On March 4, 2019, the United Nations recognized the critical role of ecosystem restoration as a tool for improving environmental conditions and enhancing human communities by designating 2021-2030 the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.
For me (Storm Cunningham), it’s been a long time coming, as I called for the United Nations to declare this the Century of Restoration in my first book, The Restoration Economy (Berrett-Koehler, 2002).
This global recognition comes after growing calls and commitments by the international community to put ecological restoration at the forefront of national agendas. The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) applauds this important step toward focusing the world’s attention on the imperative of restoring degraded ecosystems. I was one of the first 200 members of SER when it was founded some two decades ago, and can’t think of a more appropriate organization to salute the UN’s declaration.
At the 7th World Conference on Ecological Restoration in September 2017, SER and partners issued a Call to Action, outlining the challenges and opportunities of ecological restoration, as well as the urgent need to revitalize and reinforce the essential links between nature and human society: “Only by communicating openly, guaranteeing the integrity of science, and incorporating all stakeholders into the process can we ensure that ecological restoration conserves biodiversity, addresses climate change, and improves human well-being around the world.” Today’s declaration is an important step in this direction.
Global habitat degradation threatens the well-being of billions of people and results in catastrophic reductions of ecosystem services. The UN announcement makes the promise of restoration clear: “Restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded land between now and 2030 could generate USD 9 trillion in ecosystem services and take an additional 13-26 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.”
“The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is both urgently needed and globally appreciated,” said George Gann, SER International Policy Lead. “Achieving the goals of this new UN Decade will require continued enthusiasm and funding for this work, as well as a common understanding of how to design and implement successful restoration projects that proactively and collaboratively engage local communities. SER’s International Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration are just such a tool and can help ensure that the money and time invested in restoration projects is well spent and effective.”
The UN Declaration comes at an opportune moment, as the restoration community prepares for SER’s 8th World Conference on Ecological Restoration in September 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. The theme, “Restoring Land, Water, and Community Resilience” echoes the call of this new UN Decade, and the conference will feature plenary sessions, symposia, and discussions from every corner of the field. Note from Storm: If you’ve never been to one of SER’s conferences, I highly recommend going to Cape Town. The first public talk I ever gave on The Restoration Economy—before the book was even published, was at a national SER conference in 2002. And I keynoted their World Conference in Ghent, Belgium some years later.
“The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration will shine a light on the human and financial resources needed to implement restoration globally,” said SER Board Chair Jim Hallett. “Restoration, when combined with conservation and sustainable use, provides the critical missing link to enable human society to create a net positive impact on the environment. This is exactly what we need right now as climate change threatens to push the environment past a tipping point.”
As the world prepares for the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, SER looks forward to continued collaboration with the international community and engagement in efforts to fulfill the promise of restoration for the planet.
The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) advances the science, practice and policy of ecological restoration to sustain biodiversity, improve resilience in a changing climate, and re-establish an ecologically healthy relationship between nature and culture. With nearly 3,000 members in over 70 countries, the flagship peer-reviewed journal Restoration Ecology, and the interactive Restoration Resource Center, SER connects, guides, and supports the global restoration community.
Photo of Cape Town, South Africa via Adobe Stock.