News & Insights

World Environment Day 2021: Starting a Decade of Restoration

If 2020 was the “year of the coronavirus”, then 2021 may be the year that we refocus on critical global environmental issues: adapting to the effects of climate change, mitigating deforestation and other land conversion impacts, expanding clean energy in a responsible way, stemming the tide of species declines and the loss of biodiversity.

Restoring ecosystems safeguards the drinking water, clean air, food supplies, and wildlife upon which we all depend. Healthy natural lands also help fight climate change through the ecological services provided by grasslands, forests, agricultural lands, and oceans. Such a network of restored and protected lands gives all of us the chance to experience the wonders of nature and connect with the natural world around us.  

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration Begins and America Charts a New Course

The United Nations (UN) Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is an ambitious effort to promote and align restoration efforts globally. The need for this focus is abundantly clear. The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are foundational to much of the sustainability reporting used by governments and companies globally, are unlikely to be met unless ecosystem degradation is reversed and ecosystem restoration is undertaken at an immense scale (meaning hundreds of millions of hectares globally).[1]

Across much of the globe, a lack of political support and technical capacity in both the public and private sectors has prevented investment in the many hundreds of thousands of ecosystem restoration initiatives that are needed to achieve restoration at such a scale. Some progress is happening, however.  In one of his first executive orders, President Biden established a goal of conserving at least 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030 to address the urgency of the challenges we face. Following this, an interagency task force published the Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful Plan, also knowns as the “30 by 30 Plan”.

Both the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the 30 by 30 Plan are geared towards connecting and empowering all people interested in restoring ecosystems.

New Ways to Address Old Challenges

The United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration Strategy has identified six barriers to engaging in restoration on a large scale. Some of these themes are underscored in the 30 by 30 Plan as well:


Limited awareness of the effects of ecological degradation have on health and economy


Lack of political and economic commitment to ecological restoration


Lack of laws and incentives that motivate conservation and restoration


Limited technical knowledge and capacity to support large-scale restoration


Perceived risks in investing in conservation and restoration efforts


Limited investment in research that can inform and improve long-term restoration
These challenges are not new or unique. In fact, it’s these conditions that currently have led to our need for such large-scale restoration and conservation. One thing is clear, we need to explore and create new strategies to solve these challenges. That includes:

Ecosystem Restoration is an Act of Hope

Each ecological restoration project is built on the vision of what can be. When we restore streams, we hope for clean water and a return of certain species. In a grassland, we hope for a certain plant community, or flowers to bloom, or pollinators to arrive. In a world facing deep ecological crisis, restoring ecosystems is a tangible step towards renewed sustainability. Of course, projects must consider their context to avoid false hope or ill-fated expectations. Still, the act of fixing degraded ecosystems by reestablishing native vegetation or reconnecting ecological processes inherently relies on hope. The hope we can “make it better” for a particular acre, species, or community.

As ecologists working in conservation and restoration for more than 20 years, the renewed focus on ecosystem restoration also makes us hopeful. This collaboration and big thinking is exactly what is needed to address the big challenges that face us. It took decades for us to reach this point, and it will likely take decades to achieve our restoration potential. With 7 billion people on the earth and growing, the time is now to make this work for us and future generations. As we begin the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration globally and work toward conserving 30% of U.S. lands by 2030, we have hope for our future. Helping people align goals with conservation needs and working together towards these common interests is what motivates much of our work.

Of course, we cannot do this alone. A key message of the UN Strategy is that everyone has a role to play. We all live in ecosystems. You may live near a natural area. You may be able to restore or "re-wild” land near you. How can you support ecosystem restoration in the work you do, and where you are?

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Dan Salas

Senior Project Ecologist and Team Leader

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Dan’s expertise includes stream and shoreline restoration, conservation planning, pollinator conservation, ecological restoration, endangered and threatened species management, wetland science, and decision analysis for environmental problems.

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Chris Kline 

Global Senior Principal for ESG & Sustainability

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Chris brings more than 30 years of experience in supporting and leads Cardno's sustainability and sustainability and ESG efforts.