RESTORING OUR ECOSYSTEM: REIMAGINE. RECREATE. RESTORE
World Environment Day 2021 marks the launch of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which aims to reverse the damage we have inflicted on nature. Ecosystems support all life on Earth. The healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet - and its people. The campaign initiated by the United Nations aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. We all must stabilize the climate; we must protect nature and reduce the pollution to create a world where the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) thrive. Restoring ecosystems is a remarkable solution. It slows climate change, brings back lost biodiversity, creates productive land for agriculture, provides jobs, restores nature’s buffers against zoonotic diseases and pandemics, and helps vulnerable communities to adapt to the changing climate. It will only succeed if everyone plays a part.
However, ecosystem restoration alone will not solve all of our problems. We must stop further ecosystem destruction. This can be achieved by reforming agricultural practices, changing our strategies of building cities, decarbonizing our economies, and moving to circular economic models and restoration. All these can be a quick-acting solution and buy us time to make these transformations. People have realised this and, thus, the momentum for restoration is now growing.
For India, scaling up ecosystem restoration activities assumes national importance as it is one of the mega biodiverse countries of the world, holding four of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Owing to its diverse physical and climatic conditions, it accounts for nearly 8 per cent of the recorded species, with approximately 47,000 plant species and over 100,000 animal species. However, the pressure on ecosystems and biodiversity is also immense in India where, within 2.4 per cent of the world’s land area, it supports 18 per cent of the global human population and accounts for 15 per cent of the world’s livestock.
In India, restoration targets are reflected in several of its flagship programmes. Directly, the National Afforestation Programme (NAP) is focused on the rehabilitation of degraded forests and afforestation around forests. Further, the National Mission for a Green India (GIM) under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) aims to improve and increase tree cover as a climate adaptation and mitigation strategy. Similarly, the critical focus of the National Biodiversity Action Plan is to implement strategies for the reduction in rates of degradation, fragmentation, and loss of natural habitats. However, in achieving restoration both at pace and scale, there is an imperative need to overcome the various barriers to large-scale restoration.
Some of the primary barriers to the restoration process include limited awareness of societies about the adverse effects of ecosystem degradation as well as the benefits of investing in restoration. Further, the lack of funds, limited investment into long-term research, shortage of legislation and policies that incentivise ecosystem restoration, little technical knowledge and capacity for ecosystem restoration are the other significant challenges and impediments.
However, a well-defined framework of government policies and strategies are in place to overcome these ecological and socio‐economic challenges. But to enhance the rate of ecosystem restoration, a diverse group of stakeholders, including civil society, academic institutions, women’s groups, indigenous communities, youth, farmers’ groups, and the marginalized — all need to be part of this restoration campaign.
The India Science Innovation Portal took a step forward to educate make aware the society that a string of policies and strategies are in place to overcome these ecological and socio‐economic challenges. These government initiatives need to be taken to the various stakeholders so that they can contribute to the mission of restoring our environment. We have consolidated most of the available programmes, schemes, current research, technologies, and patents related to the environment and climate change offered by governmental and private organisations. This knowledge product is the first step in seeking inputs on challenges and problems from different stakeholders in society. Scientist from some of the leading institutions of India have shared their views, research studies, and solutions they identified to combat the environmental challenges imposed by anthropogenic activities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us aware of one thing: our planet is precious, and its resources are finite. More than ever, now every step toward protecting the environment counts. Individuals have an integral role in ecosystem restoration through the right lifestyle choices and raising public awareness of its importance. It is the responsibility of each of us to Restore Our Mother Earth.