The world, which faces triple threat of climate change pollution and loss of nature, must 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) for a healthy planet. Apart from this, the countries should also add similar commitments for oceans, said a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization.
The report — Becoming Generation Restoration; Ecosystem Restoration for People Nature and Climate said that humanity used about 16 times the amount of services that nature con provide sustainably. As such, the authors of the report mention that conservation efforts cannot alone prevent the collapse of large-scale ecosystem and biodiversity loss. The report points out that at least 200 billion dollar per year by 2030 is needed for restoration activities and to restore land for a healthy planet. The UNEP and FAO outlined that every one dollar invested in restoration creates up to 30 dollars in economic benefits.
The report pointed out that urgent restoration is need in farmlands, forests, grasslands and savannahs, mountains, peat lands, urban areas, freshwater, and oceans. In the forward to the report, UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen and FAO Director General Qu Dongyu wrote; “this report presents the case for why we must all throw our weight behind a global restoration effort. Drowning on the latest scientific evidence, it sets out the crucial role played by ecosystems from forests and farmlands to rivers and oceans, and it charts the losses that result from a poor stewardship of the planet.”
“Degradation is already affecting the well-being of an estimated 32 billion people that is 40 percent of the world’s population. Every single year we lose ecosystem services worth more than 10 percent of our global economic output,” they said.
The report points out that about two billion people depend on agriculture sector for their livelihoods. It said that farmland degradation reduced crop and livestock yields. The UNEP and FAO said in the report that soil erosion affected about one-fifth of farmlands worldwide and is estimated to have increased by 25 per cent between 2001 and 2012. It pointed out that land degradation could reduce global food productivity by 12 per cent, causing food prices to soar by up to 30 per cent by 2040. The report underlines that about 12 million hectares of severely eroded croplands in the European Union affected an annual loss in agricultural productivity of 1.25 billion euros.
In the report, the authors say that about 420 million hectares of forest have been lost since 1990. “Member States are not on course to meet pledges to increase the overall amount of woodland by three per cent by 2030,” FAQs Forestry Division director Mette Wille said. The report finds that on average of 122 million hectares of forests are affected by fires, pests, diseases, invasive species drought and adverse weather events every year.
Since 1900, 64-71 per cent of wetlands have been lost. The rate of wetland loss in Europe slowed and remained low in North America since 1980s. However, it remained high in Asia due to large-scale and rapid conversion of coastal and inland natural wetlands.
GRASSLANDS, SHRUBS AND SAVANNAHS
The report mentions that Agriculture cleared or transformed about 70 per cent of grasslands across the world. Almost half of grasslands in Europe had a “bad conservation”. Degradation of grasslands and savannahs threaten the culture and livelihoods of indigenous and ethnic minority communities.
Over the past 200 years, floods due to glacial lake outbursts alone have caused at least 400 deaths in Europe, 5700 in South America and 6,300 in Asia. The number of new glacial lakes is increasing with climate change. Changes in snow and glaciers affect run-off in some river basins, in turn affecting local water resources and agriculture.
OCEANS AND COASTS
In the last 50 years ocean lost 77 billion metric tonnes of oxygen, expanding dead zones by 45 million square kilometres. This is similar to the size of European Union. In the report, the authors write that if ocean acidification continues unabated, it will cause a global loss of one trillion dollars per year by 2100. “Unless we make drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, all coral reefs worldwide are expected to disappear due to bleaching and acidification by the end of this century. Sea levels are predicted to cause a 46-59 per cent loss of global coastal wetlands by 2100. Yet ocean temperatures continue to increase,” the report said
Ineffective urban planning and management led to socioeconomic inequality and deteriorating environmental quality. According to estimates, cities generate 70 per cent of global carbon emissions and consume two-thirds of the world’s energy (UN Habitat 2020) Air pollution is a major health RICK. More than 80 per cent of people living in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels exceeding World Health Organization guidelines (UN 2016).
UNEPs Nature for Climate Branch Ecosystems Division head Tim Christophersen said “It is no longer enough just to protect what we have. We have to go beyond that and restore, not only to halt the loss of biodiversity, but also to meet the Pars Agreement’s climate targets.”
“If we do this at the necessary scale it will have benefits far beyond climate change and biodiversity for food security for health, for clean water, for jobs. Restoration can benefit all these Sustainable Development Goals,” he explained.
“We speak of two thirds of ocean ecosystems being damaged, degraded and modified, and if you consider that the planet is 70 per cent ocean, that is an enormous amount, including plastic pollution which is so ubiquitous that it is very hard to avoid plastic even in fish that we catch and eat,” said Christophersen.
The report urged all countries to commit to a global restoration effort to protect and promote natural spaces, as this will bring cleaner air and water, mitigate against extreme weather shocks promote human health and biodiversity whose benefits include improved plant pollination.