Countries have agreed to implement and initiate number of decadal (2021-2030) programmes to protect the 'Mother Earth'. Integration of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into national plans and programmes, commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions, build adaptive capacity & climate resilience through commitments in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and implementation of several national and global agenda are some of the decadal programmes that provide multiple opportunities to protect the Planet, if implemented effectively. Translation of these initiatives into action requires higher level of commitment, huge investments, capacity and skill, and technologies along with collaborative efforts.
On 5 June 2021 Saturday, countries are observing the World Environment Day (WED) on the theme 'ecosystem restoration'. The UN Decade (2021-2030) on Ecosystem Restoration (DER) will be formally launched. The UN General Assembly decided to observe 2021-2030 as the UN DER on 1 March 2019 to prevent, halt and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems worldwide. The UNEP and FAO are tasked to lead the implementation of this global initiative. This DER will contribute to restore Nature and further encourage countries, people and communities 'to live with Nature' for own survival.
The WED is observed every year since 1974 on 5 June, the Day in 1972 at Stockholm, Sweden the UN Conference on Human Environment began. Nepal is also celebrating it every year from 1974 to primarily raise awareness. This year, Pakistan has announced to host WED observance in partnership with UNEP and has linked it with her '10 Billion Tree Tsunami' 5 years programme, launched with the target of restoring over 1 million ha of forests. Pakistan has also launched an Ecosystem Restoration Fund to support Nature-based solutions to climate change. Its Protected Area Initiative is expected to create over 5,500 green jobs. Restoration of forest ecosystems and greening initiative would increase carbon sinks and will provide countries to meet their GHGs emissions commitments as well, as reflected in the updated NDCs.
Ecosystem provides four distinct widely-recognised services. They are: (i) provisioning services such as food, fodder, fuel, fertiliser, fibre, furniture/wood, and fresh water etc; (ii) regulating services such as maintaining quality of air, climate, water and soil, controlling flood and disease etc; (iii) cultural services (non-material benefits) such as nature- and culture-based tourism, recreation, aesthetic etc; and (iv) supporting services such as habitat for plants and animals, biodiversity, water and nutrient cycling etc.
Ecosystems are of different kinds - forests/grasslands, farmlands, wetlands and cities. These ecosystems are exposed to and highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. Natural process of reducing climate vulnerabilities and adopting with the changes has been reduced significantly due to increased temperature rise, unpredictable weather and high rate of ecosystem degradation. This has accelerated losses in natural capital and ecosystem functions and services.
Ecosystem restoration will recover degraded or destroyed ecosystems by planting appropriate tree species, conserve 'intact' ecosystems by reducing human pressure, and protect biodiversity by promoting regeneration. Depending upon the type of ecosystems and magnitude of challenges, one could clean-up a lake or park or other natural area, regulate access on ecosystems, plant multi-use species to green living areas, schools or a public spaces, and engage in greening, cleaning and safeguarding both natural or man-made ecosystems, and assisting in natural regeneration. In urban areas, greening of public places counts a lot in making air and water healthy, reducing temperature effect or cooling urban 'heat islands', and improving biodiversity condition.
Forests and trees have multiple values for human beings and other life-forms. They provide us clean air and water, reduce soil erosion, landslides and floods, store or sequestrate climate-heating carbon dioxide, and also provide home to biodiversity. But high rate of ecosystem degradation is affecting lives and livelihoods of billions of people. FAO and UNEP have estimated loss of about 10 million ha of forests every year.
This global call (UN DER) to action is expected to restore 350 million hectares of degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems by investing US$ 1 trillion. This restoration is estimated to generate ecosystem services equivalent to about US$ 9 trillion, and remove 13 to 26 gigatons of GHGs from the atmosphere. Economic benefit is expected nine times the cost of investment. The UN DER will provide opportunities to fight against climate change impacts and biodiversity loss. Realisation of the urgency of conserving and/or restoring ecosystems as an integral part of human survival would help countries to further realise forest management and understand the role of plant species.
In Nepal, nearly 45 percent of total area is under forest category. A total of 118 ecosystems, 75 vegetation types and 35 forest types have been documented. Besides forests, aquatic ecosystems or wetlands, agriculture/farm and urban ecosystems are also biologically rich. These ecosystems are being conserved through policies, strategies and legal measures. About 23 percent of the total area is under protected area - national parks, wildlife reserves, conservation areas, hunting reserve and buffer zones. Nepal has also practiced landscape management in the form of Terai Arc (TAL) and Chitwan-Annapurna Landscapes (CHAL). However, degradation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems is accelerated along with conversion of natural to built-up areas.
On 28 May 2021, Rt. Hon'ble Prime Minister K.P. Oli stated that Nepal's ecosystems and forests have special contributions on climate adaptation and environmental balance. He committed to take initiatives for optimal resources and support from international finance and technology instruments for climate adaptation and effects mitigation along with the organisation of Sagarmatha Dialogue on climate change in FY 2021/22. Budget speech on 29 May 2021 commits to implement, inter alia, sustainable forest management, construction of 200 ponds in Siwalik and Mahabharat, plantation of 15 million species in Chure and Terai-Madhesh area, and implementation of carbon emission reduction programme in 13 Terai-Madesh districts. The budget speech also includes 'widely commented' programme on export of 'dhunga, gitti, and baluwa' to reduce trade deficit on the basis of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
As forest is considered a public and common resource, there is a growing tendency to use forest area for infrastructures, social development sectors such as public health and education. Forest fire has become one of the major challenges. However, commitments on ecosystem conservation and climate change do not match with actions in some cases. Decisions on Nijgadh airport in dense and biodiversity rich central Terai forests, conversion of forest area into a provincial capital in far west, and submergence of parts of the Shivapuri National Park into a reservoir are some of the examples of national initiatives to destroy or degrade pristine and intact forest ecosystems. This looks like an 'anti-current' move against our national and international commitments and obligations.