UNEP Regional Director in Latin America and the Caribbean
By Leo Heileman,
THE decade that is just beginning comes with great challenges for Latin America and the Caribbean: more than half a million lives have been lost due to COVID-19, health systems are at the limit of their capacity, the economies have been battered and unemployment has been hit by a 10-year setback.
As the region aspires to begin its recovery process this year, it is challenged by a critical dilemma: maintaining old patterns of consumption and production in order to stimulate accelerated— albeit unsustainable — growth based on resource extraction, or taking advantage of the situation to lay the foundations of a green economy that harnesses our rich natural capital while protecting biodiversity and enhancing people’s health, jobs and well-being.
This opportunity to transform our relationship with nature coincides with the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, a global initiative that originated in our region, after a proposal by the Government of El Salvador.
The Decade seeks to promote the action of governments, businesses, and citizens to bring millions of hectares back to life and mitigate the current triple planetary crisis: climate change, the massive loss of biodiversity and pollution.
Latin America and the Caribbean must urgently respond to this call. The region is home to seven of the most biodiverse countries in the world and, although it already protects 24.2 per cent of its land and 17.5 per cent of its seas, many of its ecosystems are degraded or threatened by imminent destruction, as to make way for economic activities.
The upcoming meeting of the XXII Forum of Ministers of Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean, taking place virtually on February 1 to 2, is an optimal occasion to accelerate action. Countries are expected to adopt a groundbreaking regional plan, without parallel in the world, containing 10 actions to promote the recovery of terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems in the next 10 years.
Without healthy ecosystems, we would not be able to produce food and medicine, obtain fresh water, regulate the climate, or clean our air. In fact, none of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved without a significant effort to restore our natural world.
Ecosystem restoration will help us recover better, create businesses and jobs, save significant costs in climate adaptation, and prevent future pandemics of zoonotic diseases.
Globally, the economic benefits of restoration interventions are up to 10 times greater than the size of the investments required. On the other hand, inaction can be up to three times more costly.
It is time to get down to business and restore our region to its original splendor. Let’s start by raising awareness of the importance of biodiversity, improving public policies and funding for restoration, and supporting the work of our scientists.
Our countries share key biomes and landscapes such as the vibrant Amazon rainforest, the Andes mountain range, the Mesoamerican Reef or the infinite plains of the Gran Chaco. Only through cooperation can we move forward together in this decade of transformation.