In a time of constant climate catastrophes and species extinctions, it’s easy to feel that our planet is on a downward spiral that will never bottom out.
Governments in the Global North face immense criticism for not doing enough, especially to reduce emissions and help poorer countries adapt to the effects of the climate crisis. But even in this arena, there’s a faint ray of hope as some policymakers are taking ambitious actions to restore nature.
In July, the European Parliament narrowly passed a legally binding nature restoration law that mandates the recovery of nature in 20 percent of the E.U.’s land and sea areas by 2030, extending to cover all of the bloc’s degraded ecosystems by 2050.
The proposal passed after months of debate and a controversial social media campaign against it, but it remains to be seen how the final legislation will look, with negotiations ongoing over targets and funding.
Nevertheless, the recent E.U. law shows that world leaders can in fact take large-scale, meaningful action to protect the environment. Governments can allocate large budgets and expertise to protecting nature and should, in theory, respond to the desires and concerns of the public. If these policies deliver results, they can help us all overcome this sense of impending doom.
And the E.U. isn’t the only place where policies are being crafted to restore biodiversity. From the high seas to the railways, here are five other new policies this year that aim to protect nature.
In August, Ecuador held a national referendum on whether oil projects should be banned in the Yasuní National Park, located deep in the Amazon rainforest.
The park, which was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989, is home to the Huaorani, Tagaeri, and Taromenane Indigenous Peoples, the last two of which remain in voluntary isolation. The park is one of the world’s most biodiverse spots, and some of its rivers are tributaries of the Amazon River.
Voters passed the measure by 59 percent to 41 percent – which means 726 million barrels of oil will remain in the ground within the national park.
The results of the referendum require that oil drilling be halted in the national park and its infrastructure be dismantled within a year, to be followed by reforestation and remediation. But several top politicians have made questionable comments about whether they would enforce the result, meaning it will fall to the Ecuadorian people to ensure that these actions are carried out.
At the United Nations Biodiversity Summit (COP15) held in Montreal in December 2022, national delegates agreed on a new plan to protect 30 percent of land and water habitats by 2030. But key questions remain around how to finance this new framework.
And so, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), an intergovernmental body that funds environmental projects, drew up and ratified a new fund specifically for nature restoration. Launched at the GEF Assembly in Vancouver in August, the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund has so far attracted GBP 10 million from the U.K. and CAD 200 million from Canada.
While this influx of funds is a good start, the fund still needs an extra USD 40 million by the end of this year to be able to launch. And according to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the new framework will need another USD 200 billion every year by 2030 to achieve its goals.
Every country manages marine habitats in their own territorial waters, but what about the rest of the ocean? The new High Seas Biodiversity Treaty, adopted in June as part of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, is a framework for protecting the marine environment outside of countries’ national waters.
The treaty is the result of nearly two decades of discussions about the sustainable use of the ocean’s biodiversity. It includes provisions on sharing the benefits of marine genetic resources, the creation of marine protected areas in the high seas, environmental impact assessments for activities there, and helping poorer countries build the capacity needed to implement the treaty.
Over the past few years, the media has been full of reports of record deforestation and forest fires in the Amazon rainforest – especially in Brazil, where around 60 percent of the forest is located.
But this year, things have changed: deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon dropped by 66.1 percent this August compared with last August.
These gains have appeared under Brazil’s returning president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who promised to crack down on illegal logging and undo the destruction in the Amazon that spiked under his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, who encouraged development in the Amazon and weakened environmental regulations.
While it remains to be seen whether these trends will continue, it shows that governments can spark rapid change simply by taking the environment seriously.
Nature isn’t limited to the ocean or rainforests – it can also thrive in our cities. Singapore has famously integrated green spaces into its urban fabric, and it’s built on that model by opening eight more kilometers of its Rail Corridor, a former rail line running across the island, to the public as a green corridor.
So far, thousands of native plants have been grown along the Rail Corridor, which has become an important habitat for several species, including the Sunda pangolin.
These stretches of nature are helping the city-state achieve its “City in Nature” goal: to ensure that everyone lives within a 10-minute walk of a green space. Singapore also aims to add another 200 hectares of nature parks by 2030, restore coastal mangroves and add 200 hectares of “skyrise greenery” to its urban areas.
While these examples show that not all hope is lost, there’s still a long way to go for governments around the world to protect and restore nature.
Political leaders don’t protect biodiversity for the sake of it – they do it because their citizens are demanding it. It’s up to us to stay informed and hold our leaders accountable if we want to making preserving nature a top priority.
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