On 15th December 1977, the United Nations (UN) established that every 5th June would be commemorated as World Environment Day. However, this day has been celebrated since 1974, since, two years earlier, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCED), also known as the Stockholm Conference or the Earth Summit, took place. This was the first international meeting to be organised for the purpose of addressing environmental issues. Furthermore, in the same year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was established.
With this celebration, the UN aims to raise awareness and educate the world’s population and governments on different issues related to the environment. The main objectives are to motivate people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development, to promote the important role of communities in changing attitudes towards environmental issues, and to foster cooperation for a sustainable environment to ensure that all countries and people enjoy a more prosperous and secure future. In fact, the United Nations considers this day as one of the most important, since through actions it tries to raise awareness and implement global action in favour of caring for the environment.
Since then, World Environment Day has been celebrated in different countries with multiple activities such as street rallies demanding greater control and care for the environment, recycling and cleaning campaigns, eco-concerts, large posters in schools and colleges, tree planting, etc. In addition, the media highlight the importance of caring for the environment and many countries take the opportunity to sign and ratify international conventions for nature conservation.
Each year the commemoration has a host country and a central theme. This year, the host country is Pakistan and the theme is Ecosystem Restoration (preventing, halting and reversing the degradation of ecosystems worldwide). In this way, the aim is to raise awareness among the world’s population about the need to recover those ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed, as well as to conserve those that are still intact. Undoubtedly, healthier ecosystems support biodiversity conservation and provide further benefits in fertile soils, resource availability and greenhouse gas reserves.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, ecosystem restoration can take many forms, from planting new trees on degraded sites to trying to remove the pressures on nature to allow it to recover on its own. The UN recognises the difficulty of carrying out these policies because returning an ecosystem to its original state is an arduous task. Human needs for arable land or the development of new infrastructures in places that used to be forests prevent certain soils from returning to their natural state. Likewise, we cannot forget the constant evolution of the climate, which forces both ecosystems and societies to continuously adapt.
Despite the poor environmental state of the planet, especially in certain highly polluted areas, the UN believes that it is possible to restore all types of ecosystems, for example, forests, agricultural land, wetlands, cities, oceans, etc. The collaboration of organisations and individuals is essential for this, from governments and companies to communities and individuals. On the other hand, environmental degradation often has many and varied causes and is of very different scales.
The United Nations says that restoring 350 million hectares of degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems by 2030 could generate around $9 trillion in ecosystem services. In addition, this restoration could remove between 13 and 26 gigatons (one gigatonne equals one billion metric tons) of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. From an economic point of view, these actions are easy to calculate. Additionally, according to the UN, the economic benefits exceed ten times the cost of investment, while the price of doing nothing is at least three times that of ecosystem restoration.
But it is not just about economics – restoring ecosystems protects and improves the livelihoods of the people who depend on them, helps control disease and reduces the risk of natural disasters, as well as helping to achieve the goals of sustainable development strategies. In this sense, it is worth remembering that the UN environment programme recognises eight main types of ecosystems, as well as some of the actions that can be carried out to conserve and revive them. These ecosystems are the following:
- Farmland: affected by heavy use, erosion and over-fertilisation (nitrogen from fertilisers pollutes air and water, and contributes to climate change) and pesticides. To restore them, the reduction of tillage and fertilisers is encouraged, enhancing natural pest control mechanisms and the introduction of more diverse crops. In this way it is possible to increase the carbon deposits in the soil, increasing its fertility.
- Forests: home to 80% of the world’s amphibian species where logging, pollution, invasive pests and fires are reducing forest ecosystems that need to be replanted. Degraded and disused farmland can be used for this purpose.
- Lakes and rivers: pollution, overfishing and increased water withdrawals for irrigation, industry and human consumption are turning drinking water into a luxury. Managing pollution, waste and demand for water and fish will revive these sites.
- Grasslands and savannahs: overgrazed, eroded, converted to agricultural land and invaded by exotic species, these environments need to be replanted with native grasses. Shepherds are essential to reintroduce plant and animal species that need to recover their populations.
- Mountains: with more than 600 glaciers gone, agriculture and housing have eliminated vegetation from the slopes, causing dangerous erosion of these environments, where high temperatures are forcing species to adapt. Reviving forests, preventing landslides and floods, and certain agricultural techniques can help contain climate change.
- Oceans and coasts: pollution, overexploitation and climate change are threatening marine ecosystems, where sustainable fisheries and mangrove use are possible. Treating wastewater and preventing plastics from reaching the water is essential for the oceans to continue to support the biodiversity of billions of living things around the world.
- Peatlands: fire, overgrazing, pollution and peat extraction are degrading these environments where almost a third of all carbon is stored. It is necessary to keep them wet and restore degraded environments to stop their emissions and protect plants and animals.
- Urban areas contain enormous restoration power if citizens and authorities allow bee-friendly plants to grow, create urban forests and other habitats. It can be as simple as mowing lawns less frequently, creating permeable walkways, urban wetlands, and restoring contaminated industrial areas.
At Norak, we support the cause and we invite you to work together for change. Find out more about ecosystem restoration at: https://www.decadeonrestoration.org/es/en-que-consiste-la-restauracion-de-los-ecosistemas