We The Change: We need to restore the planet while creating sustainable livelihoods for people

Editor's Note: As COP26 looms, we are sharing articles authored by Indian youth leaders who have been selected as part of the United Na...

Editor's Note: As COP26 looms, we are sharing articles authored by Indian youth leaders who have been selected as part of the United Nations India's We The Change campaign. They are all working towards various Sustainable Development Goals as prescribed by the UN.

The foundation of humanity's survival is based on the health of our surrounding environment. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, — all of these are a result of the various free services we obtain from our natural environment. They are called ecosystem services and unlike the services we pay for, we do not value the services freely provided by our ecosystem.

Almost 80 percent of the food we consume is pollinated by honey bees and other insects and their service is valued at around three trillion dollars. A human being would have to spend three trillion dollars to pollinate manually. A major chunk of the greenhouse gas emissions is sequestered by oceans, wetlands, and forests. Due to anthropogenic influences and accelerated changes in climate, the health of the ecosystem is being impacted especially at a time humanity can least afford it.

The world has now begun to realize the need to preserve ecosystems in their natural form.

The UNEP has declared 2021-30 as the United Nations Decade of Eco Restoration to prevent, halt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide. According to the United Nations, it is estimated that the restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded land and aquatic ecosystems from now could generate $9 trillion in ecosystem services and eliminate up to 26 GtC of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. We need to restore and protect wetlands, forests, peatlands, oceans, water bodies, and all surrounding ecosystems and their species. Fast-paced restoration efforts could help in combating climate change, ending poverty, and preventing mass extinction.

COVID-19 pandemic has halted several efforts across the globe for local governments, state governments, and civil society organizations. One of the main reasons has been the economic slowdown which left millions of people jobless and nations struggling to support their people. As we have adapted to the situation, governments across the globe are now focusing on boosting the economy. This surge in growth is going to impact the ecosystem as fast development would mean the destruction of ecosystems for more resources.

Also read: UN India's 'We The Change' campaign showcase climate solutions pioneered by young Indians 

Create jobs

Considering these factors, we need to design solutions that help governments create job opportunities, build resilience, boost the economy but at the same time support eco-restoration. We need to start thinking about eco-restoration solutions that have multiple co-benefits with the primary being that of creating livelihood opportunities. Even though there are several such best practices, we need to identify, compile and scale up the efforts. It is also important to create a knowledge base on quantification of impact from various activities.

Coral reef restoration

One of the most beneficial eco restorations efforts is that of reviving coral reefs. Coral reefs provide multiple ecosystem services and reviving them comes with multiple co-benefits for the system and the community residing around it. For e.g., if governments can invest in reviving coral reefs in coastal regions, it can lead to an increase in revenue for the fishing community as coral reefs support the breeding of fishes. It thus also ensures food security. Apart from that, communities living within the region can promote eco-tourism which can be a source of additional income, and in the long run, it ensures the overall sustainability of the system.

Healthy coral reef patches are noisy and they attract other fish to come reside in it.

The same can be done via planting seagrass which has multiple co-benefits. As part of the Virginia seagrass restoration project, conservation scientists have spread more than 70 million seeds across the bays, restoring 3,600 hectares of an ecosystem. This brought back eelgrass — a keystone species that supports crustaceans, fish, and scallops. It is now absorbing the equivalent of nearly half a metric ton of CO2 per hectare per year.

Tropical forest restoration

Reviving tropical forests is another effort that can increase the sequestration capacity of the planet as well as provide food and biomass for the communities living in the surrounding region. The communities can leverage restoration efforts to create an income by selling carbon credits, as well. Even though there are multiple flaws in the carbon credit market that lead to encouraging emissions, it is a boon for several communities that can earn extra income by restoring the landscape.

Plants and soil — especially in tropical forests — soak up about 30 percent of manmade carbon pollution

Also read: We The Change: Climate change is accelerating floods and India needs enhanced forecasting to adapt

Other eco-resto methods

Similarly, financial incentive models can be implemented by providing incentives in the form of loans to individuals who engage in eco-restoration. For e.g. the Meenangadi village in Wayanad district of Kerala provides a mortgage-free loan of INR 50/tree to all individuals who plant and take appropriate care of trees. The project is led by the local panchayath with the support of civil society organizations.

In India, the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA), which was introduced to reduce poverty, ensures 100 days of unskilled manual labour per year on public work projects. Several states across India now utilize MGNREGA labour to restore the environment by reviving water bodies, restoring wetlands, scaling up tree plantations and so on. The benefits are multifold — it is a source for stable income and local government institutions are able to revive the local ecosystem.

The ambition for eco-restoration is not just to reduce climate change impacts but also to transform food, fibre, and feed to cater to the needs of the century. According to the United Nations, the degradation of ecosystems has affected almost 40 percent of the world's population. The cost of mitigation through restoration is very less compared to the cost we will have to bear when disasters strike. Eco-restoration and job creation can go in synergy to save planet earth and ensure the livelihood sustainability of millions.

Join the We The Change movement by logging on and sharing your climate action story using #WeTheChangeNOW

The author has over seven years of experience working with vulnerable communities, training youth leaders, mentoring climate start-ups, working in wetland conservation and research in the area of climate governance in Kerala.


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India World News: We The Change: We need to restore the planet while creating sustainable livelihoods for people
We The Change: We need to restore the planet while creating sustainable livelihoods for people
India World News
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