File photo: Volunteers collect garbage along the shore off Manila Bay. Image Credit: REUTFERS

World Environment Day (WED), celebrated every year on 5th of June, is a great opportunity to reflect on what we can do as individuals, civil society, corporates and governments to protect our ecosystems and natural assets. This year’s observance of WED will be on the theme of “ecosystem restoration” and focus on resetting our relation with nature.

Modern lifestyle and unsustainable development patterns have placed increasing pressure on our mother Earth. Thus, environmental occasions like WED can help to reach out to the wider public and younger generations to encourage and educate them about the importance of protecting the environment and natural resources.

In addition, WED 2021 marks the launch of “the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration” ahead of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP15 in October 2021 when the global community will agree upon a new “Global Biodiversity Framework”. This is very substantial as the UN Decade runs from 2021 through 2030, which is also the deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals.

The UN Decade is intended to massively scale up the restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems to fight the climate crisis, prevent the loss of a million species, and enhance food, energy and water security and livelihoods.

In fact, the past year and half, humanity faced multiple crises, including an unprecedented global pandemic and the continued crises of climate, biodiversity loss and pollution. Linked to ecosystem restoration is addressing climate change. These two global crises are inextricably linked and the best way to reverse the effects of climate change is to restore nature especially through nature-based solutions.

It is very clear that disturbing natural ecosystem balance helps release pathogens from wild life reservoirs to spread more easily to livestock and humans. If humanity learnt one thing from this COVID-19 pandemic: it is that we need to rethink the way that different development activities operate and the urgent need to reset its relationship with nature or we suffer worse pandemic outbreaks in future.

According to UN Environment Programme (UNEP), currently, 3.2 billion people — 40% of the world’s population — suffer from the continued degradation of ecosystems, for example by losing access to fertile soil or safe drinking water.

Reviving natural carbon sinks — such as forests and peatlands/wetlands — could help close the climate emissions gap by 25% by 2030. Replanting with native tree species can also help buffer some of the expected devastating effects of a warming planet, such as increased risk of forest fires.

Ecosystems exist not only at a global and national scale, but also regional, national and local. This means that everyone at any place can make a difference through their everyday actions and choices to repair, expand, support and, if necessary, replace damaged and degraded ecosystems.

Ecosystem restoration in UAE

Needless to say, our grandfathers in the Arabian Gulf managed to live in harmony with harsh natural conditions for centuries only by respecting and protecting the ecosystems and natural resources.

The good news is that recently, the issues of ecosystem restoration and biodiversity have received significant attention in Gulf cooperation countries and especially in the UAE, reflected in the tremendous efforts made by the country and its significant achievements in this area, from enacting policies and legislation to implementation and monitoring.

The brilliant thing about UAE ecosystem restoration efforts is the support nature-based solutions through establishing and expanding protected areas on land and marine environment, to protecting, breeding and reintroducing endangered species into their natural habitats which is done across the seven emirates of the country.

However, to achieve restoration at the required scale, education and awareness efforts along with incentives and financial investments must be made in changing the way lands and marine are exploited and in inspiring a movement of people and businesses and governments through celebrating success stories in this regard.

In short, ecosystem restoration is not only an essential way for a sustainable pandemic recovery but also offers a huge opportunity to get policies in place that support the Paris Agreement, the biodiversity agenda and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

On WED, let’s move the conversation to actions that individuals, corporates and governments can take to safeguard our mother Earth and help restore ecosystems and ecological balance.

Dr Mohamed Abdel Raouf is a noted environmental researcher