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The decade to restore our planet

Pema Gyamtsho

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Today, to mark World Environment Day 2021, let me reiterate the significance of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. When the UN General Assembly passed this resolution on 1 March 2019, the goal was to scale up restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems as a mitigation measure to address climate change, enhance food security, and improve water security and biodiversity conservation.

This global initiative aims to restore the relationship between humans and nature, by safeguarding healthy ecosystems and addressing degradation through restoration at landscape scale so that Sustainable Development Goals can be met across different geographies. This restoration objective extends to all ecosystem types, from oceans to forests and wetlands. In the Hindu Kush Himalaya, forests, rangelands and cryosphere are significant ecosystems that have a global impact because of the importance they hold for freshwater, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and the ecosystem goods and services they provide for a quarter of the world’s population. Our Transboundary Landscapes Programme visualizes the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources at the scale of larger landscapes defined by ecosystems rather than by national and protected area boundaries, presenting a unique approach to achieving restoration at scale and tackling shared conservation challenges.

This global restoration goal was imagined much before the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. Since then, the pandemic has changed our perspective on globalization, economy, development, and the environment. It is clear that we cannot continue with business as usual. The pandemic provides a perfect opportunity to reflect on our relationship with nature, habitat destruction, and emerging infectious disease. Zoonotic diseases like SARS, swine flu, yellow fever, avian influenza, Ebola and COVID-19 have all been linked with overexploitation of natural resources and deforestation caused by anthropogenic drivers. Healthy ecosystems form natural barriers against zoonotic disease, and we increase the risks of outbreaks when we encroach into and destroy these habitats. Given current trends of deforestation and land use change, it is likely that these threats are going to increase in the future.

At this juncture, between the pandemic and the launch of the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, I have two messages.

First, the threat of pandemics can only be addressed through collective action at scale. We cannot rule out future outbreaks of pandemics by confining our actions within national boundaries. This requires global cooperation with regional actions across the wider landscape. Large landscapes restored under regional cooperation can strengthen natural barriers against zoonotic disease transfer into the future.

Second, we cannot continue with business as usual. We need to embrace nature-based solutions for our survival. Nature has sent us a very strong signal and it is up to us to learn and take corrective measures for saving humanity and the planet. Healthy ecosystems can provide a multitude of goods and services and serve as natural barriers against future pandemics. We need a new development paradigm that puts environment at the forefront.

In essence, while this declaration guides and contributes to the long-term goal of addressing a multitude of environmental issues, it also contributes to mitigating the risks from zoonotic disease and potential future pandemics.

However, there is inadequate financial support for such large scale restoration initiatives in the Hindu Kush Himalaya. This launch, and its renewed urgency during this pandemic, will hopefully help leverage the needed financial support by creating a platform for governments, private sector, civil societies and local communities to take action for ecosystem restoration at scale.

 

So how can ICIMOD contribute?

As we embark on this decade of ecosystem restoration, we have a commitment to assist our regional member countries in taking significant steps for planning and implementing large landscape-level restoration. In the past, through our REDD+ programme, we have been successful in designing regional-scale restoration programmes in the participating RMCs that leverage climate finance for national level implementing partners in different countries. We have also built the capacity of national partners for implementing restoration programmes.

We are now exploring opportunities for leveraging carbon finance to support afforestation activities in Nepal that will be implemented by national level institutions. To begin with, we are in discussions with provincial governments in Nepal through the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) to explore the possibilities for restoring up to 15,000 ha over the next decade in partnership with community forestry user groups. Once this is successfully rolled out, we plan to replicate this with government partners in Bhutan, India, Myanmar, and Pakistan. This is a new approach as the resources for restoration of forest ecosystems are being provided by the private sector and transferred directly to the national implementing organisations. In return, the private firms receive carbon credits. This, in essence, is an example of how carbon finance can be leveraged for achieving the goals of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is “Reimagine. Recreate. Restore”. We need a new imagination and we need new alliances and support at scale to achieve the restoration goal we have set for ourselves. I reiterate ICIMOD’s commitment to the restoration of the Hindu Kush Himalaya – the pulse of the planet – and call upon all governments, national institutions, community based organisations, and the private sector to come together and help us reach this goal. This is the decade for decisive action.

 

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