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Nature is staging a comeback

UN recognises seven World Restoration Flagships as best practices for reversing ecosystem degradation
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
World Restoration Flaghship Living Indus Initiative, Pakistan

Man image: World Restoration Flaghship Living Indus Initiative, Pakistan

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have named seven initiatives from Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia as UN World Restoration Flagships.

These large-scale, long-term initiatives include ecosystems at the tipping point of outright degradation resulting from wildfires, drought, deforestation and pollution.

They are now eligible for technical and financial UN support.

Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

The World Restoration Flagship awards are part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – led by UNEP and the FAO – which aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean.

The awards track notable initiatives following global commitments to restore one billion hectares – an area larger than China.

The winning initiatives are announced ahead of the 6th session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-6), taking place 26 February-01 March, which convenes the world’s Environment Ministers in Nairobi, Kenya to address global environment challenges.

Together, the seven new flagships are expected to restore almost 40 million hectares − an area almost 600 times the size of Nairobi − and create around 500,000 million jobs. 

‘For too long, economic development came at the expense of the environment. Yet today we see global efforts to usher in a comeback for nature. These initiatives show how we can make peace with nature, put local communities at the heart of restoration efforts and still create new jobs.

‘As we continue to face a triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss and pollution and waste, now is the time we must double down and accelerate restoration initiatives.’

Executive director of UNEP

Selecting Flagships

The World Restoration Flagships have been selected as the best examples of ongoing ecosystem restoration by the Task Forces for Science and Best Practices of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and approved by its Executive Board.

Selection followed a thorough review process with over 60 indicators and criteria, embodying the 10 Restoration Principles of the UN Decade.
In 2022, the inaugural 10 World Restoration Flagships were recognised as part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, to be followed with recognition and support for similar efforts planned every two years until 2030.

This year’s World Restoration Flagships are part of an accelerated investment in nature by governments and private donors, notably reflected in $1.4 billion provided last year by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council.

2024’s World Restoration Flagships

From Fires to Forests: Resilience in the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean basin is the world’s second-largest biodiversity hotspot, but 16% of its forest species are threatened with extinction, in part due to climate-driven longer drought periods, extreme heat waves and wildfires. In the past decade, the region has experienced the worst fire seasons on record.

The Restoring Mediterranean Forests Initiative, involving Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Türkiye, is a novel approach to protecting and restoring these natural habitats and vulnerable ecosystems and has led to more than five million hectares of forests restored across the region since 2017, with over eight million hectares more planned for restoration by 2030.

The initiative is supported by FAO’s Committee on Mediterranean Forestry Questions – Silva Mediterranea, the governments of Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Türkiye and The Association for Forests, Development and Conservation Lebanon (AFDC).

Living Indus: Restoring a Cradle of Civilisations

The 3,180km-long Indus River has served as the vibrant core of the social, cultural and economic life of what is today called Pakistan for well over a documented 5,000 years.

Some 90% of Pakistan’s people and more than three-quarters of its economy reside in the Indus Basin, and it irrigates over 80% of the country’s arable land. Negligence, environmental degradation and climate change have threatened the river’s ecosystem, including its abundant fish and fertile lands.

The Living Indus initiative was approved by Pakistan’s parliament in the wake of the devastating 2022 climate-change induced floods and was officially launched at the UN Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh (COP27).

The aim is to restore 25 million hectares of river basin by 2030, encompassing 30% of Pakistan’s surface area through the implementation of 25 high-impact interventions for policymakers, practitioners and civil society.

The initiative designates the Indus River as a living entity with rights – a measure taken to protect rivers elsewhere, including in New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Peru, Canada, Ecuador, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India.

Partners in this initiative include the Government of Pakistan, the FAO and other UN agencies.

Acción Andina: Saving a Global Water and Climate Hotspot

The Acción Andina social movement is led by Peruvian conservation non-profit ECOAN (Asociacion Ecosistemas Andinos). It is scaling up a community reforestation model, which has proved itself over the past two decades as a cost-effective solution for climate resilience.

The plan is to restore and grow 30 million trees by 2030 across a vegetative band spanning almost 800,000 hectares in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

The ultimate aim is to protect and restore a forest area of one million hectares. 25,000 people from remote Andean communities are already engaged in restoring 5,000 hectares and protecting over 11,000 hectares of Andean forests.

They are expected to benefit from the initiative by 2030 in various ways, from access to medicine, solar panels and clean-burning clay stoves, to improved grazing management, sustainable agriculture, microbusiness and ecotourism management of Indigenous cultures.

It also works to secure land titles for local communities, protecting the forest from future mining, timber exploitation and other drivers of degradation.

Partners in this initiative include the Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN) and Global Forest Generation (GFG).

Sri Lanka Stopped Planting Mangroves – and Started Growing Them

In Sri Lanka, mangrove forests are immensely valuable coastal ecosystems that thrive at the border between land and sea and serve as an important bridge between marine and terrestrial biodiversity.

The livelihoods of coastal communities in Sri Lanka are highly dependent on marine and coastal ecosystems. Nevertheless, climate change and human activities are posing threats to this unique ecosystem.

The Sri Lanka Mangrove Regeneration Initiative is science-driven, co-led by local communities, and focused on restoring the natural balance in the ecosystem.

Since the initiative was launched in 2015, efforts have already resulted in 500 hectares of restored mangroves, benefiting 150 households. Some 10,000 hectares are slated for restoration by 2030, with 5,000 households to benefit and more than 4,000 new jobs to be created.

Partners in this initiative include the Sri Lanka Ministry of Environment and the governments of Australia, the UK and USA.

Terai Arc Landscape: Reviving Asia’s Mega-Fauna

Over seven million people depend on the Terai Arc Landscape, stretching across 2.47 million hectares and shared by India and Nepal.

It is also one of the world’s most critical habitats for tigers, whose numbers have sharply declined alongside those of other species such as rhinos and elephants, due to poaching, habitat loss, degradation and human-wildlife conflict.

The Terai Arc Landscape Initiative has focused on restoring the forests of critical corridors of the Terai Arc Landscape and collaborates with local communities working as citizen scientists, community-based anti-poaching units, forest guards and social mobilisers.

Along with other measures, the restoration of 66,800 hectares has supported the tiger population in the area, which has increased today to 1,170. That’s triple the population’s lowest number when the programme launched in 2001.

The restoration programme has improved the livelihoods of about 500,000 households and created 40,000 new jobs. Development is expected to continue as almost 350,000 hectares will be restored by 2030.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Nepal is the primary partner in this initiative, supporting the Nepalese government.

Regreening Africa’s Agriculture

The Regreening Africa initiative has been using proven agroforestry techniques, adapted to suit the needs of farmers under varying socio-ecological contexts in the past two decades, to restore over 350,000 hectares in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal and Somalia.

By 2030, a further five million hectares are planned to be restored.

The initiative is expected to benefit more than 600,000 households. It is also increasing carbon storage, boosting crop and grass yields, making soil more resilient (preventing floods) and treating it with fixed nitrogen that acts as a natural fertiliser.

Partners in this initiative include CARE Nederland, Catholic Relief Services, CIFOR-ICRAF, Oxfam, Regreening Africa, Sahel Eco and World Vision Australia.

Growing Forests in Africa’s Drylands

The Forest Garden Program, launched in 2015, includes multiple Forest Garden projects in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, The Gambia, Kenya, Mali, Senegal, Uganda and Tanzania.

Through researched agroforestry techniques, unsustainable farming practices are replaced and nature regenerates, as farmers receive essential training, supplies and equipment for their success.

By planting tens of millions of trees every year, it aims to expand from 41,000 restored hectares today to 229,000 hectares by 2030, supporting many more through 230,000 jobs created.

Partners in this initiative include the African Union and Trees for the Future.

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