What is the biggest crisis our contemporary world faces that has put the entire life on earth at stake? Without a shadow of doubt, it is the ecological and environmental crisis. There has been another crisis in the cob of this crisis, which is taking a virile form—the climate change. Realising the rapidly warming of the earth and consequent climate change, the late Stephen Hawking, a well-known physicist and cosmologist, had warned that the earth would become a fireball in 600 years. The long-running studies have now made it clear that human beings are the biggest cause of global warming and climate change. It also means that the solution to this crisis is also very much in the hands of human beings.
With the advent of the year 2021, in the third decade of this century, we are ushering in a future with renewed hope and positive vibes. The United Nations has declared the third decade of the 21st Century (2021 to 2030) as a Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. If all those programmes which the UN agencies have chalked out are accomplished well in these ten years, we would have had ecological restoration of our broken, shattered, degraded and polluted ecosystems—a state of the environment that would be phenomenal to save our living planet and create pathways for us to usher in a secure, bright and promising future.
Why is there a need to rectify the present pitiable condition of ecosystems? Land degradation is negatively affecting at least 3.2 billion people in the world. The loss of biodiversity has taken place to the extent that now experts are predicting the sixth mass extinction of the living species. Ecosystem services have drastically declined. Global annual gross production flowing from various ecosystems has gone down significantly. The global carbon dioxide emissions per year due to the ecological plight of the earth between 2000 and 2009 were 3.6-4.4 gigatonnes, a serious indicator of global warming. Ecological regeneration in terms of implementing the necessary measures by 2030 is a priority to hold the rise of average global temperatures below 2 degrees Centigrade until the end of the century, in compliance with the Paris Climate Agreement. Conservation of biodiversity combined with enhancement of food and water security and socio-economic progress and natural development of ecosystems are most essential for achieving sustainable development goals. Ecological upgradation of the earth will increase the productivity of forests, pastures, agricultural lands and all types of land use systems. Conservation and ecological amelioration of rivers and lakes and other water resources will increase water availability for developmental activities. Biodiversity conservation will avert the dangers of species extinction. Control of environmental pollution will relieve many types of diseases. And above all— the carbon cycle of the biosphere will be set upright, and the natural processes of climate building-up will become effective.
Rejuvenating the ecosystems of our planet, where roots of whole life lie, connects us with an opportunity to build a healthy and sustainable future. We can revive our wounded ecological systems through comprehensive and positive resurgence programmes, which will preserve wildlife habitats, conserve our biodiversity, soil and water, curb climate change, strengthen socio-economic infrastructure and open up new avenues of employment.
According to the United Nations, all governments, communities, conservation organisations and private enterprise will play an important role in meeting the objectives of the UN Decade. UN agencies, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will ensure delivery of decade programmes. “We saw a sense of positive competition when we talked about restoration,” says Tim Christophersen, the UN’s Decade coordinator with the UNEP. “More and more countries and people want to grow more and more trees. But now it is important to ensure that the right trees are planted at the right time, in the right place and with the support of local communities, and that we upgrade ecosystems that are still somewhat underdeveloped in these global ecological regeneration commitments, such as our coastal regions, seas and rivers.”
The United Nations had announced the Ecosystem Restoration Decade on March 1, 2019. In fact, the motivation behind this was Lena Pohl, El Salvador’s Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, who proposed the decade committed to ecosystem restoration in a speech to the UN General Assembly. After a strong demonstration in favor of the support to the Phohl’s proposal, the UN General Assembly announced the UN decision on Ecosystem Restoration Decade 2021-2030.
The key objectives of the United Nations Decade are: to take concrete steps by governments to prevent ecosystem degradation, to augment the disintegrated ecosystems, to exchange knowledge on policy, economics and biophysical aspects, to interconnect various institutions to enhance efficiency and impact, to create a relationship among those interested in building meaningful portfolios for investment, and to bring out the direct and indirect socio-economic benefits arising out of the healed-up ecosystems.
El Salvador is being given credit for the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. Now, India has opportunity to lead the world by running meaningful, long-term impact and exemplary programmes of ecological restoration in its geographical area aimed at fulfilling the UN Decade objectives. In order to make the decade in India a commendable success, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change should be given specific responsibility of coordinating the decade programmes. Ministries of Agriculture and Health could be the partners in the mission to achieve the desired goals.
(The author is a former professor of Environmental Science in GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology)
Monday, 11 January 2021 | Vir Singh