From the past to the future

The younger ones might remember their parents going to the carpenter to restore that antique sideboard left by their grandparents or retrieve an armchair full of childhood memories.

Even if you don’t remember and are comfortable with more modern consuming habits, you have certainly heard of how much art and technique go into restoring hand-carved details on a delicate piece of wood worn by the years. This is just one of the multiple meanings of the word “restore”, but it is far from the only one.

Restore means to repair, to fix, to put back in good condition, to give a new life, to recover what has been lost or damaged by the action of man and time.

This is why when we talk about the World Environment Day, celebrated on 5 June, we talk about the importance of restoring ecosystems, preventing and halting their degradation. And to do that, you don’t even have to be an artist, a craftsman or a carpenter. Just need to be curious, informed and prepared to make a difference. Let’s get to the facts.

Protecting ecosystems – without having to wait for World Environment Day

The destruction of ecosystems is quite a complex problem. With the degradation (or even destruction) of ecosystems, biodiversity is inevitably lost – both in plants and in 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 planet remain ecologically intact, meaning that the remaining 97% have undergone some kind of 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 has found nearly 1 million species under threat of extinction, which means that protecting our ecosystems is no longer enough; we need to also restore the ones we have damaged.

World Environment Day is celebrated on 5 June because that was the day when the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment began in Stockholm in 1972. The first official celebration of the day took place in 1974 and the motto was "Only One Earth". Almost five decades later, World Environment Day continues to be celebrated under a different theme each year. The theme for 2021 is "Ecosystem Restoration".

2021 marks the beginning of the UN decade for the ecosystem restoration, which will take place until 2030. 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

So how can we restore and revitalise the ecosystems that are already degraded?

  • Coasts, freshwaters and oceans

    The restoration of coasts, freshwaters and oceans mostly relies in 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 on 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, as well as to protect these and other ecosystems from natural disasters.

    Get to know the “Floresta Serra do Açor” (Serra do Açor Forest) project, an initiative aimed at preserving and developing the landscape ravaged by the wildfires.

  • Farmlands

    Farmlands suffer with lack of biodiversity, use of pesticides and toxic fertilizers, and erosion of soils by farming exploitation, among others. The introduction of more diversified crops and the use of ecologic fertilizers and natura 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 for oil and gas exploration areas.

  • Urban areas

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

    Get to know the story of the council of Brent (London), that 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. And an action can be, for example, a small 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 of the zero-waste movement?

  2. Shop consciously

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

  3. Have a healthy diet

    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 big small action will reduce pollution and the use of pesticides and fertilizers that degrade agricultural areas and aquatic ecosystems. Your eating habits can change the world.

  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.