Restoring ecosystems: Utopia or reality?


Nabil Hamada
Coordinator of the Strategic Development Department


Even if no accurate and up-to-date estimates are available, the international community agrees that the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems degradation and possible disappearance, is today following an increasingly breathtaking pace. Therefore, restoration has become a top-of-the rank priority and the future of humanity depends on it. Is there really any hope left we can restore what Man destroyed? 

The process of ecological restoration or more precisely restoring ecosystems has developed over the past decades. It is defined as "a process of helping restore a degraded, damaged or destroyed ecosystem1" and considered to be an innovative and promising strategy that aims to protect biological diversity and the integrity of ecosystems.

Restoring ecosystems has been a crucial element of Goal 15 of the 2011-2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and is also a core component of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 of the United Nations Development Agenda 2030. It is also well established in the vision 2050 of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. 

Truth be told, we are unable to restore all ecosystems and find back their original states. In fact, ecosystem restoration is possible "only if" biophysical and climate conditions remain favorable.

Ecological restoration is fundamental for human survival and becomes a necessary tool for the conservation and repair of ecosystems. However, even though our restoring ability is modest, it shall never grind our restoration efforts to a halt.

There must be a significant investment in restoration so that interrelated crises of global warming, biodiversity loss and land degradation can be successfully addressed.

By 2030, restoring 350 million hectares of degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems could generate 9 trillion dollars worth ecosystem services. Restoration activities could also lighten the atmosphere by 13 to 26 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases. The economic benefits of these operations are ten times greater than the necessary investment costs2.

Scientists and managers are more and more interested in the ‘Ecosystem Natural Capital Accounting’ that is an instrument that can provide answers and shed more light on the relevance and possible benefits of ecosystem restoration programs.

Restoration activities must be carried out and follow an inclusive pattern. Indeed, local populations need to be more involved in the exploration, planning and execution of restoration activities and take advantage of them in a direct and indirect way.

Through their know-how and in-depth knowledge of their surrounding environment, these local populations should be key players in finding the solutions and benefit therefrom.


[1] Society for Ecological Restoration International Science and Policy Working Group, 2004

[1] (UNEP/FAO, 2021).