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Restoring ecosystem for sustainable development

Jun 04, 2010

Dead planet, living planet: Biodiversity and ecosystem restoration for sustainable development identifies thousands of ecosystem restoration projects worldwide and showcases over 30 initiatives that are transforming the lives of communities and countries across the globe.

Dead planet, living planet: Biodiversity and ecosystem restoration for sustainable development

Publisher: UNEP, 2010

Restoring lost and damaged ecosystems-from forests and freshwaters to mangroves and wetlands-can trigger multi-million dollar returns, generate jobs and combat poverty according to a new report compiled by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).


Launched on the eve of World Environment Day (WED), the report draws on thousands of ecosystem restoration projects world-wide and showcases over 30 initiatives that are transforming the lives of communities and countries across the globe.

The report, entitled Dead Planet, Living Planet: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Restoration for Sustainable Development, underlines that far from being a tax on growth and development, many environmental investments in degraded, nature-based assets can generate substantial and multiple returns.

These include restoring water flows to rivers and lakes, improved soil stability and fertility vital for agriculture and combating climate change by sequestrating and storing carbon from the atmosphere.

The report underlines that maintaining and managing intact ecosystems must be the key priority. But given that more than 60 per cent of them-ranging from marshes and coral reefs to tropical forests and soils-are already degraded, restoration must now be an equal priority.

Repairing and rehabilitating ecosystems also generates jobs in a world where currently 1.3 billion are unemployed or underemployed while supporting international goals to substantially reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity-a key theme of 2010.

Is Ecosystem Restoration Worth It?

The report cites evidence that well-planned, science-based, community supported programmes can recover 25 44 per cent of the original services alongside the animals, plants and other biodiversity of the former intact system.

This is highlighted by a study on restoring degraded grasslands and lands around river systems in South Africa's Drakensberg Mountains.

It estimates that the project will bring back winter river flows to vulnerable communities amounting to close to 4 million cubic metres of water, cut sediment losses and store carbon.

Cost-$4.5 million or Euro 3.6 million over seven years and annual management costs of Euro 800,000.
Return-up to $7.4 million (Euro 6 million) a year while generating over 300 permanent, natural resource management jobs and 2.5 million person-days of work during the restoration phase.

Ecosystem Restoration-It is Not Always So Simple

The report however cites cases were often well-intentioned restorations have back-fired underlining that such projects should be carried out with care and planning.

The report cites the introduction into European waters of North American signal crayfish after over harvesting had reduced catches of native species to in some cases 10 per cent of the original catch.

Unfortunately the imports, initially into Swedish waters, carried a crayfish plague that has spread to native populations in an estimated 21 countries-some countries are trying to establish 'ark-sites' or secure sites to save the remaining indigenous populations.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "The ecological infrastructure of the planet is generating services to humanity worth by some estimates over $70 trillion a year, perhaps substantially more. In the past these services have been invisible or near invisible in national and international accounts. This should and must change".

"This report is aimed at bringing two fundamental messages to governments, communities and citizens on World Environment Day and in 2010-the UN's International Year of Biodiversity. Namely that mismanagement of natural and nature-based assets is under cutting development on a scale that dwarfs the recent economic crisis," he said.

"Two: that well-planned investments and re-investments in the restoration of these vast, natural and nature-based utilities not only has a high rate of return. But will be central, if not fundamental, to sustainability in a world of rising aspirations, populations, incomes and demands on the Earth's natural resources," said Mr Steiner who was in Kigali, Rwanda the main host for this year's global WED events.

The theme of ecosystem restoration underpins the Projeto Agua Limpa or Clean Water Project co-launched by UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Gisele Bündchen and her father in 2008 in her hometown of Horizontina.

The project is aimed at restoring the health of water supplies alongside a boost to biodiversity by restoring forests and rehabilitating river banks and riverside vegetation alongside river basins.
Ms Bündchen said: "UNEP's report on ecosystem restoration spotlights the enormous opportunities for communities to invest in their future development.

"Indeed restoring degraded environments is among the best gifts we can give and hand on to current and future generations-we need to bring to the attention of everyone the central link between forests, wetlands and other natural systems and our survival and prosperity in this extraordinary world," she added.

"Restoration pays off: Wetlands and forests can be up to 22 times more effective than investing in water treatment plants," says Christian Nellemann of UNEP's GRID-Arendal in Norway, who headed up the Rapid Response Report launched today. "Do it right. Back it up with long term management and, where needed, ensure laws are enforced. Ensure law enforcement. And you will succeed with broad public support and generate immediate and long term returns."

The report makes a series of recommendations including:

  • Urging overseas development agencies; international finance agencies and other funders such as regional development banks to factor ecosystem restoration and long term management assistance into development support; food security initiatives; job creation and poverty alleviation funding.
  • One per cent of GDP should be set aside annually for conservation, management and restoration of the environment and natural resources, with the precise amount linked to national circumstances.
  • That ecosystem restoration is guided by experiences learnt to date to avoid unintended consequences such as the introduction of alien invasive species and pests.
  • That priority is initially given to biodiversity and ecosystem 'hotspots'.
  • That infrastructure projects that damage an ecosystem has funds set aside to restore a similar degraded ecosystem elsewhere in a country or community.

Key Highlights from the Report

The Economic Case for Ecosystems

Through The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), hosted by UNEP, and a myriad of other recent reports and initiative, the value of the Earth's natural assets and their role in development are now being glimpsed.

  • It is estimated that ecosystems deliver essential services worth between $21 trillion and up to $72 trillion a year-comparable to World Gross National Income in 2008 of $58 trillion.
  • Wetlands, half of which have been drained over the past century often for agriculture, provide annual services of near $7 trillion.
  • Forested wetlands treat more wastewater per unit of energy and have up to 22 fold higher cost-benefit ratios than traditional sand filtration in treatment plants.
  • Coastal wetlands in the United States, which among other services provide storm protection, have been valued at $23 billion annually.
  • In India, mangroves serving as storm barriers have been noted to reduce individual household damages from $153 per household to an average of $33 per household in areas with intact mangroves.
  • Pollination from bees and other insects provide services boosting agricultural production worth at least $153 billion annually.
  • Ecosystems are also central in natural pest control, indeed, many of the world's key crops such as coffee, tea and mangoes are dependent on the pollination and pest control services of birds and insects.
  • By some estimates projected loss of ecosystem services could lead to up to 25 per cent loss in the world's food production by 2050 increasing the risks of hunger.
  • Services delivered by the Mau forest complex in Kenya, such as hydropower, drinking water, moisture for the tea industry abd river flows to key tourist attractions including the Massai Mara and Lake Nakuru, are worth an estimated $320 million a year.
  • The $320 million was based on a calculation in 2008. Today it was announced by the Kenya Forest Research Institute that new calculations indicate that the ecosystem services of the Mau may be more like $1.5 billion a year after adding additional beneficiary sectors such as drinking water provision to cities and carbon storage of greenhouse gases.
  • Currently 75 per cent of globally, usable freshwater supplies come from forests. Many cities including Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, Tokyo, Melbourne, New York and Jakarta all rely on protected areas to provide residents with drinking water.
  • Overall one third of the world's 100 largest cities draw a substantial proportion of their drinking water from forest protected areas.
  • Without the national protected area network in Venezuela, sedimentation of rivers could reduce farm earnings by around $3.5 million a year.

The value of coastal wetlands for hurricane protection has been estimated at $250 51,000 per hectare per year, with an average of $8,240 per hectare per year.

Over 80 per cent of people in developing countries rely on traditional plant-based medicines for basic healthcare.

Three-quarters of the world's top-selling prescription drugs include ingredients derived from plant extracts.
Environmental degradation including ecosystem losses is augmenting the impact of natural disasters such as floods, droughts and flash floods affecting 270 million people annually and killing some 124,000 people worldwide every year, of which 85 per cent are in Asia.

Greenhouse gas emissions from peatland drainage in Southeast Asia is contributing the equivalent of 1.3 to 3.1 per cent of current global CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuel - as well as threatening the survival of the endangered orangutans.

The recent agreement signed on 26 May 2010 between Norway and Indonesia on the financial support of US$ one billion to reduce deforestation and draining of peatlands, provides a new impetus for both climate change mitigation and the endangered orang-utans in these unique forests.

The Case for Ecosystem Restoration

The report underlines that conserving existing ecosystems is far cheaper than restoration.

Effective conservation, such as that practised in many National Parks and protected areas may cost from a few tens of dollars to a few hundred dollars per hectare.

However, protected areas cover only 13 per cent, 6 per cent and less than 1 per cent of the planet's land, coastal and ocean areas.

Many important ecosystems fall outside these areas. Restoration costs may be ten times higher than managing existing ecosystems, but still something of a bargain considering the returns in terms of restored nature-based services.

Indeed the report says that compared to loss of ecosystem services, well-planned restorations may provide cost benefit ratios of 3 75 in terms of return on investment.

Initial studies compiled by TEEB indicate that restoration of grasslands, woodlands and forests offer some of the highest rates of returns.

The Turkish city of Istanbul has increased the number of people served with wastewater treatment over 20 years from a few hundred thousand to over nine million-95 per cent of the population-by rehabilitating and cleaning river banks, relocating polluting industries, installing water treatment works and re-establishing river-side vegetation.

In Vietnam, planting and protecting nearly 12,000 hectares of mangroves has cost just over $1 million but saved annual expenditure on dyke maintenance of well over $7 million.

In Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, strict law enforcement, costing the lives of over 190 rangers, has helped restore the critically endangered mountain gorilla population back to a slight increase in the Virungas National Park - and is generating large revenues from tourism.

Restoration of over 500 hectares of mangroves in India's Andhra Pradesh region has cost $3 million over seven years but has increased the population of edible crabs and fodder for livestock thereby boosting local incomes while increasing biodiversity such as otter and birds.

Coastal ecosystems in Biscayne Bay, Florida have been restored for annual benefit worth $1.7 million.
Banning unsustainable fishing methods; re-introductions of native fish species and re-planting of native aquatic grasses have transformed the once highly polluted and degraded Lake Hong in China.

Since 2003, water quality has improved dramatically, rare birds like the Oriental White Stork have returned after 20 years and fisher folk have seen incomes triple.

Among the case studies is a re-afforestation project in an area of Tanzania called the Shinyanga region just south of Lake Victoria.

Until recently it was nick-named the Desert of Tanzania as a result of deforestation and the conversion of woodlands into croplands.

However an 18-year project aimed at creating village-based woodland enclosures has reversed land degradation and improved rural livelihoods.

Some 350,000 hectares of ngitili, the local world for enclosures, have been planted covering well over 800 villages and 2.8 million people.

Studies by the Tanzanian government and the group IUCN highlights multiple improvements such as better diets and food security and less time spent by women searching for fuel wood.

The cash benefits of the restoration alone are estimated at about $14 per person per month, some $5.50 higher than the national average.

Under the UN's climate agreements, countries are moving to pay developing nations to conserve rather than fell forests.
Known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, this could lead to an estimated halving of deforestation rates by 2030.

By some estimates this could cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 2.7 billion tons annually at a cost of just over $17 billion to $33 billion per year, but with a long-term benefit estimated at $3.7 trillion in present value terms.

Under the Scolel Te Project in Mexico, some 700 farmers in 40 communities have planted over 700 hectares of trees on degraded land to sequester carbon receiving tens of thousands of dollars from the carbon offset markets-which in this case is linked with offsetting Formula One racing and the World Rally Championship.

Source : UNEP
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