Brock prof helping to lay groundwork for UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

Brock University’s Liette Vasseur is among worldwide experts who created materials that form the bedrock of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which was launched last week.

The Professor of Biology and UNESCO Chair in Community Sustainability: from Local to Global worked with 57 other restoration experts from 21 countries to create three ecological restoration resources:

  • the definition of ‘net gain’ in restoration and how it can be measured, prioritized and standardized
  • a framework for prioritizing restorative activities and interventions
  • nine common principles and common standards of practice applicable across all types of ecosystem restoration activities

Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed due to human activities such as logging, overfishing, road construction, mining, urbanization and others.

The United Nations says it is committed to restoring ecosystems across the globe and sees this upcoming decade as an opportunity to address the co-crises of climate and biodiversity, to reduce poverty, and to improve human well-being, including human health and livelihoods.

But, for these global initiatives to be successful, there is a critical need for a shared vision of the science, practice and policy of ecosystem restoration, says a UN press release.

“To fulfil the ambitions of the UN Decade, the next 10 years must see a massive acceleration in the pace of global restoration activity,” says Jim Hallett, Chair of the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER).

“That’s why it is so important to have strong principles, sound science, engaged communities, and a common understanding of the wide array of restorative activities that can heal the planet.”

The SER with the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM) have taken leadership to lay the foundation for the shared vision of this global restoration.

Vasseur is a member of SER and CEM and was representing IUCN CEM on the organizing committee that put together the three resources. This work was done in collaboration with the United Nations Best Practices Task Force led by the Food and Agriculture Organization.

An important concept the group came up with is the definition of “net gain” or net improvement for both humans and nature, which takes into account ecosystem functions and services, native biodiversity, and human health and well-being.

The official definition of “net gain” is: “A measurable, positive net change in ecosystem integrity, native biodiversity and human well-being that results from a combination of sustainable resource use, conservation and restoration. Net gain should be measurable at any scale, including ecosystem and land/seascape scales and sustained over time.”

The second outcome was the development of a framework for decision-making and prioritizing restorative activities along the restoration continuum, which can be used by local to national governments, practitioners or organizations.

“This framework is based on inclusion, diversity and equity as well as keeping in mind the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Nature’s Contributions to People as guidance,” explains Vasseur.

The third outcome was the development of principles for ecosystem restoration, which encompass many of the elements of the definition of net gain and the framework process. The principles were developed in close collaboration with the UN Decade Task Force on Best Practices.

“The products of the Global Forum provide critical tools for practitioners, policy-makers and investors to effectively design, implement and measure success in restoration across all ecosystems and scales,” says Angela Andrade, Chair of the IUCN’s Commission on Ecosystem Management.

“We are very excited about what this means for the UN Decade, to ensure that projects around the world are delivering a net gain for ecosystems, biodiversity and local communities.”

Vasseur was among 10 speakers who presented the group’s findings at an international event June 4.

“The Third World Forum on Ecosystem Restoration and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration have been pivotal to bring many experts together to develop what we hope becomes the basis for a worldwide movement toward restoration of degraded lands,” says Vasseur.

“This is essential for the survival of all species, including humans, as biological diversity is a threat and without it, humans cannot continue to function. I believe the pandemic showed us the importance of healthy nature.”

The group’s discussion draft will be open for public consultation in June and July and will be finalized at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September.

Held once every four years, the IUCN World Conservation Congress brings together several thousand leaders and decision-makers from government, civil society, Indigenous Peoples, business and academia, with the goal of conserving the environment and harnessing the solutions nature offers to global challenges. The event in September will be IUCN’s first hybrid in-person and virtual event.

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