NetworkNature Factsheet: Seizing opportunities for ecosystem restoration to tackle societal challenges
The Factsheet explores the potential of ecosystem restoration actions to halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems. Building on the outcomes of the last NetworkNature semester theme on Nature-based solutions for Ecosystem Restoration, the factsheet provides an analysis of several restoration projects carried out in diverse ecosystems, and addressing multiple challenges. It concludes with a list of recommendations, resources and opportunities moving forward to ensure that restoration actions are put in place to successfully deliver on environmental, social and economic benefits.
Recognising the need to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems
Biodiversity loss is altering ecosystems worldwide, negatively affecting their ecological function and the provision of ecosystem services. Since 1970, the world has seen an average 68% decline in mammal, fish, reptile and amphibian populations (WWF, 2020). The resulting ecosystems degradation has impacted the well-being of 3.2 billion people across the globe and the loss of ecosystem services has reduced our global economic output by more than 10% (UNEP, 2021). Restoring 350 million ha of degraded land by 2030 could remove 13-26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere while generating $9 trillion worth in ecosystem services (UNEP, 2019).
Shifting societal and environmental conditions, including land-use change and increasing demand for resources, are accelerating ecosystem degradation. Currently, land degradation has reduced productivity in 23 per cent of the global terrestrial area, and between $235 billion and $577 billion in annual global crop output is at risk as a result of pollinator loss (IPBES, 2019). The loss of important ecological processes decreases the capacity of ecosystems to recover from perturbations.
Towards ecosystem restoration
As a response to this trend, the restoration of ecosystems is the process of halting and reversing degradation, resulting in improved ecosystem services, and recovered biodiversity. Ecosystem restoration encompasses a wide continuum of practices, depending on local conditions and societal choices. Depending on objectives, restored ecosystems can be achieved by assisting natural regeneration, restoring urban and farmland areas, and shifting modified ecosystems to more natural ones. An estimated 32 million hectares of primary and recovering forest were lost between 2010 and 2015 (IPBES, 2019).
Over one-third of the mitigation required by 2030 to keep average global temperatures below a 2°C increase can be ensured by reversing land and marine ecosystems degradation, while also conserving biodiversity, increasing food and water security, and improving human well-being, therefore contributing to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNEP, 2019).
Experiences from ecosystem restoration projects
As part of the NetworkNature semester ‘Nature-based solutions for ecosystem restoration’, the international community working on ecosystem restoration was invited to submit case-studies and experiences of ecosystem restoration.
By sharing experiences of ecological restoration from around the world, developing collaborations and co-creating knowledge, it is possible to replicate and scale-up ecosystem restoration and to reset our relationship with nature to one that fosters stewardship and sustainable management of our natural capital. The analysis of the restoration case studies received shows that a large majority of actions were carried out to restore urban, marine and forest ecosystems but a wide range of ecosystems was identified. Challenges associated to biodiversity enhancement and building climate resilience resulted the most commonly addressed, while those associated with social and economic factors appeared to be less often tackled through ecosystem restoration projects. Despite this trend, ecosystem restoration projects offer great potential not only to improve the ecological status of ecosystems, but also to support ecosystem services that benefit society and the economy, such as health and well-being improvement, social cohesion, new economic opportunities, among other.