June 5th is World Environment Day, with the theme of 'Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.' It also marks the official launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global rallying call aimed at accelerating efforts to restore nature around the world. This week, UNDP’s Equator Initiative team has been sorting through hundreds of nominations of Indigenous and local communities, all of whom are working to protect, manage and restore nature. The selection process provides hope, inspiration, and a clear lens on what it means to reimagine, recreate, and restore when it comes to nature and development.
Recent reports, including the Global Biodiversity Outlook, the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services global report, the Living Planet Report and the Global Land Outlook, all provide a clear snapshot of the extent of damage, and a reckoning of what we must restore – forests, wetlands, mangroves, agricultural soils, species and more. The staggering loss and degradation of nature in the past 50 years imperils not only our ability to achieve the 2030 Agenda, but threatens the very life support systems upon which all life depends.
For Indigenous peoples and local communities, the dependency between nature, livelihoods and wellbeing is completely intertwined – ecosystem restoration is an imperative to physical and cultural survival. Previous Equator Prize winners working on restoration – from Afghanistan, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, and Vanuatu, among many others, clearly demonstrate this relationship between ecosystem health and human well-being, and show how ecosystem restoration is a pathway toward local sustainable development.
The UN Decade on Restoration aims not only to restore ecosystems, but also to halt ecosystem degradation. This means tackling the underlying economic factors that lead to degradation, such as a failed market system that does not reflect the environmental costs of production, and a ‘take, make and dispose’ linear economy – underpin the global economic model. If we are to recreate local, national and global economies, we must find new models that foster green, inclusive, circular economies, and that recognize and reward sustainable production and consumption.
Previous Equator Prize winners in the categories of ‘New Economy’ and ‘Nature for Prosperity’ provide a glimpse of a re-created economic model. A women-led co-operative in Mexico have proven that traditional knowledge can be respected and rewarded. The Hadzabe hunter-gatherer community in Tanzania have secured historic land rights and are selling carbon credits for their work on protection and restoration. An Asháninka Indigenous community in Peru has sustainably produced and exported cacao, while keeping trees standing. Countless other examples showcase how communities are redefining the rules of local economies.
UNDP’s most recent Human Development Report;‘The next frontier: Human development and the Anthropocene,’ comes to a profound conclusion; our development model has failed. The report clearly shows how no country has achieved a high degree of human development without first having had a significantly negative impact on the environment. It calls for a bold reimagining of development.
This year’s Equator Prize ceremony in October will be part of the UNDP-led Nature for Life Hub, a virtual space that invites global leaders, including governments, CEOs, Indigenous leaders and civil society to reimagine development. This year’s event will focus on three essential transformations required to reimagine the rules on nature, development and economy. The first is transforming our relationship with nature. We must take bold steps toward putting nature at the heart of sustainable development by protecting and restoring the ecosystems that provide a safety net for humanity. This also means transforming our relationship with Indigenous peoples, whose traditional lands harbour vast biodiversity and carbon stocks, by recognizing and safeguarding their traditional land rights. The second is transforming production and consumption patterns of food, fibre, fisheries and forest products, the main causes of ecosystem loss and degradation. This means not only creating green, circular economies that eliminate waste, but also inclusive supply chains that put communities at the forefront of sustainable production, such as the Kutkabubba aboriginal community in Western Australia. The third is transforming markets and financial flows by creating transparency in how corporations, financial institutions and governments spend money, and accountability on their impacts on nature, including through initiatives such as the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures.
The themes of this year’s World Environment Day – reimagine, recreate and restore - invite us to do more than undertake a token act of restoration. They challenge us to radically reconsider the underlying economic and market paradigms that have led to our planetary emergency. The Equator Prize winners, and the more than 150 global leaders at the Nature for Life Hub, provide clear guidelines. Scientists warn that we have about a decade to reverse course, and to take bold action on both nature and climate or we will face environmental, social and economic collapses. The UN Decade on Restoration starts on June 5th – let’s get to work!