UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration with Tim Christophersen

One of the restoration stories I have been exploring since I started the podcast late in 2019 is the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Folks are talking about it. I carried out a Google Scholar search, which yielded over 200 articles related to the “Decade ON Ecosystem Restoration” and about 100 more with some variation on phrasing the Decade, such as “Decade OF Ecosystem Restoration,” or “Decade OF ECOLOGICAL Restoration.”

A resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on 1 March 2019 naming the years 2021-2030 as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The Resolution highlights role of ecosystem restoration in achieving sustainable development goals, the fight against desertification, providing access to water, safeguarding oceans and enhancing biodiversity. Ultimately, the aim of the Decade is to “support and scale up efforts to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide and raise awareness of the importance of successful ecosystem restoration.”

For this episode, I tracked down my guest on Tim Christophersen. He is the Head of Freshwater, Land and Climate Branch at United Nations Environment Programme. Tim is also the Chair of the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration, a network that unites governments, organizations, academic/research institutes, communities and individuals under a common goal: to restore the world’s lost and degraded forests and their surrounding landscapes. This background and expertise put him in the position as Coordinator of this special UN Decade.

“The United Nations designates specific days, weeks, years and decades as occasions to mark particular events or topics in order to promote the objectives of the UN. Generally, it is one or more Member States that propose these observances and the General Assembly establishes them with a resolution. So during a meeting of the Bonn Challenge in March 2018, El Salvador was the one to propose a United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. This small Central American country is one of many countries that have committed to the Bonn Challenge, which aims to restore 350 million hectares of degraded ecosystems globally by 2030.

One can catch it on YouTube. El Salvador’s Minister of Environment, Lina Pohl, addresses the UN General Assembly in September 2018. She calls on all members states and the rest of the world to support and cosponsor the proposal for the UN Decade. A few months later, on 1 March 2019, the UN General Assembly officially adopted the resolution.

Interestingly, there is a precedent for UN Decades. This isn’t the first decade named for action on some type of issue. There have been fifty years of International Decades, starting in the 1960s with the “United Nations Development Decade.” It was focused on international economic cooperation.

Interestingly, we are starting into and at the tail end of some International Decades, namely

2011–2020: Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism AND United Nations Decade on Biodiversity

2010–2020: United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification

2018-2028: International Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development

So, what is THIS upcoming Decade on Ecosystem Restoration really about? I hope Tim and I can demystify it for you as we discuss:

  • Tim’s role in coordinating cooperation and momentum on restoration of various types of ecosystems

  • the global interest in investment into restoration

  • the collaborators and partnerships necessary to move political will and make global landscape-level restoration a reality

  • how to prioritize restoration and mainstream ecosystem restoration into policies and planning while also withdrawing subsidies from big oil & gas and harmful agricultural practices

  • process and guidelines to ensure that restoration projects are equitable, inclusive and effective

  • building grassroots power in the digital era

  • and we get personal to talk about sacred groves of oaks and ash as well as being the change you wish to see in the world


If you want to learn more, mosey on over to decadeonrestoration.org. There you can find the content churning out just about every day from UN Environment Program. There is a timeline for 2020 you may want to peruse. A draft strategy is due out here fairly soon which will be finalized sometime this summer in advance of UN General Assembly Meeting and/or Conference of the Parties of several international conventions.

I would also suggest checking out the Global Landscapes Forum. There is also an abundance of chatter and news coming out daily on the socials including YouTube but mostly Twitter. You can even find Tim in there – tweeting about once a day on topics relevant to the Decade.

That book that Tim mentioned was “New Power: How Anyone Can Persuade, Mobilize, and Succeed in Our Chaotic, Connected Age” by Jeremy Heimans. He mentioned to me that his office in Nairobi sits alongside a forest that Waangari Maathai and her cohorts planted. If I ever need inspiration I think about environmental heroes like the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. It’s a good reminder that you are not alone, and we are all linked to a global movement.