On 5 June 2021, World Environment Day will open the decade dedicated to ecosystem restoration. The United Nations has chosen the motto “Reimagine, recreate, restore” to celebrate it. For years, we have exploited and destroyed ecosystems, even though human survival depends on their health. This is the moment to change course! Investing in ecosystems means investing in our future.

The United Nations has chosen World Environment Day and the decade 2021-2030 to highlight the importance of restoring the health of ecosystems because they coincide with the deadline for achieving sustainable development goals and the chronology that scientists have identified as the last opportunity to prevent catastrophic climate change. The General Assembly chose this theme for the decade following a call to action from more than 70 countries all over the world.  View the resolution here

The importance of ecosystems and their restoration

Ecosystems are defined as “a complete structure of living things connected to each other and to their inorganic environment, which is completely open but able to self-regulate to a certain extent” (Heinz Ellenberg , 1973).

This includes nature, but also systems created by man such as cities and farms. Human health depends on the health of these ecosystems, but we seem to have forgotten this. According to the United Nations:
  • Every three seconds, the world loses enough forest to cover a football pitch, and we have destroyed half of our wetlands over the last century; 
  • As much as 50% of our coral reefs have already been lost;
  • As much as 90% of our coral reefs could be lost by 2050, even if global warming is limited to an increase of 1.5°C;
  • The loss of ecosystems is depriving the world of carbon sinks such as forests and peatlands, at a time when humanity can least afford it.

Restoring ecosystems

Restoring ecosystems means preventing, stopping and reversing this trend, moving away from the exploitation of nature to the balanced interaction between man and the environment.  Only with healthy and balanced ecosystems can we improve people’s livelihoods, combat climate change and stop the collapse of biodiversity.
Restoring ecosystems literally means restoring billions of hectares of land worldwide so that people have access to food, clean water and work. According to the United Nations, for every dollar invested in this undertaking, we can expect returns for society of between 7 and 30 dollars. Ecosystem restoration creates jobs particularly in rural areas where they are most needed.
Actions to celebrate World Environment Day and the restoration decade
The United Nations proposes various actions to celebrate this day:
  • The World Environment Day website and the restoration decade website, constantly updated: for all stakeholders in ecosystem restoration, with news, projects, partners, funding and the knowledge needed to take concrete steps. In addition, around 500 events worldwide have already been registered on the site and will help to celebrate this day;
  • Ecosystem Restoration Playbook (practical guide on World Environment Day 2021): the UNEP guide on ecosystem restoration. The guide provides an introduction to the various actions that may slow or stop ecosystem degradation and help them recover. It sets out three pathways to getting involved in ecosystem restoration:
  • taking action such as starting or supporting an on-the-ground restoration project
  • making smart choices like buying only sustainable products and changing diets;
  • raising your voice in support of ecosystem conservation and restoration.
It describes approaches to restoring eight key types of ecosystem (forests, farmlands, grassland and savannahs, rivers and lakes, oceans and coasts, towns and cities, peatlands, and mountains). It also lays out how all parts of society – from individuals and community groups to businesses and governments – can become part of #GenerationRestoration, a global movement to restore ecosystems everywhere for the good of people and nature.

World Environment Day: history

1972 marked a turning point in the development of international environmental policy: from 5 to 16 June, Stockholm (Sweden) hosted the first major conference on environmental issues, convened under the aegis of the United Nations. Known as the Conference on the human environment or the Stockholm Conference, its objective was to forge a common basic vision on how to tackle the challenge of preserving and improving the human environment. On 15 December of the same year, the General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/RES/2994 (XXVII)) designating 5 June as World Environment Day and urging “governments and the organizations in the United Nations system to undertake on that day every year worldwide activities reaffirming their concern for the preservation and enhancement of the environment, with a view to deepening environmental awareness and to pursuing the determination expressed at the Conference”.  A list of the themes proposed over the years is available here.

In-depth studies

The United Nations Statistical Commission has begun to study new economic indices also based on natural capital. More generally, work has begun on detailed economic accounting of ecosystem services. 2020 saw the introduction of Gross Ecosystem Production (GEP). GEP condenses the value of ecosystem services from several sources into a single metric.
A study on nature loss and how it threatens the global economy can be found here.