Restoring 68 million hectares, creating 15 million jobs

The United Nations has recognized 10 large-scale, long-term ecosystem restoration efforts around the globe as World Restoration Flagships that aim to restore more than 68 million hectares − an area bigger than Myanmar, France or Somalia − while creating nearly 15 million jobs.

The flagships, unveiled at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal last December, “show that with political will, science, and collaboration across borders, we can achieve the goals of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and forge a more sustainable future not only for the planet but also for those of us who call it home,” says UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.

UN Environment Program Jun. 17, 2021

“Inspired by these flagships, we can learn to restore our ecosystems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all, leaving no one behind,” said FAO director general Qu Dongyu.

The inaugural Flagships are:

Trinational Atlantic Forest Pact, which once covered a swath of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. Hundreds of organizations are active in the decades-long effort, creating wildlife corridors for endangered species, securing water supplies for people and nature, building resilience to climate change, and creating thousands of jobs. Some 700,000 hectares have already been restored with the 2030 target at 1 million hectares and the 2050 target at 15 million hectares.

Abu Dhabi Marine Restoration: Some 7,500 hectares of coastal areas have already been restored with another 4,500 hectares under restoration for 2030. The United Arab Emirates is restoring beds of seagrass, to protect the world’s second-largest dugong population, and coral reefs and mangroves. Local communities will benefit from the revival of some of the 500 species of fish, as well as greater opportunities for eco-tourism.

Great Green Wall for Restoration and Peace, launched by the African Union in 2007, seeks to transform the lives of millions in the Sahel region by creating a belt of green and productive landscapes across 11 countries. The 2030 goals are to restore 100 million hectares, sequester 250 million tons of carbon, and create 10 million jobs.

Ganges River Rejuvenation: Restoring the health of the Ganges, India’s holy river, is the focus of the government-led Namami Gange initiative, launched in 2014, which has involved 230 organizations in restoring 1,500 km of river to date and 30,000 hectares of forest. Investment by the Indian government is up to $4.25 billion so far.

Multi-Country Mountain Initiative, based in Serbia, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda and Rwanda, showcases how restoration is making mountain ecosystems more resilient. Uganda and Rwanda are home to one of only two remaining populations of the endangered mountain gorilla. In Kyrgyzstan, herders are managing grasslands more sustainably so that they provide better food for both livestock and Asiatic ibex. In Serbia, authorities are expanding tree cover and revitalizing pastures in two protected areas.

The forest and landscape restoration work of more than 360 organizations and companies that are part of the Pact for the Restoration of the Atlantic Forest and the Trinational Network for the Restoration of the Atlantic Forest is highlighted in a mini-documentary produced by the UN. It is part of a series called RESTORE: Films from the frontiers of hope.

Small Island Developing States Restoration Drive Focused on Vanuatu, St Lucia and Comoros, this flagship is scaling up ridge-to-reef restoration of unique ecosystems and tapping blue economic growth to help island communities rebound from the pandemic.

Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative in Kazakhstan has been working since 2005 to restore the steppe, semi-desert and desert ecosystems within the historic range of the Saiga, an antelope population that had plunged to 50,000 in 2006 but rebounded to 1.3 million in 2022. The initiative also has helped conserve wetlands where 10 million migratory birds stop over.

Central American Dry Corridor: By 2030, the goal is to have 100,000 hectares under restoration and create 5,000 permanent jobs in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, using traditional farming methods, like integrating tree cover with crops like coffee, cocoa and cardamon to boost soil fertility and water availability while sustaining much of the biodiversity of the original tropical forest.

Building with Nature in Indonesia: Demak, a low-lying coastal community on Indonesia’s main island of Java, has been plagued by erosion, flooding and land loss caused by the removal of mangroves.This flagship has built fence-like structures with natural materials along the shore to create conditions for mangroves to rebound naturally. So far,199 ha of mangroves have been restored. Farmers have increased their shrimp production, and fishers have also seen their near-shore catches improve.

Shan-Shui Initiative in China: Launched in 2016, this initiative combines 75 large-scale projects to restore ecosystems across the world’s most populous nation. Projects dovetail with national spatial plans, work at the landscape or watershed scale, include agricultural and urban areas as well as natural ecosystems, and seek to boost multiple local industries. All include goals for biodiversity. Some 3.5 million hectares have been restored so far. The 2030 target is 10 million hectares.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration runs until 2030, which is also the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Without halting and reversing the degradation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, one million species are at risk of extinction. Scientists say restoring only 15% of ecosystems in priority areas and thereby improving habitats can cut extinctions by 60%.

Cover image: Foto di Agenzia Dire, Wikimedia.