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10 MAR 2021 STORYECOSYSTEMS AND BIODIVERSITY

Unsplash/Jakob Owens / 10 Mar 2021

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – set to launch during World Environment Day on 5 June – aims to rally citizens, governments and corporations around one common goal: preventing, halting and reversing the destruction of natural spaces.

The drive comes as experts warn that ecosystems around the world are facing collapse. The planet is losing 4.7 million hectares of forests every year – an area larger than Denmark – and over the past century, half of the globe’s wetlands have been drained.

“The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration’s mission is as important as it is daunting,” says Tim Christophersen, coordinator of the UN Decade with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“How do we inspire people to take action and connect small steps into collective and transformative change?”

To answer this question, the team behind the UN Decade surveyed visitors to the initiative’s website, a group that included everyone from financiers to tree planters to environmentally conscious teenagers.

The survey has unearthed a wealth of information that will guide the UN Decade for years to come, says Christophersen. Here are five lessons that stood out.

1. Ecosystem restoration is a global mission

More than 2,000 people from over 140 countries responded to the survey.

While representation was mostly even across countries, some places saw above average participation, including Kenya, Nigeria, Mexico, Brazil, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United States of America and India.

However, the vision of ecosystem restoration captivates people regardless of origin: 99 per cent said that they would like to take action in support of the UN Decade.  

Soccer balls on grass
Background image: Guilaume de Germain

2. Young people are all in when it comes to restoration

Perhaps the most surprising lesson so far was just how young respondents were. While ecosystem restoration has featured in scientific journals and environmental projects for almost 40 years, more than half of survey takers (57 per cent) were below the age of 34.

Youth are expected to play a vital role in restoration projects, like tree planting, under the UN Decade.

“Youth are now championing sustainability across the globe,” said Kudzanai Chimhanda, member of the Steering Committee of the UNEP Major Group for Children and Youth. “Empowering us will have a springboard effect to motivate more youth to join the movement of preserving and restoring ecosystems.”

Young people have already contributed to the strategy of the UN Decade by hosting consultations in over 20 countries, organized through UNEP’s Major Group for Children and Youth.

Average age of survey respondents
Average age of survey respondents

3. Restoration is deeply personal 

A whopping 68 per cent of survey respondents said their interest in restoration is primarily personal. Only 32 per cent deal with ecosystem restoration as part of their professional lives.

This represents a strong call to the UN Decade and its partner organizations to make information on ecosystem restoration publicly accessible, digestible and engaging for those who have not studied the subject – and who would be willing to dedicate their free time to reviving our damaged planet.

Survey results indicating primarily personal interest in restoration
Survey results indicating primarily personal interest in restoration. Background image: UNEP

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration’s mission is as important as it is daunting.  Tim Christophersen, Coordinator for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

4. Restoration practitioners are often underfunded and lack connections

One-third of those involved in on-the-ground restoration projects say a lack of funding is their biggest hurdle, followed by a shortage of technical capacity (19 per cent) and a dearth of political support (15 per cent).

More than 40 per cent of restoration implementers are not yet directly connected to the big global organizations supporting ecosystem restoration – highlighting the need for the UN Decade to connect to this “missing middle”.

The ecosystems in which practitioners work are as broad as the UN Decade’s scope – ranging from the deserts of the Arabian peninsula to farmlands in Eastern Africa and cloud forests in the Andes. While forests (30 per cent), urban areas and farmlands (15 per cent each) feature most prominently, all ecosystems covered by the UN Decade’s strategy were mentioned by practitioners completing the survey.

A new, in-depth assessment has now been launched to better gauge the needs of practitioners.

Scope of ecosystems addressed by practitioners
Scope of ecosystems addressed by practitioners

5. Personal action for restoration takes many forms – and is projected to increase over time

When asked what action for restoration they are most likely to take over the next 30 days, 30 per cent of respondents said they would like to join a restoration initiative in their immediate surroundings.

Shifting to more sustainable consumption patterns – for example through sustainable diets – ranks second among short-term actions selected by survey participants.  Advocating for restoration came in third. Crowdfunding for or donating to restoration was chosen as the least-likely action by most. Only 0.7 per cent said they would not take any action for restoration.

Looking at a longer time horizon – the next 365 days – projected engagement seems to deepen as the percentage of people who state they would likely start their own restoration initiative grows to 34 per cent from 26 per cent.

This underscores that ideally, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration should guide supporters across a range of engagement opportunities, from simply learning about restoration to leading projects. 

Actions selected by survey respondents as most likely to be taken over the next 30 days
Actions selected by survey respondents as most likely to be taken over the next 30 days

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, led by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and partners covers terrestrial as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. A global call to action, it will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration. Learn more.

For more information, contact Tim Christophersen: tim.christophersen@un.orgTOPICS