Bold moves needed to restore world’s ecosystems: FAO-UNEP

The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, on Thursday warned that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – also known as the 2030 Agenda – would not be achieved without large-scale restoration of degraded terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems.  

Qu was speaking at a joint “townhall meeting” that brought together staff from FAO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The event, billed as evidence of the “UN family working as one,” was a curtain-raiser for the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, a global movement led jointly by FAO and UNEP, slated for formal launch on 4 June, a news release by the FAO said.

Qu stressed that the 2030 Agenda – with its crucial “ending hunger” component, spelled out in Global Goal 2 – was at risk unless the world decisively reversed the havoc wrought on its ecosystems. “Ecosystems are under intense pressure,” he stressed, jeopardizing the food security and lives of millions.

UNEP’s Executive Director, Inger Andersen, outlined the scale of the challenge. More than three billion people, she said, are suffering from ecosystems degradation in some shape or form; one-third of fish stocks are being exploited unsustainably; and “an area the size of the Republic of Korea” is being lost annually to deforestation.

Andersen also previewed a report due out as the Decade launches: jointly released by UNEP and FAO, #GenerationRestoration: Ecosystem Restoration for People, Nature and Climate will pull together the threads of existing knowledge – not just the biophysical knowledge but also the facts and figures relating to the social dimension of ecosystem restoration.

Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, for whom “the pressure to see action at significant scale has never been more urgent” expressed optimism: hopes were improving of moving away from business as usual, Mrema said, with entire economies eyeing transformation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and prospects high of generating millions of green jobs.

Five taskforces have been set up to steer the restoration agenda through the UN Decade. The taskforce on Best Practices, led by FAO, will collect and analyze global examples of success, draft principles, and settle questions that some stakeholders and policymakers continue to struggle with.

The other FAO-chaired taskforce will concern itself with Monitoring, along three axes: terrestrial ecosystems, transitional ecosystems (such as tidal marshes), and the socio-economic aspect of ecosystem restoration.

Of the remaining three taskforces, one will focus on Science, aiming both to advance knowledge and to validate the work of the other taskforces through peer-reviews; another, on Finance, amid a recognition that many of the current subsidy and stimulus measures need re-orienting to support, rather than undermine, ecosystem restoration. A taskforce is dedicated to Youth, as the energy of younger generations provides social and advocacy momentum for greener, more sustainable policies.

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