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By Mohd Noor Musa, Research Analyst (Social), Insitut Masa Depan Malaysia
Ecosystems support all life on Earth. The healthier our ecosystems and/or environment are, the healthier the planet – and its people. The restoration of our ecosystems is key to the prosperity and well-being of our population and future generations. The United Nations (UN) has recently announced a global commitment of UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 in conjunction with World Environment Day. The proclamation of the UN Decade (2021-2023) was a result from a proposal for action by an unusually broad coalition of countries from across continents and regions. In the global context, it’s a UN initiative at the highest level. This proves that how vital ecosystem restoration is – across political and regional lines. According to H.E Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, we are rapidly reaching the point of no return for the planet and are facing a triple environmental emergency – biodiversity loss, climate disruption and escalating pollution. We are ravaging the very ecosystem that underpin our societies and in doing so, we risk depriving ourselves of the food, water, and resources we need to survive.
What does ecosystem restoration really mean? Why is it needed? And what will countries, companies, leaders from science, art, media, and activism do to realise the vision of healing the planet instead of exploiting it?
An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal, and microorganism communities and the non-living environment interacting as a functional unit. Humans are an integral part of ecosystems. Take for example, water – it underpins all benefits that the ecosystem provides and is central to life, including different activities such as agriculture for food production. The availability of water, in terms of both its quantity and quality, is influenced heavily by the ecosystem functioning. Understanding this relationship of water, ecosystems and their services with human activities is at the heart of the understanding of water-ecosystem shared services, and therefore managing of the watershed, for example. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment showed that freshwater ecosystem services are particularly in trouble. Global climate change due to anthropogenic activities is likely to worsen these problems.
Looking at the current trend, about half the world’s GDP is directly dependent on nature, yet mankind is depleting natural resources at about 1.6 times the rate at which nature can restore them. Nearly about 40% of the world’s population suffers due to ecosystem depletion, with close to 20% of countries at risk of ecosystem collapse. Therefore, it is very important that ecosystem restoration and decarbonisation of national economies, must go hand in hand.
In this regard, Malaysia has made a commitment to reduce 45% of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity of GDP by 2030 in its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in 2015. This is in line with the 15th Guiding Principle of the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (SPV2030) which is initiated by the government, namely Sovereignty and Sustainability. The commitment is further illustrated in 2nd Strategic Thrust (Key Economic Growth Activities or KEGA) of the SPV2030, in which Malaysia will actively venture in renewable energy and green economy sectors for a resilient and sustainable economic growth. At the moment, Malaysia’s key strategy to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions focuses on energy (via renewable energy, energy efficiency & transportation), waste (paper recycling, biogas from palm oil mill effluent), and the forestry sector (reducing deforestation, sustainable management of forest and conservation of carbon stocks).
Malaysia is also committed to achieve a positive increase in its Environmental and Climate Change Index as listed in 7th Strategic Thrust (Social Capital) of the SPV2030. All of these commitments are very much aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), i.e. SDG7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG8 (decent work and economic growth, SDG12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG13 (climate action), SDG14 (life below water) and SDG15 (life on land).
There are many promising solutions to ecosystem restoration. In many cases, these solutions appear to be dependent on governance – the range of issues associated with how decisions are made in protecting the environment. It also requires cultural values and behavioral/societal change in mentalities and practices. Beside efforts by the government, appropriate attention should also be given to the values and ethics vis-à-vis the protection of the ecosystem and/or environment as outlined by our cultural belief system (religious teachings for example) so that these efforts can be further promoted on a larger scale by the rakyat. This is key so that the important message and awareness can be better understood and consequently translated into meaningful actions on the ground. Let us all together play our part in restoring our ecosystem, as we all share the same planet – for our shared prosperity!