Restoring Ecosystems | Daily News

Restoring Ecosystems

There is extra focus in the media these days on the environment, as a result of the massive environmental disaster caused by the X-Press Pearl fire off the Western coast of Sri Lanka. The chemicals leaked from the burning vessel have already heavily polluted the marine environment from Negombo to Galle and even beyond. All marine life in the area is presumed to have perished. Many environmentalists believe that it will take around a century for this ecosystem to get back to previous levels.

This indeed is the theme of this year’s World Environment Day (WED) today – the importance of ecosystem restoration after years of damage and neglect under the sub-theme ‘Reimagine, Recreate and Restore’. Ecosystem restoration means preventing, halting, and reversing the damage caused by human activities and finally healing Nature. Every three seconds, the world loses plenty of forests, and, over the last century, we have destroyed half of our wetlands. This year’s mission is to revive billions of hectares, from forests to farmlands, and to also cover the mountains and deep water oceans. Incidentally, neighbouring Pakistan is the host country for this year’s WED celebrations, which are mostly online.

This day will also see the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The aim is to stop, halt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and every ocean. But we will only succeed if everyone plays a part. This is why it is important more than ever to shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet, that promotes harmony with Nature. We have to focus on natural processes, emerging green technologies, renewable energy and innovative thinking that can restore the world’s ecosystems. It is up to each and every one of us to restore life on Earth. We need a healthy Earth to support jobs, livelihoods, health and happiness. A healthy planet is not an option – it is a necessity.

But today, Nature is suffering. Oceans are filled with plastic and turning more acidic. Extreme heat, wildfires and floods, as well as a record-breaking hurricane/cyclone season, have affected millions of people. Now we are in the midst of COVID-19, a worldwide health pandemic linked to the very health of our ecosystems.

Indeed, Climate Change, man-made changes to Nature as well as crimes that disrupt biodiversity, such as deforestation, land-use change, intensified agriculture and livestock production or the growing illegal wildlife trade, can increase the transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans (Zoonotic diseases) such as COVID-19.

Of the new infections that emerge in humans, 75 percent emerges from animals, according to UN Environment. This shows the close relationships between human, animal and environmental health. Ecosystems support all life on Earth. The healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet – and its people. Restoring our damaged ecosystems will help to end poverty, combat Climate Change and prevent the mass extinction of flora and fauna.

The pandemic has given us food for thought. As virtually the entire world shut down for much of 2020, we witnessed a dramatic change in the Earth itself. We experienced the skies without planes, we marvelled at our local wildlife as they reclaimed empty cities, we watched trees as they gained an altogether new vibrant shade of green, discovered new eco-friendly habits, got our hands dirty growing vegetables and reconnected with the things that are important on a more personal level. But the disposal of medical waste like disinfectants, masks, gloves and the burden of untreated waste has also increased multifold during the pandemic.

Furthermore, once the situation bounces back to normal, the environment may start suffering again. Long-term goals and proper implementation of strategies and policies are the need of the hour for global environmental sustainability. We have indeed realised that Earth can bounce back if given a chance. COVID-19 may become a distant memory say, after 2025, but we should continue the habit of reconnecting with the Earth. The power to heal the Earth lies with each one of us.

Here in Sri Lanka, there certainly is a resurgence in the environmental movement, given the prominence given to reforestation, recycling, ending food and other waste and gradually moving away from polythene and plastic. Millions of saplings are being planted under the Husma Dena Thuru (Trees Giving Life) project. The Government is looking seriously at minimizing Post Harvest Losses (PHL) of Crops. Tough new laws are being introduced to minimise the use of polythene and plastics. There is also a realization that we have to move rapidly to electrified transport and renewable energy, which are environmentally more sustainable. There are plans to increase the renewables’ share of the National Grid up to 80 percent by 2030. These are all worthy initiatives that will help us achieve the goals of Paris Accords by 2030.

It is vital that we inculcate a love for Mother Earth in our younger generation. That is the only way in which we can save our biodiversity and Nature for posterity. Restoring ecosystems should begin from the youngest members of our community, who will inherit the planet one day.