Ecosystem Restoration: Moving beyond anthropocentric approaches
In 2019, the United Nations declared 2021-2030 to be the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. The General Assembly emphasised that since 2030 is the deadline for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, urgent and efficient action for kickstarting ecosystem restoration projects is the need of the hour. 2019 was also the year in which the Society for Ecological Restoration released its International Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration, which contains protocols and best practices for running restoration projects from micro to macro levels. However, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the immediate implementation of these new guidelines and standards. Because of this delay, on this year’s World Environment Day, we are faced with a challenge that is all the more urgent in our crisis-ridden world.
What is ecosystem restoration?
Ecosystem restoration, described in its simplest form, is the re-creation of the harmonious relationship between nature and culture. According to restorative approaches to ecology, nature and culture are not binary opposites, but are inherently connected and indistinguishable from each other. Healthy ecosystems lead to more biodiversity, more economic stability, and more sustainable growth. Over the past century, ever since the Industrial Age, we have adopted an anthropocentric approach to nature, prioritising only man’s needs, and implementing reform only insofar as it will benefit mankind. Ecosystem restoration, on the other hand, treats nature as an equal stakeholder in designing environmental policies and takes an eco-centric approach. In other words, this means that environmental policies and projects must not be designed solely for the benefit of man, but for the planet itself as an entity.
How would ecosystem restoration look like in India?
Because of its geographical diversity, India is home to innumerable ecosystems which are particular to various regions and communities. The slow degradation of these ecosystems due to thoughtless and short-sighted development policies has thrown the relationship between man and nature into imbalance. In order to restore them to their full functioning, policies and frameworks need to take into consideration both ecological and cultural factors and formulate a more inclusive and meaningful model of economic development. Ecosystem restoration planning in India involves elements drawn from many different aspects of conservation and development, taking into account flora, fauna and human activities. On a micro-level, taking a village as an example, such a plan must equal consideration to nature and culture- soil and water conservation, afforestation, and long-term planting of indigenous trees along with education and training, health and sanitation, and best practices in the sectors of agriculture and animal husbandry. Moreover, this plan must also factor in the wisdom and traditional environmental knowledge of the local community, along with their socio-economic needs. Ecosystem restoration planning in India involves elements drawn from many different aspects of conservation and development, taking into account flora, fauna and human activities. On a micro-level, taking a village as an example, such a plan must equal consideration to nature and culture- soil and water conservation, afforestation, and long-term planting of indigenous trees along with education and training, health and sanitation, and best practices in the sectors of agriculture and animal husbandry. Moreover, this plan must also factor in the wisdom and traditional environmental knowledge of the local community, along with their socio-economic needs.
Is ecosystem restoration a tangible, achievable goal?
We must remember that in spite of its ambitious goals, ecosystem restoration is feasible and tangible, and can take place at any level. It is not practical to restore an ecosystem to how it was two centuries ago. We need to factor in the rapidly developing world and growing populations. We also need to think about making ecosystems more adaptable to climate change. However, since an eco-centric approach takes the position that everything is connected, it can be practiced with success at the individual level as well as the global level. A kitchen garden and a household are ecosystems; waste management, healthy eating habits and growing house plants are all part of making this ecosystem healthier. Just as global warming and climate change can lead to a bird species in a remote marsh losing its habitat, restoring this habitat at the level of the marsh contributes to mitigating their effects on the global level. Once we understand this inter-connectedness, we can bring about ecosystem restoration on a large scale with the appropriate expertise, sector-specific experience, and science-backed approaches. This World Environment Day is as much a day for reflection as for immediate, efficient, and practicable action. The UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration has put out a clarion call for the mobilisation of such ecosystem restoration projects. However, for nature, ten years is the blink of an eye. The lifespan of the ecosystem is much longer than human rules of time. Each one of us is a fraction of the bigger picture; this realisation is both humbling and empowering. We can successfully assist nature in rebuilding itself, by seeking long-term solutions through integrated approaches and people’s movements.