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Ecological restoration, an unprecedented opportunity for nature and people

Five powerful messages from the seventh World Conference on Ecological Restoration
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The Iguassu Falls on the border of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná. Restoration experts gathered in the nearby city of Foz do Iguassu last month. Photo by Linda de Volder

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Brazil - With governments around the globe making impressive commitments to restore degraded ecosystems, we frequently hear that the world is entering an “ecological restoration era”. But while ecological restoration at the global scale is moving from promise to reality, significant challenges remain.

The seventh World Conference on Ecological Restoration (SER 2017), held in Foz do Iguassu, Brazil, brought together more than 1,000 individuals, including scientists, NGO workers and practitioners hailing from more than 65 nations around the world, to discuss not only how to address these challenges but also opportunities and possible solutions to efficiently address restoration targets based on science and evidence.

Five powerful messages emerged from the restoration experts who gathered at the tri-border city, which also hosts one of the natural wonders of South America – Iguassu Falls.

1) Flexibility and integration

Manuel Guariguata, CIFOR scientist and leader of the Forest Management and Restoration team, presented recent findings and was part of the selected experts who took part in the Forum on Biodiversity and Global Forest Restoration, an event co-organized by IUCN’s Commission on Ecosystem Management (IUCM CEM) and the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER).

The forum aimed at strengthening biodiversity considerations in the practice of ecological restoration from the perspective of prioritization and planning, governance and policy, and good practice standards.

Guariguata highlighted the need to reconcile productive and conservation sectors and involve actors from all levels.

“Improving biodiversity outcomes from global restoration initiatives needs to acknowledge that sound prioritization and shared negotiation across different stakeholders will be needed, as well as identifying governance bottlenecks that hinder the permanence of restored forests,” he said.

2) A call for efficiency

Showing a cartoon that described the cost of getting a tattoo (USD 50) versus the cost of removing it later (USD 2500), Cara Nelson from IUCN CEM highlighted the need to ensure efficiency for ecological restoration actions. But if you wonder what the picture has to do with one of the most important environmental movements of our time, she explained, “Landscape restoration is an unprecedented opportunity and hopefully in a hundred years we will say that we made really smart investments in where we implemented restoration activities, but also what we did on the landscape. Restoration is an experimental field and so we want to do our best in planning to ensure that our activities would have maximum benefits but we also want to monitor rather quickly restoration interventions so we can change our methods and practices to achieve better success, because the worst possible outcome will be in a hundred years from now to look back and wish we had invested the money in restoration differently.”

3) Commit land, not just money

Bethanie Walder, Executive Director of the Society for Ecological Restoration, pointed out what was for her one of the most outstanding moments in the conference.

“One of the most powerful messages for me was this moment when Miguel Calmon, Forest Director for WRI Brazil, was giving a keynote presentation and presented this map that showed the commitments to the international agreements, like the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration, and the map was shockingly empty for the developed countries. And someone in the audience raised their hand and asked: ‘Why aren’t commitments from the developed countries? We know there is money coming from the rich nations to the poor countries to achieve this climate objectives but where is the commitment of land’? And it’s true, we cannot put all that on the rest of the world, that’s not appropriate. We need the developed world to not just commit money but also to commit land, to reforest and to achieve these objectives.”

4) Stop degradation, fulfill the promise of restoration

George Gann, Society for Ecological Restoration Ambassador, was in charge of reading the Conference Declaration and Call to Action. One of the messages he emphasized, which came from a full week of scientific and policy discussions, debates and meetings was the importance of understanding that ecological restoration will not suffice to revert a global environmental crisis if ecosystem destruction is not stopped.

“If done effectively and sustainably, with a focus on real outcomes over metrics, ecological restoration will greatly aid in protecting biodiversity, improving human health and well-being, increasing food and water security, delivering goods, services and economic prosperity, and providing critical contributions to both climate change mitigation and adaptation. However, ecological restoration cannot replace nature conservation, and should never be used to justify the destruction or degradation of ecosystems, including through perverse incentives for the restoration of ecosystem services. The present level of landscape and ecosystem degradation should be halted and all remaining wild, roadless, non-developed areas should be protected.”

5) Base restoration on science and data

Specialists also pointed out the importance of basing restoration planning and actions on science. Catalina Santamaria, Forests Program Officer at the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said, “It is necessary to undertake better assessments to plan and prioritize different actions that are needed across the landscapes and incorporate biodiversity objectives and considerations. At the CBD we believe that also leveraging science and data would help to guide the agendas and better inform parties and stakeholders.”

The call for science-based restoration is also stated in the Call to Action: “Ensure that all restoration projects and programs are based on the best available science, that they effectively balance the delivery of benefits to biodiversity and human society, and that free and open communication between scientists, the public, governments and the media is maintained.”

During the six days of plenaries, symposiums and presentations, delegates repeatedly emphasized that only by guaranteeing the integrity of science and incorporating all stakeholders into the processes, can restoration succeed in conserving biodiversity, addressing climate change and improving human well-being around the world. And the time for doing so, all agreed, is now.

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For more information on this topic, please contact Manuel Guariguata at m.guariguata@cgiar.org.
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