Restoring the Ecosystem – Challenges in the midst of the Pandemic and the Way forward

New Delhi:‘Restoration of ecosystem is fundamental to achieving the SDGs, mainly those on climate change, poverty eradication, food security, water and biodiversity conservation. The ecosystem restoration should always be a collective responsibility of all of us and reminds us that restoration activities will largely contribute to all of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), in particular to Goal 15 which is devoted to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”.

 

Ecosystem is also specifically linked with SDG 1, to End poverty, and SDG 8, to Promote sustainable economic growth, and decent work for all. Therefore, ecosystem restoration should never be just the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, a coordinated action of various ministries and departments including sectors like agriculture, environment, energy, mining, industry, finance, infrastructure, tourism etc., are vital, said Pradeep S Mehta Secretary General of CUTS International in his opening address on the theme ‘importance of ecosystem restoration in the context of pandemic’

 

The webinar was organised by CUTS International on the occasion of World Environment Day. Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International along with Sara Nilsson, Programme Manager-Sustainable Consumption, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Bethan Laughlin, Sustainable Consumption Lead, Consumers International, Dr. K Anand, Co-Founder, Junglescapes Charitable Trust, Aman Singh, Founder, Krishi Avam Paristhitiki Vikas Sansthan discussed solutions for restoring ecosystem.

 

The webinar was moderated by George Cheriyan, Director of CUTS International.

 

George during his address highlighted the relevance of the webinar topic and the gravity of the situation in our country. The day also marks the beginning of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, a global mission to revive billions of hectares, from forests to farmlands, from the top of mountains to the depth of the sea.

 

To project the importance of the theme for India, he highlighted the findings of the study The biennial Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2020 that ranks India poorly in the global rankings at 168th position out of 180 countries with only Afghanistan ranking below it in South Asia. India faces a number of serious environmental health risks, including poor air quality. This inherently low score by India underlines the need for more sustainable efforts within the country to address concerns relating to air and water quality, climate change and biodiversity.

 

Sara Nilsson spoke from the global perspective on ecosystem restoration. She began her talk by paying due homage and respect to late Shri. Sunderlal Bahuguna, noted environmentalist and Chipko movement leader, who passed away last month. She shared her own experience and brief interaction with Bahuguna and his wife couple of years back at their residence in Dehradun.

 

Later in her talk she acknowledged that indigenous and local communities play really important roles in maintaining and managing biodiversity and landscapes that the rest of us can learn from. The world should not only draw lessons from those and other local communities’ environmental stewardship but even the policy makers and rest of us need to support and partner with them in order to stem the tide of biodiversity loss.

 

Bethan Laughlin, highlighted findings from a report of the World Economic Forum that says almost USD44 trillion of economic value generation, which is over half the world’s total GDP, is potentially at risk as a result of the dependence of business on nature and its services.

 

Besides the scale of biodiversity to be reclaimed is extremely staggering, we need to restore nearly 1 billion hectares of degraded land – an area larger than China. As a consumer we could put pressure on market place and upon the businesses. But that doesn’t mean consumers should alone shoulder the burden, support of all other stakeholders is crucial.

 

She also touched upon the issue of green washing and underlined the need for business community to act responsibly. To substantiate further, she shared the findings of a recent Consumer International study on recyclability and packaging that was conducted on the packaging of 11 internationally available branded products across nine countries. The aim was to understand the unique consumer experience of recycling and the sustainability choices they are faced with. Across all nine participating countries, it was found that consumers were facing packaging that was misleading, unclear, and not recyclable in practice. Unequal access to adequate recycling infrastructure across and within countries fails consumers who are often motivated and willing to recycle.

 

Dr K Anand spoke about the deteriorating environment scenario in India, where almost 40 to 50 percent of forests are only in good shape and the water bodies and coastal areas are heavily polluted and quarrying happening widely. He reminded participants that restoration is not just about planting trees as it is just a mono culture and would never contribute to support wild life. Restoration should be focused on rainforest, as it holds much promise in helping to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services.

 

Speaking about restoration activities happening at Rajasthan from a grassroots’ level perspective, Aman Singh’s talk was centred on the need to conserve and protect ‘Orans”. Orans are sacred spaces rich in biodiversity and usually include a water body. Communities in Rajasthan have been conserving these Orans for centuries and their lives have been intricately linked around these spaces. The need to support and encourage such sustainable activities by the communities is very much important.

 

During the discussions, most panellists voiced the issues of mono-culture planting and its risk, an area often oversimplified. It is vital that we don’t just plant trees, but create diverse eco-systems that are correct for the location and can sustain themselves for the long term. Besides, the discussion also touched upon the importance of circularity and the urgency to bring it in everyday life.

 

The virtual webinar was attended by almost 170 plus participants representing from 23 states and 11 different countries who are mostly experts working in the area related to environment and sustainable development issues, agriculture sector, government representatives, civil society organizations across the country and abroad.

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