Ecosystem Degradation: A Major Threat To Humanity

The World Environment Day was celebrated on Saturday with an international appeal for healing the planet from the emerging crises that humanity is suffering from. This year the celebration launched formally the “UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration” that was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on March 1, 2019. The UN Decade is led by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) from 2021 until 2030.

The Convention on Biological Diversity defines ecosystem as “a dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their nonliving environment interacting as a functional unit”. The main types of ecosystems vary from farmlands, forests, lakes and rivers, grasslands and savannahs, mountains, oceans and coasts, peat lands, to urban areas. According to UNEP, ecosystem restoration means “assisting in the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed, as well as conserving the ecosystems that are still intact.” Restoration can be done in various ways such as and not limited to planting trees, using more natural fertilizer, growing more diverse crops, having farming techniques, reducing pollution, and managing water and solid waste… etc.

Restoring the ecosystem is not an environmental issue anymore as it is a developmental prerequisite linked to the achievement of all sustainable development goals. Ecosystems have an impact on people’s living conditions, climate change, and biodiversity. It can help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent a mass extinction. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his speech during the launch of the UN Decade stated that ecosystem restoration acts do not only preserve the planet’s resources but create new jobs and combat poverty.

UNEP published a report titled “Becoming #GenerationRestoration: Ecosystem Restoration for People, Nature and Climate” which highlights the economic, environmental and social impact of restoration. According to the report, “half of the world’s GDP is dependent on nature, and every dollar invested in restoration creates up to $30 in economic benefits. The economic benefits of restoration interventions exceed nine times the cost of investment, whereas inaction is at least three times more costly than ecosystem restoration.”

On Friday June 11, the G-7 summit will commence until June 13 where leaders of G-7 nations, the EU and guest countries will be gathered to discuss how leading democracies can help the world fight and then build back better from coronavirus and create a fairer, greener, and more prosperous future. The UK is presiding the G-7 this year and pushing for having more political pledges and finances to climate change crises and environmental issues. It is expected to come up with strong abiding commitments related to the ecosystem and climate change that will pave the way to the UN Climate Change Conference that will be held in Glasgow-UK in November 2021.

Unfortunately, UNEP stated that none of the agreed global goals for the protection of life on earth and for halting the degradation of land and oceans have been fully met by 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has proved that degradation and imbalances in an ecosystem can lead to contagious viruses that can become pandemic. COVID-19 constitutes a global warning to human behavior against nature since the economic growth of recent decades has been achieved at the cost of ecological health. If no quick and strategic actions are taken by political leaders, the world is under the risk of more disastrous and fatal upcoming environmental crises. It is expected that economies of developed countries will shrink much more as they did in the COVID-19 crisis if they fail to tackle environmental crises. Ecosystem restoration actions are vital in facing the emerging crises but cannot solve on its own our long-term environmental challenges. Countries shall take strategic decisions in transforming their policies and approaches to integrate climate change and environmental assessments in all political agendas and economic plans. The world needs more nature-based solutions to its complex challenges; and it needs ecologists as much as it needs economists to create green jobs and economies for future generations.

Hiba Huneini,
Manager of Youth and Civic Engagement Program
Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development