Ecosystems, Economy and Society Conference Highlights Large-Scale Restoration as Path to Sustainable Development

ecosystems-economy-society29 May 2014: The first day of the international conference on 'Ecosystems, Economy and Society: How Large-Scale Restoration Can Stimulate Sustainable Development' opened with a high-level overview of major challenges and pathways to sustainable development. In opening remarks, Antoine Frérot, CEO, Veolia, pointed to the need to change business-as-usual practices, commenting that "impoverishing nature impoverishes humanity."

Frérot's words captured a major theme throughout the day: how to value the services ecosystems provide humans and quantify their benefits in a way that encourages investment in their rehabilitation. Valerie Hickey, World Bank, spoke on the dual mandate to balance economic and ecological interests. This "dual mandate" has become a "dueling mandate," according to Hickey, who stressed that a poor environment does not have to be a trade-off for a rich society. Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), illustrated how restoring degraded forests contributes to breaking down thematic silos and promotes nature-based solutions to benefit both the economy and the environment. She noted the importance of a landscape approach, saying a singular focus may result in unintended consequences for other objectives.

A second plenary focused on restoration efforts around the world, from the Louisiana coastline to the drylands of Africa. Carole Saint-Laurant, IUCN, presented a video explaining the Bonn Challenge, which aims to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020. The progress made toward that goal has debunked two myths about forest landscape restoration: that it takes too long and costs too much. To the contrary, change can happen rapidly and often reaps economic benefits that far outweigh the costs, according to Saint-Laurant.

Dennis Garrity, UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Drylands Ambassador, said millions of African smallholder farmers have begun to adopt agricultural practices that capitalize on the beneficial co-existence of certain tree species and crops through EverGreen Agriculture, farmer-managed natural regeneration of trees. Garrity said EverGreen Agriculture is inexpensive and easily taught and encouraged the audience to become involved in spreading this phenomenon.

In the afternoon, attendees split into three break-out sessions, focusing on: how large-scale restoration might stimulate economic activities and new businesses; regulatory frameworks that facilitate the implementation of restoration; and the financing of restoration projects and valuing their benefits.

Moderating the financing session, Hickey stressed the importance of convincing skeptics that, while restoration does have upfront costs, it is an investment that has returns. To overcome the cost barrier, Pierre Gerber, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), described how his team is helping smallholder livestock grazers in China reach the profitable stage of grassland restoration with financing from carbon credits, using a methodology validated by Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) .

A concluding plenary session examined the effects of high flow experimental releases downstream of the Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River pulse flow, implemented by the US Department of the Interior. US Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Ann Castle noted the experiments underscored the deep connection humans have with rivers, describing how residents flocked to the Colorado River when the pulse flow temporarily returned water to the dry riverbed below the Morelos Dam. Pedro Brancalion, University of São Paulo Brazil, presented the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact, underscoring the importance of a strong coalition of diverse stakeholders in its success.

The conference is taking place from 29-30 May 2014, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC, US. It is the Seventh Future Environmental Trends Conference. The Veolia Institute, IUCN, French Agency for Development (AFD) and US National Research Council Water Science and Technology Board organized the conference. [Ecosystems, Economy and Society Conference Website] [IISD RS Sources]