Knowledge gap threatens UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

THE CENTRE for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) reports that significant gaps exist in information and knowledge about the barriers and pathways towards ecosystem restoration and biodiversity protection, according to new research that also found imbalances in topics studied and their geographic coverage.

They say that to achieve the goals of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (UN Decade), greater research and improved policy and practices in ecosystem restoration in grasslands, drylands, and mangrove ecosystems – as well as more education, monitoring, and long-term study through increased funding – are essential.

The study, Mapping the information landscape of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration Strategy, evaluated 20 years’ worth of publications on ecosystem restoration, including barriers and pathways to solutions as well as promoting long-term actions and monitoring.

It evaluated 6,023 peer-reviewed and grey literature items to assess evidence underpinning the strategy for the UN Decade, which began in 2021 as a global campaign to catalyse efforts at ‘halting, preventing, and reversing degradation’ of the world’s ecosystems.

If not addressed, significant information gaps will limit the success of future restoration efforts, including any made through UN Decade strategy, said the researchers.

Although restoration work begins on the ground, leadership and guidance for action is set at the highest policy levels where these gaps should be addressed, said Manuel Guariguata, co-author of the study and a senior associate at the Centre for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF). “The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is a global strategy, and so efforts should be put into trying to address the gaps that are not only geographical but are also reflected in the barriers to pathways for action under the strategy,” he said.

Information gaps in long-term research and monitoring of ecosystem projects was a “fundamental challenge” highlighted by the study. A lack of long-term monitoring and feedback from restoration work makes it difficult to assess what measures were successful and could therefore be scaled up.

“Only by increasing the amount of evidence on what has, and has not, worked in ecosystem restoration can we improve future actions, expand the scale of interventions with a reasonable probability of achieving desired outcomes, and thus enhance the potential of ecosystem restoration to improve human well-being, mitigate climate change and reduce biodiversity loss,” said the study.

Ecosystem restoration is defined by the UN Decade as “a holistic approach to conserve native ecosystems and repair those that are degraded or damaged”, while aiming to overcome barriers to implementing ecosystem restoration at multiple scales. In this way, it contributes to achieving several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The study also found a significant gap driven by an over-emphasis on forest ecosystems and restoration research compared with research that focused on grasslands, drylands, and mangroves, said Guariguata. Over three-quarters of publications surveyed for the new paper focused on forests (78%).

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