In 1972, the UN General Assembly designated 5 June as World Environment Day (WED). The first celebration, under the slogan “Only One Earth” took place in 1974. In the following years, WED has developed as a platform to raise awareness on the problems facing our environment such as air pollution, plastic pollution, illegal wildlife trade, sustainable consumption, sea-level increase, and food security, among others. Furthermore, WED helps drive change in consumption patterns and in national and international environmental policy.
2021 Theme: Ecosystem Restoration
The theme for World Environment Day 2021 is “Ecosystem Restoration” and will see the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Ecosystem restoration can take many forms: Growing trees, greening cities, rewilding gardens, changing diets or cleaning up rivers and coasts. This is the generation that can make peace with nature.
What is Ecosystem Restoration?
Ecosystem restoration means assisting in the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed, as well as conserving the ecosystems that are still intact. Healthier ecosystems, with richer biodiversity, yield greater benefits such as more fertile soils, bigger yields of timber and fish, and larger stores of greenhouse gases.
Restoration can happen in many ways – for example through actively planting or by removing pressures so that nature can recover on its own. It is not always possible – or desirable – to return an ecosystem to its original state. We still need farmland and infrastructure on land that was once forest, for instance, and ecosystems, like societies, need to adapt to a changing climate.
Between now and 2030, the restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems could generate US$9 trillion in ecosystem services. Restoration could also remove 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The economic benefits of such interventions exceed nine times the cost of investment, whereas inaction is at least three times more costly than ecosystem restoration.
All kinds of ecosystems can be restored, including forests, farmlands, cities, wetlands and oceans. Restoration initiatives can be launched by almost anyone, from governments and development agencies to businesses, communities and individuals. That is because the causes of degradation are many and varied, and can have an impact at different scales.
2021 Host Country: Pakistan
Every World Environment Day is hosted by a different country, in which official celebrations take place, and this year’s host is Pakistan.
The Government of Pakistan plans to expand and restore the country’s forests through a ‘10 Billion Tree Tsunami‘ spread over five years. The campaign includes restoring mangroves and forests, as well as planting trees in urban settings, including schools, colleges, public parks and green belts.
Through the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami, Pakistan is contributing to the Bonn Challenge, a global effort linked to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Under the challenge, countries are pledging to bring 350 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2030.
UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030)
The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration following a proposal and resolution for action by over 70 countries from all latitudes. It is a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world, for the benefit of people and nature. It aims to halt the degradation of ecosystems, and restore them to achieve global goals. Only with healthy ecosystems can we enhance people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change, and stop the collapse of biodiversity.
The UN Decade runs from 2021 through 2030, which is also the deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals and the timeline scientists have identified as the last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change. Led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the UN Decade is building a strong, broad-based global movement to ramp up restoration and put the world on track for a sustainable future. That will include building political momentum for restoration as well as thousands of initiatives on the ground.
As the Decade will shape the environment for current and future generations, it is vital that young people’s perspectives and feelings about ecosystems and biodiversity are taken into account. In this sense, the UNEP Europe Office has developed a survey for youth (available in 22 languages), specifically addressed at European and Central Asian people aged 13-18 years old. It aims to find out what their knowledge and expectations are regarding ecosystem restoration in their country and region.