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World Environment Day 2024: A call for land restoration

Today, June 5th, we celebrate World Environment Day, an annual reminder of our planet’s precious ecosystems and the urgent need to protect them. This year, the focus is on a crisis that often goes unnoticed but is deeply intertwined with our survival: land degradation.

From the fertile soils that nourish our crops to the vast forests that regulate our climate, land is the foundation of human well-being. Yet, human activities are rapidly degrading this vital resource, threatening our food security, water supply, and the delicate balance of nature.

But World Environment Day isn’t just about raising awareness; it’s about inspiring action. This year’s theme, “Land Restoration,” is a call to arms for a generation ready to heal the wounds we’ve inflicted on our planet. It’s a recognition that restoring degraded land isn’t just an environmental issue; it’s a matter of survival.

Stockholm Conference (1972) on World Environment Day

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of desertification, droughts, and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, let’s rewind to that fateful year of 1972, where it all began.

In Stockholm, Sweden, the world gathered for the first major conference on environmental issues. This landmark event, known as the Stockholm Conference, set the stage for a new era of international environmental cooperation. 

It sparked a movement that led to the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the designation of June 5th as World Environment Day.

Fast forward to today, World Environment Day is celebrated by millions of people across the globe, each year focusing on a critical environmental issue. 

This year, as we commemorate its 51st anniversary, the spotlight is on land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience. This isn’t just another theme; it’s a call to action for “Generation Restoration.”

Need for protection against land degradation

According to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, a staggering 40% of Earth’s land is already degraded – directly impacting the lives of half of humanity.

This degradation takes many forms, from deforestation and desertification to soil erosion and pollution. It’s a crisis fueled by unsustainable agricultural practices, overgrazing, mining, and urban sprawl. The consequences are dire:

  • Food insecurity: Degraded land loses its fertility, making it harder to grow crops and raising the specter of famine, especially in vulnerable regions.
  • Water scarcity: Healthy soils are essential for filtering and storing water. Land degradation disrupts this process, leading to water shortages and exacerbating droughts, a problem that is projected to affect a staggering three-quarters of the world’s population by 2050.
  • Economic hardship: Millions of people depend on land for their livelihoods. When land becomes unproductive, it plunges communities into poverty, sparking conflict and displacement.
  • Climate change: Land use, particularly deforestation and agriculture, accounts for 11% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Degraded land releases stored carbon, further fueling global warming.

We cannot afford to ignore these alarming statistics any longer. The degradation of our land is not just an environmental issue; it’s a humanitarian crisis. It’s a threat to our food, water, livelihoods, and our future.

Turning the tide on World Environment Day

But there’s hope. We, the generation witnessing this crisis, are also the generation that can turn it around. We are Generation Restoration.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) is a rallying cry for this generation. It’s a call to protect and revive ecosystems around the world, from planting trees and restoring wetlands to combating desertification and improving soil health.

Land restoration is about building a better future where land provides for people and nature in harmony. It promises a future where degraded landscapes are transformed into thriving ecosystems.

Investing in restoration

Restoration is not only an environmental imperative; it’s also a smart investment. For every dollar invested in ecosystem restoration, we can expect up to thirty dollars in economic benefits. Restored lands can boost agricultural productivity, improve water quality, enhance biodiversity, and create jobs.

Moreover, restoration is a powerful tool in the fight against climate change. Healthy ecosystems act as carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and mitigating global warming.

Individuals can make a difference

Ready to get involved? Here are some ways that you can contribute to land restoration:

In the backyard

  • Plant native species: Replace invasive plants with native trees, shrubs, and flowers to support local ecosystems.
  • Compost: Create nutrient-rich compost from food scraps and yard waste to improve soil health.
  • Use natural fertilizers: Avoid synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that harm soil microorganisms and pollinators.
  • Conserve water: Collect rainwater, fix leaks, and water plants wisely to reduce pressure on local water resources.
  • Create a wildlife habitat: Build birdhouses, leave some areas of your yard a little wild, and provide water sources to attract beneficial insects and animals.

In the community

  • Volunteer: Participate in local tree planting events, park cleanups, and habitat restoration projects.
  • Support conservation organizations: Donate to or volunteer for groups working to protect and restore natural areas.
  • Educate others: Talk to friends, family, and neighbors about the importance of land restoration and how they can help.
  • Advocate for change: Contact local officials to support policies that promote sustainable land use and conservation.
  • Shop responsibly: Choose products from companies committed to sustainable practices and avoid products that contribute to deforestation or land degradation.

Changes in lifestyle

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle: Minimize waste, compost food scraps, and recycle materials to reduce the need for new resource extraction.
  • Eat sustainably: Choose locally sourced, organic food and reduce meat consumption to lessen the environmental impact of agriculture.
  • Conserve energy: Use energy-efficient appliances, turn off lights when not in use, and consider renewable energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and land degradation.
  • Travel responsibly: Walk, bike, or use public transportation whenever possible to reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Support sustainable businesses: Choose products and services from companies that prioritize environmental responsibility and sustainable practices.

Remember, even small actions can make a difference. By working together, we can all contribute to the restoration of our planet’s land and create a healthier future for ourselves and generations to come.

Celebrating World Environment Day

This year, World Environment Day holds special significance. It marks the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. 

This milestone will be celebrated at the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP16) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, later this year. This event will bring together leaders and experts from around the world to discuss strategies for land restoration and drought resilience.

The time to act is now. We all have a role to play in restoring our land. Whether it’s supporting sustainable agriculture, conserving water, or advocating for policies that protect ecosystems, our actions matter.

“We are Generation Restoration. Together, let’s build a sustainable future for land, and for humanity,” said António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General.

Let’s make this World Environment Day a turning point for our planet’s land. Let’s embrace the challenge of restoration and create a future where both people and nature thrive.


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