Climate crisis | How countries are finding ways to reverse environmental damage

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A forest fire, a dynamite explosion, or just an ax can destroy a rich, biodiverse landscape in a matter of seconds. Restoring damaged ecosystems is more difficult and time-consuming, but countries are seeking solutions to make it happen.

According to the United Nations, around 2 billion hectares on Earth have been damaged by human activities, an area larger than Russia. Countries have committed to restoring 1 billion hectares of affected land over the past 10 years. But to deliver on that promise, it’s important to understand what makes a good restoration project.

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“Often people think of restoration as just planting trees,” said Susan Gardner, director of ecosystems at the United Nations Environment Programme. “There are a number of projects that are proving that we are taking the right approach. We just need to scale up.”

Here we highlight four different efforts that have successfully restored or cleaned up ecosystems on land and in the sea.

energetic baby coral

If restoration is done correctly, it will take only a few years for damaged coral reefs to begin to regain their coral cover and return to ecological function, say scientists in one of the world’s oldest and largest coral restoration projects. After considering one, I came to a conclusion. For almost 20 years, the Mars Coral Reef Restoration Program has been installing sand-coated hexagonal structures on Indonesia’s South Sulawesi island where he was damaged by blast fishing 30 to 40 years ago. . Once the framework is in place, healthy coral larvae will grow on it almost instantly, tripling the rate of carbonate production, which is essential for coral reefs to function as ecosystems, in just four years. .

Ines Lange, a researcher at the University of Exeter in the UK and co-author of the study, said: “Long-term funding, good scientific research and being able to clearly define and measure the goals you want to achieve are essential.” . . “The Indonesian project is integrating with local communities to create reef stars and attach corals to the stars. Some islanders have been trained to dive and become reef guardians.”

Lange acknowledged that coral reefs still face existential threats from warmer, more acidic oceans. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do things at the local level when we can make a difference,” she said. “And if we manage to stabilize the climate, we’ll need tools in our toolbox to restore what’s left.”

fire protection forest

Since 2017, around 2 million hectares of forest have been restored in four Mediterranean countries. The project targets Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey and is the largest project of its kind in the region.

According to Anne-Kathrin Neureuther, a UNEP campaign member who selected it as one of several successful flagship restoration programs, one of the secrets to the program’s success is that The focus is on type. “They recognized tree species that were not suitable for the forest and diversified the tree species they planted,” she said.

After large fires, there is a temptation to plant fast-growing trees, but this often results in a loss of biodiversity and reduces the resilience of forests to future fires. Instead, a diverse forest that combines local Mediterranean species such as oaks and native pine trees can tolerate the crater environment well, and when mixed with olive trees and prune trees can support rural economies. can.

“There is a growing recognition that preventing fires is more important than putting them out,” Neureuther said.

clean city air

Air pollution can impact ecosystems, but the burden on human health is one of the main reasons cities are taking urgent action.

For example, consider the Seoul metropolitan area, home to 26 million people and one of the most industrialized regions in the world. What brought wealth and economic growth to the Asian nation also made its air unbreathable. So in 2005, the city launched a plan to restore air quality.

Over the past two decades, hundreds of new air quality monitoring sites have collected pollution data. Researchers and government agencies have used that data to identify trends and quickly respond to emergencies. According to the study, emissions of small particulate matter known as PM2.5, which is harmful to human health, fell by 19% nationwide between 2005 and 2020, and fell even further in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Achieving that wasn’t cheap. Metropolitan governments will invest $9 billion in air quality management by 2020, with major changes to local regulations, including requiring green boilers in homes, new regulations on polluting vehicles, and cleaning of public transport. added. This investment is paying off, with research showing significant reductions in premature deaths related to air pollution.

trees help bees

A program in Rwanda teaches beekeepers how to plant trees to better protect insects on hot days and thus increase productivity.

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The strategy is part of the Africa Regreening Initiative, which has already restored 350,000 hectares of land in eight African countries and focuses on involving rural communities. Campaigners are now aiming to regenerate 5 million hectares of greenery by the end of this decade.

UNEP’s Gardner said projects like this send a message of hope. “There is so much devastating news about climate change and its devastating effects that people feel helpless,” she says. “But not everything has to be catastrophic.”

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