Nature is staging a comeback: UN recognizes seven World Restoration Flagships

Initiatives in Africa, Latin America, the Mediterranean and South Asia cited as best practices for reversing ecosystems degradation 

Nairobi, 13 February 2024 – The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) have named seven initiatives from Africa, Latin America, the Mediterranean, and South Asia as UN World Restoration Flagships. These initiatives include ecosystems at the tipping point of outright degradation resulting from wildfires, drought, deforestation, and pollution. They are now eligible for technical and financial UN support.

The World Restoration Flagship awards are part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – led by UNEP and FAO – which aims to prevent, halt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. The awards track notable initiatives that support global commitments to restore one billion hectares – an area larger than China.

The winning initiatives are announced ahead of the 6th session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-6), the world’s highest-level decision-making body for matters related to the environment, taking place from February 26 – March 1 at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. Together, the seven new flagships are expected to restore nearly 40 million hectares − an area almost 600 times the size of Nairobi − and create around 500,000 jobs. 

“For too long, economic development came at the expense of the environment. Yet today we see global efforts to usher in a comeback for nature,” Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, said. “These initiatives show how we can make peace with nature, put local communities at the heart of restoration efforts and still create new jobs. As we continue to face a triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste, now is the time we must double down and accelerate restoration initiatives.”

The World Restoration Flagships are chosen as the best examples of ongoing, large-scale and long-term ecosystem restoration by the Task Forces for Science and Best Practices of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and approved by its Executive Board. Selection follows a thorough review process with over 60 indicators and criteria, embodying the 10 Restoration Principles of the UN Decade. 

FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said: ”FAO is pleased to recognize these seven worthy champoins, proving that we can offer the leading examples to reverse ecosystem degradation at scale, while also addressing the impacts of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. Restoring terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems is a crucial step in the transformation of global agrifood systems to be more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable. Ecosystem restoration is long term solution in the fight to eradicate poverty, hunger and malnutrition, as we face population growth and increased need for foods and ecosystem goods and services.”

In 2022, the inaugural ten World Restoration Flagships were recognized as part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, to be followed with similar efforts every two years until 2030. This year’s World Restoration Flagships are part of an accelerated investment in nature by governments and private donors, notably reflected in USD 1.4 billion provided last year by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council. 

Jason Momoa, actor and UNEP Advocate for Life Below Water: “Conserving nature is crucial, but it’s not cutting it anymore. We’ve lost too much of our planet, and it’s time to step up and rebuild what we messed up, fix what we broke, and restore what we trashed. These restoration initiatives are like the exciting answers to the big questions our connection to the natural world raises – just like the best movies do.”

Each of the seven World Restoration Flagships is being announced in video messages shared on UN social media channels by a UN or UNEP Goodwill Ambassador or Advocate, including actors Dia MirzaJason Momoa, and Edward Norton, chef Leyla Fathallah, and super-model and best-selling author Gisele Bündchen.

From Fires to Forests – Resilience in the Mediterranean
The Mediterranean basin is the world’s second largest biodiversity hotspot, but 16 per cent of its forest species are threatened with extinction, in part due to climate-driven longer drought periods, extreme heat waves and wildfires. In the past decade, the region has experienced the worst fire seasons on record.

The Restoring Mediterranean Forests Initiative involving Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Türkiye consists of a novel approach to protecting and restoring these natural habitats and vulnerable ecosystems and has led to around two million hectares of forests restored across the region since 2017, with over eight million hectares planned for restoration by 2030.

The initiative is supported by FAO’s Committee on Mediterranean Forestry Questions – Silva Mediterranea, the governments of Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Türkiye, and The Association for Forests, Development and Conservation Lebanon (AFDC).

Living Indus – Restoring a Cradle of Civilizations
The 3,180 km long Indus River has served as the vibrant core of the social, cultural, and economic life of what is today called Pakistan for well over 5,000 years. Some 90 per cent of Pakistan’s people and more than three-quarters of its economy reside in the Indus Basin, and it irrigates over 80 percent of its arable land. Negligence, environmental degradation, and climate change have threatened the river’s ecosystem, including its abundant fish and fertile lands.

The Living Indus initiative was approved by Pakistan’s parliament in the wake of the devastating 2022 climate-change induced floods and was officially launched at the UN Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh (COP27). It aims to restore 25 million hectares of river basin by 2030, encompassing 30 per cent of Pakistan’s surface area through the implementation of 25 high-impact interventions for policymakers, practitioners and civil society. The initiative designates the Indus River as a living entity with rights – a measure taken to protect rivers elsewhere, including in Australia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, India, New Zealand, Peru, and Sri Lanka.

Partners in this initiative include the Government of Pakistan, FAO and other UN agencies.

Acción Andina: Saving a global water and climate hotspot

The Acción Andina social movement is inspired by Peruvian conservation non- profit organisation, ECOAN (Asociacion Ecosistemas Andinos) and powered by U.S-based non-profit Global Forest Generation. It is scaling up a community reforestation model, which has proved itself over the past two decades as a cost-effective solution for climate resilience plans to restore and grow 30 million trees by 2030 across a vegetative band spanning almost 800,000 hectares in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.  

The initiative ultimately aims to protect and restore a forest area of one million hectares by 2045. 25,000 people from remote Andean communities are already engaged in restoring 5,000 hectares and protecting over 11,000 hectares of Andean forests. They are expected to benefit from the initiative by 2030 in various ways, from access to medicine, solar panels, and clean-burning clay stoves, to improved grazing management, sustainable agriculture, microbusiness, and ecotourism management of Indigenous cultures. It also works to secure land titles for local communities, protecting the forest from future mining, timber exploitation and other drivers of degradation.

Partners in this initiative include the Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN) and Global Forest Generation (GFG).

Sri Lanka stopped planting mangroves and started growing them

In Sri Lanka, mangrove forests are immensely valuable coastal ecosystems that thrive at the border between land and sea and serve as an important bridge between marine and terrestrial biodiversity. The livelihoods of coastal communities in Sri Lanka are highly dependent on marine and coastal ecosystems. Nevertheless, climate change and human activities are posing threats to this unique ecosystem.

The Sri Lanka Mangrove Regeneration Initiative is science-driven, co-led by local communities, and focused on restoring the natural balance in the ecosystem. Since the initiative was launched in 2015, efforts have already resulted in 500 hectares of restored mangroves, benefiting 150 households. Some 10,000 hectares are slated for restoration by 2030, with 5,000 households to benefit and more than 4,000 new jobs to be created.

Partners in this initiative include the Sri Lanka Ministry of Environment and the governments of Australia, the UK and USA.

Terai Arc Landscape: Reviving Asia’s mega-fauna

Over seven million people depend on the Terai Arc Landscape, stretching across 5.10 million hectares and shared by India and Nepal. It is also one of the world’s most critical habitats for tigers whose numbers have sharply declined, along with those of other species such as rhinos and elephants, due to poaching, habitat loss, degradation, and human-wildlife conflict.

The Terai Arc Landscape Initiative has focused on restoring the forests of critical corridors of the Terai Arc Landscape and collaborates with local communities working as citizen scientists, community based anti-poaching units, forest guards and social mobilizers. The restoration of 66,800 hectares of Nepal’s forests, as well as other measures, has improved the livelihoods of about 500,000 households in Nepal. It also supported the tiger population in the landscape shared by India and Nepal, increased today to 1,174– more than doubling what had been its lowest number when the programme launched in 2001. Development is expected to continue as almost 350,000 hectares will be restored by 2030.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Nepal is the primary partner in this initiative, supporting the Nepalese government.

Regreening Africa’s agriculture

The Regreening Africa initiative has been using proven agroforestry techniques, adapted to suit the needs of farmers under varying socio-ecological contexts in the past two decades, to restore over 350,000 hectares in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, and Somalia. By 2030, a further five million hectares are planned to be restored.

The initiative is expected to benefit more than 600,000 households. It is also increasing carbon storage, boosting crop and grass yields, makes soil more resilient (preventing floods) and treating it with fixed nitrogen that acts as a natural fertilizer.

Partners in this initiative include CARE Nederland, Catholic Relief Services, CIFOR-ICRAF, Oxfam, Regreening Africa, Sahel Eco, and World Vision Australia.

Growing forests in Africa’s drylands: African farmers transforming food systems

The Forest Garden Program, launched in 2015, includes multiple Forest Garden projects in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, The Gambia, Kenya, Mali, Senegal, Uganda, and Tanzania. Through researched agroforestry techniques, unsustainable farming practices are replaced and nature regenerates, as farmers receive essential training, supplies and equipment for their success.

By planting tens of millions of trees every year, it aims at expanding from 41,000 restored hectares today to 229,000 hectares by 2030, supporting many more through 230,000 jobs created.

Partners in this initiative include Trees for the Future.

About the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

The UN General Assembly has declared 2021–2030 a UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Led by the UN Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, together with the support of partners, it is designed to prevent, halt, and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems worldwide. It aims at reviving billions of hectares, covering terrestrial as well as aquatic ecosystems. A global call to action, the UN Decade draws together political support, scientific research, and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration.  

About the UN World Restoration Flagships

Countries have already promised to restore 1 billion hectares – an area larger than China – as part of their commitments to the Paris climate agreement, the Aichi targets for biodiversity, the Land Degradation Neutrality targets and the Bonn Challenge. However, little is known about the progress or quality of this restoration. With the World Restoration Flagships, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is honouring the best examples of large-scale and long-term ecosystem restoration in any country or region, embodying the 10 Restoration Principles of the UN Decade. Progress of all World Restoration Flagships will be transparently monitored through the Framework for Ecosystem Restoration Monitoring, the UN Decade’s platform for keeping track of global restoration efforts.

About the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. 

About the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

FAO is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. It aims to achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active healthy lives. With over 194 Members, FAO works in over 130 countries worldwide. 

For more information, please contact: 

News and Media Unit, UN Environment Programme

Newsroom, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

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