Protecting ecosystems – without having to wait for World Environment Day

The destruction of ecosystems is quite a complex problem. With ecosystems’ degradation (or even destruction), biodiversity is lost –both plants and animals – and populations may even be more exposed to diseases, epidemics, and pandemics.

A recent study by Frontiers in Forests and Global Change (that brings together leading scientists concerned about the future of forests and the planet) revealed that only 3% of all ecosystems on the earth remain ecologically intact, meaning that the remaining 97% have undergone some human intervention. In addition, this study reveals that most of the intact ecosystems are found in natural reserves controlled by indigenous communities. The 2019 UN Global Biodiversity and Ecosystem Assessment Report have found nearly 1 million species under threat of extinction, which means that protecting our ecosystems is no longer enough; we also need to restore the ones we have damaged.

World Environment Day is celebrated on 5 June because it was on this day, back in 1972, that the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment began in Stockholm. The first official World Environment Day celebration took place in 1974, and the motto was "Only One Earth". Five decades later, the United Nations returns to the same theme: "Only One Earth". The hashtag on social media is #OnlyOneEarth.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which will occur until 2030, began in 2021. This initiative, tightly linked to Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 United Nations Agenda, aims to achieve the recovery of 350 million hectares of degraded ecosystems and soils – equivalent to India in size – which in turn can prevent the emission of up to 26 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases.

Honey, I’ve restored the ecosystems

In 2021, the theme of World Environment Day was “Restoring Ecosystems”. So what can we do to restore and renew degraded ecosystems?

  • Coasts, freshwaters and oceans

    The restoration of coasts, freshwaters and oceans mainly relies on cleaning these areas, replanting lost vegetation at the surface and underwater, and regulating the access to aquatic resources – like imposing limits and maximum quotas on fishing and mining.

Serra do Açor Forest
  • Forests and mountains

    Forests and mountains need more trees and diverse native vegetation that serve not only to protect the soil, but also to safeguard waterways and protect these and other ecosystems from natural disasters.

    Get to know the “Floresta Serra do Açor” (Serra do Açor Forest) project, which aims to preserve and develop the landscape ravaged by the wildfires in Portugal in 2017.

  • Farmlands

    Farmlands suffer from a lack of biodiversity, pesticides and toxic fertilizers, and erosion of soils by farming exploitation, among others. The introduction of more diversified crops and the use of ecological fertilisers and natural pest control is a way to restore these types of ecosystems.

Peatland (aquatic ecosystem)
  • Peatlands (aquatic ecosystems)

    Peatlands, unique aquatic ecosystems to which several rare species call home, are another example of vital ecosystems for the planet. Although they represent only about 3% of the Earth’s land area, they have a great capacity to store carbon. Peatlands are being drained and converted into agriculture, mining, and oil and gas exploration areas.

  • Urban areas

    Urban areas also need more green spaces, more micro-ecosystems such as pollinator-friendly gardens, or the reintroduction of native species in public and private areas.

    Get to know the story of the council of Brent (London), which created an 11-kilometre “bee corridor” to help attract bees and other pollinators.

10 years to reverse centuries of damage: do you accept the challenge?

All the little actions count. An action can be, for example, a slight change in your lifestyle. If you haven’t already, here are some examples of how to protect the planet’s ecosystems, starting on the World Environment Day:

  1. Become “green”

    Choose food and other products with credible sustainability certifications; buy from local producers to reduce the associated environmental impacts; say “NO” to the disposable and a big “YES” to the reusable. Have you ever heard of composting? How about the zero-waste movement?

  2. Shop consciously

    Do you need more clothes and more gadgets? Try donating what you no longer use to second-hand institutions or stores, repair and reuse, share and borrow. It does not cost anything.

  3. Have a healthy diet

    Your eating habits can change the world. Eat more vegetables and low-processed foods and reduce food waste. Consume seasonal, local and biological products – even if it doesn’t seem like it, this significant small action will reduce pollution and the use of pesticides and fertilisers that degrade agricultural areas and aquatic ecosystems.

  4. Spread the word

    That’s right, infect your friends and family with the “bug” of ecology. Show them resources, ideas, activities or others to help them understand the urgency of adopting a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. Get your children involved in forest or beach cleaning activities, for example, or help your parents understand the importance of recycling.

Following these steps, you can celebrate World Environment Day every day.