When it comes to habitats and biodiversity, environmental policies have always revolved around protection and preservation. As gloomier and gloomier data on the status of nature unveil, it is clear that this approach is not enough anymore. Due to direct and indirect human influence, Earth has lost and is losing countless ecosystems. In this scenario, restoring and recovering nature is the way to go. The UN has established the period between 2020 and 2030 to be the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global rally to heal our planet.
The pandemic has been a catalyzing moment that showed how deeply interlinked humans and the environment are. Human life and health depend on nature, and environmental disturbances eventually come to affect us. However, our environmental consideration - at least in the Global North - has been written along the lines of a sharp human/nature dichotomy, and a detachment that brought us to this dramatic point. The momentum on restoration is an opportunity to fix our habitats, but also our relationship with Earth.
Following the wave of the Decade on Restoration, the European Commission is about to set forward the first EU binding nature restoration law as part of the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. This is a breakthrough step for a highly industrialized and ecologically fragmented continent that sees the majority of its habitats in poor or unfavourable conservation status.
Restoring nature is not only a necessary step to save our environment, it is also a matter of intergenerational justice. Young people have inherited a degraded planet, grew up in an already concerning society, and yet have seen virtually no progress against environmental threats. At the same time, they will be the ones in the next decades to be disproportionately affected by harmful actions - or inaction - that are perpetrated today.
Restorative action and effective legislation must be implemented urgently. Generally speaking, we need to prevent our ecosystems from reaching the point of no return. From an intergenerational perspective, the burden of efforts must not be shifted on current young people or future generations.
But this is not the only reason why youth must be included. Young professionals, young indigenous peoples and members of local communities have unique knowledge on how to restore ecosystems. This is shown by the many successful youth-led restoration initiatives that have been carried out all around the world. Empowering a young person means ensuring longer effectiveness and further reach in the future. Youth are stakeholders in the present and in the future of our planet and its habitats, as well as competent actors in restoration. Therefore, they must be part of the solution.
To do so, legislators and governments must include them in the decision-making processes. This inclusion needs to be meaningful and structured, from the beginning of the discussion to the implementation of activities. Too often young people are consulted only superficially and end up carrying out meaningful work without any compensation. Funding is necessary to support young people and youth organisations to act.
In general, financing restoration is a cost-effective approach to tackle the biodiversity and the climate crises, considering the potential of carbon capture of some restored ecosystems. Ecological restoration can provide new job opportunities and income for young people and local communities, as well enhancing the health of all populations and fueling recreation.
One of the hopes for the new EU restoration law is indeed to allocate funds dedicated to restoration. Other countries should follow in mobilizing significant amounts of money to restore Earth. Nevertheless, these investments are not going to be useful without a combined approach that steers the whole current economic system away from inconsequential exploitation of the environment. We need to phase out subsidies that cause economic degradation, as well as develop taxation and pricing systems that reflect the true social and environmental costs.
In the environment, everything is interconnected. Society, economy, human life, biodiversity, and so on: we cannot afford not to be blind in front of this interconnection anymore. Restoring nature is a brave step that challenges how we have considered nature until now, a separate entity to enclose and protect, or to use uncontrollably at will. The true impact can be achieved by conscious and radical changes in these ways of thinking.
To learn more about the vision of young Europeans on the EU restoration, have a look at the position paper led by Generation Climate Europe with contributions from Youth and Environment Europe, Biodiversity Action Europe, Global Youth for Biodiversity Network Europe, Young Rewilders, and Young Friends of the Earth Europe.
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Giulia Testa is a young environmentalist from Italy. She is the Biodiversity Coordinator at Generation Climate Europe (GCE), where she has led the advocacy project on the new EU nature restoration law. She is a master’s student in Environmental Law and Policy and passionate about biodiversity protection.