprint and a responsibility to support restoration around the world.

There is a plethora of in-depth information now available on implementing nature-based solutions, including the British Ecological Society’s recent report, the Natural Capital Committee’s State of Natural Capital report provides advice on using nature based interventions to reach carbon net zero, the European Commission’s Science for Environment Policy Future Brief 24: The solution is in nature, and the IUCN has even published a global standard for nature-based solutions. There is no reason for governments not to follow this pathway to a green recovery.

In the year of COP15 and COP26, all of our governments must not just talk the talk on restoring nature, they must purposefully and deliberately walk the walk – future generations depend on it.


Jason Reeves BSc MSc CEnv MCIEEM is Head of Policy and Communications at CIEEM. He leads CIEEM’s policy and advocacy activities, and oversees the Institute’s external communications. He sits on the advisory boards of Teach the Future and UK Youth for Nature. He has over 15 years of experience in the ecology and environment sector.


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