We’re back - on World Environment Day.
With the triple themes of ‘Reimagine. Recreate. Restore’, the mission is simple - ecosystem restoration - preventing, halting and reversing the damage to our natural world. It’s a challenge on a global scale, aiming to repair an area of land larger than America or China.
In a decade starting with COVID-19 and ending with 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, World Environment Day marks the launch of another challenge - the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. If the UN SDGs are a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet”, the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration focuses on the planet in order to help the people:
"This decade aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. It can help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent a mass extinction. It will only succeed if everyone plays a part."
Crossing the chasm
We share this planet with nine million species of plants and animals, with ecosystem restoration aimed at rejuvenating the most threatened, even bringing some back from the brink of extinction. Restoring ecosystems also carries benefits and incentives for us human animals. Not only does it create jobs in rural areas, but every dollar invested in restoration returns at least 9 dollars to society. Looking ahead to the post-COVID era, Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, believes:
"A green recovery is one that tackles the climate, biodiversity and pollution crises at the same time. Some countries are already designing stimulus packages that include actions for forests, wetlands, soils and green cities. At the UN Biodiversity Summit, we saw a remarkable groundswell of political commitment to nature. But now we must step up on a massive-scale, actions to restore our degraded ecosystems."
Many countries have crossed the chasm by including ecosystem restoration in their pandemic recovery plans:
A third of France’s €100 billion recovery fund targets the green economy, with investment pointed at clean buildings, industry and transport, plus the ‘agro-ecological transition’ of agriculture.
Pakistan has hired thousands of people made jobless during the pandemic to plant tree saplings, in addition to the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami program launched in 2018.
Ethiopia is aiming to double its forest cover by 2030, starting with 5 billion seedlings in 2021.
Digital and natural ecosystems
As the world recovers from the pandemic, CO2 emissions are expected to rebound by 1.5 billion tonnes - the second-largest increase since records began. With more than half the global population already living in cities, urban living accounts for 70% of CO2 emissions. With population growth and 70% of people expected to live in cities by 2050, it’s self-evident that, unless we laser-focus on societal ecosystems too, we might squander the gains of natural ecosystem restoration.
The answer lies as much in the built world as it does the natural one - in the infrastructure that gives us light, keeps us warm, cools us down and moves us from A to B.
In short, we need exponential growth in the physical infrastructure too. How else can we build smart homes without smart meters? How can we inhabit smart cities without smart energy? How can we drive from A to B without the charging points to power our electric vehicles (with hydrogen, when it comes, only accentuating the shortfall in transport infrastructure)?
In its pandemic recovery plans, France has already made the link, planning to build digital and natural ecosystems from the same fund. This is where the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution comes into play - a new world driven by a fusion of technologies blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological.
We really have no time to lose. The Decade on Ecosystem Restoration plans to revive billions of hectares of natural ecosystems by 2030. World Environment Day reminds us that, to accelerate the acceleration toward a more sustainable world, we must roll out new societal infrastructure in the same timeframe.
Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.
It applies to the digital infrastructure too.