Acacia trees are readied to be planted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Axel Fassio, CIFOR

Food, water, economic security improved through blueprint for ecological restoration standards

Scientists create a new set of principles to help guide a decade focused on restoration

A blueprint to guide effective ecological restoration that can provide “profound ecosystem services benefits,” including better food and water security, improved health and cleaner air quality while delivering social and environmental equity and economic benefits has just been released.

The International Principles and Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration, Second Edition – a comprehensive set of principles and guidelines – aims to support practitioners developing and implementing projects all over the world and comes during the lead-up to the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021–2030).

Effective ecological restoration can achieve “profound ecosystem services benefits…from improving food and water security, to reducing the spread of disease, and improving individual physical, emotional, and mental health,” says the blueprint, produced by the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) and partners. Restoration work is also an essential tool in addressing climate change and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include the protection of native biodiversity.

“The Standards promote a holistic approach to restoration and are particularly important to helping ensure more effective outcomes from restoration projects and programs, including biodiversity, clean water and clean air, recreational opportunities, and in some situations, agricultural outcomes,” says Bethanie Walder, executive director of the SER and one of the authors of the publication setting out the new blueprint.

Restoration projects that are well-designed and implemented also have a greater potential to be cost-effective and therefore provide a greater return on investment – even if that “return” is an ecosystem service that is difficult to measure, added Walder.

Published in the September 2019 edition of the journal Restoration Ecology, these new Standardsbuild on the initial set of norms introduced in 2016. This updated set of guidelines will increase credibility, transparency, and stakeholder trust in restoration activities, projects and programs, says co-author Manuel Guariguataa principal scientist focused on forest management and restoration at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

“From a financial perspective, donors, public agencies and investors will find guidance to increase cost-effectiveness and reduce risk, due to increased focus on the quality restoration actions they are supporting,” says Guariguata. “If we are to make sense in a coherent way of the key outcomes of the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a minimum set of principles and standards to adhere to is paramount.”

The updated Standards are built on eight broad principles that underpin ecological restoration and emphasize the role of such restoration in connecting social, community, productivity and sustainability goals.The Standards also set out recommended performance measures for restorative activities for industries, communities and governments to consider.

The Standards will also be important for monitoring and assessment of projects after their implementation – a significant step that is sometimes lacking in projects, the authors say.

“Monitoring and assessment are always a problem, as these two components of restoration rarely receive the dedicated funding that they deserve. As long as funding for restoration remains limited, so too will funding for monitoring and assessment,” says Walder.

The updated Standards were released to nearly 1,000 delegates during SER’s 8th World Conference on Ecological Restoration in South Africa in late September 2019. They include ideas and input from a diverse international group of restoration scientists and practitioners.  

And it is not only professional practitioners who benefit from this blueprint, says George Gann, a principal author and International Policy Lead for SER.

“We aspire to broad use by a wide audience…. community groups, students and many others from many fields and experience types. Scientists and policymakers will also find useful information in the Standards,” he says. “We hope that governmental bodies, environmental organizations, lending institutions and others endorse the Standards and encourage restoration projects to be designed, implemented and monitored in alignment with its concepts,” says Gann.

In addition to supporting work related to the U.N. Decade on restoration, the Standards will also help countries to meet their international biodiversity and sustainability targets, such as those set out in the SDGs, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Bonn Challenge, including the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100).

When combined with conservation and sustainable use, ecological restoration provides the link needed to move local, regional, and global environmental conditions from a state of continued degradation, to one of net positive improvement, says the published blueprint.

“Ecological restoration is about repairing damage in order to create better ecological conditions for the future, save species from extinction and secure the provision of ecosystem services,” says Gann. “But we should also be guided by historical conditions, native species ranges, and other key ecological information to help us do this in an intelligent and efficient way.

“The future of the world depends on it.”



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