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Targets to reduce emissions, or commitments to increase biodiversity?

Feature Article written by Aminath Maiha Hameed, Air Quality Management Officer from the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Technology

11 June 2021, MVT 00:56
Mangrove area of Neykurendhoo -- Photo: Mihaaru file
11 June 2021, MVT 00:56

How climate commitments are supported by scaling up ecosystem restoration.

Rachel Carson once wrote in her Essay on Biological Sciences (1958) that, "it is useless to attempt to preserve a living species, unless the kind of land or water it requires is also preserved". In 2005, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the first most significant attempt by an international body to incorporate environmental concerns into potential future scenarios, had demonstrated that ecosystems provided a wide range of essential goods and services to humans, "without which we would not survive". These ecosystem services included fuel, water, pollination, carbon sequestration, and climate stabilization amongst a multitude of others. In the Maldives, marine habitats too, provide us with valuable and familiar ecosystem services such as food, flood protection, the basis for a flourishing tourism industry among numerous others.

However, such ecosystem functions are now threatened with transformation because its individual species face rapidly changing conditions and as the crisis of unprecedented biodiversity loss becomes more acute, it is not difficult to imagine how this disrupts the supply of ecosystem services required for effective climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Certainly, climate change and biodiversity loss are among the forefront of environmental crises in the world today, converging critically at carbon sequestering ecosystems such as seagrass, or more notably rainforests. Given the ongoing degradation of various ecosystems, restoration is increasingly required, and ecosystems that are restored back to health generally sequester more carbon than degraded landscapes, providing an important contribution in the global race to decelerate climate change.

International initiatives on climate change mitigation such as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) prioritize emission reduction but promote it’s co-benefits for biodiversity conservation; and while we champion the advantages, poorly designed REDD+ efforts may have negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Whereas, the long term ability of certain ecosystems to sequester and retain carbon (and the success of REDD+) depends on the maintenance of ecosystem integrity and biological diversity. Therefore it is imperative to appropriately consider biodiversity in the development and implementation of emission reduction strategies surrounding ecosystem restoration. Moreover, (and regardless of the intended goal, be it carbon sequestration or biodiversity conservation), the restoration must be executed at a large enough scale to make a difference in order to ensure a sustainable flow of ecosystem services to communities.

Undoubtedly, global efforts at ecological restoration have ramped up in the past several years. The momentum must keep going and come neck and neck with climate commitments. This year's World Environment Day will see the United Nations launch its Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. It's aim? "To prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean".

Authors note: Maldives does not presently participate in REDD+ activities, which was highlighted as an example of how global climate change mitigative efforts are tied to ecosystem restoration.

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