The Namami Gange initiative to rejuvenate the Ganga has been recognised as one of the top 10 World Restoration Flagships by the United Nations.
The 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) brought together governments from around the world. Participants were expected to set out new goals and develop an action plan for nature over the next decade. The conference was held in Montréal, Quebec, the seat of the UNCBD Secretariat, from December 7 – 19, 2022. At Cop 15, the United Nations has recognized 10 groundbreaking efforts from around the globe for their role in restoring the natural world. The winning initiatives were declared World Restoration Flagships and are eligible to receive UN-backed promotion, advice or funding. They were selected under the banner of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global movement coordinated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It is designed to prevent and reverse the degradation of natural spaces across the planet. Together, the 10 flagships aim to restore more than 68 million hectares − an area bigger than Myanmar, France or Somalia − and create nearly 15 million jobs.
Among these initiatives is India’s Ganges River Rejuvenation project. The UN press release states that restoring the health of the Ganges, India’s holy river, is the focus of a major push to cut pollution, rebuild forest cover and bring a wide range of benefits to the 520 million people living around its vast basin. Climate change, population growth, industrialization and irrigation have degraded the Ganges along its arcing 2525-kilometre course from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal.
Launched in 2014, the government-led ‘Namami Gange’ initiative is rejuvenating, protecting and conserving the Ganges and its tributaries, reforesting parts of the Ganges basin and promoting sustainable farming. It also aims to revive key wildlife species, including river dolphins, softshell turtles, otters, and the hilsa shad fish. Investment by the Indian government is up to $4.25 billion so far. The initiative has the involvement of 230 organizations, with 1500 km of river restored to date. Additionally, there has been 30,000 hectares of afforestation so far, with a 2030 goal of 134,000 hectares.
The Abu Dhabi Marine Restoration project in the United Arab Emirates is also among the winners. The UN press release highlights that safeguarding the world’s second-largest dugong population is a goal of the drive in the UAE along the Gulf coast. The project in the emirate of Abu Dhabi will improve conditions for many other plants and animals, including four species of turtle and three kinds of dolphin. Local communities will benefit from the revival of some of the 500 species of fish, as well as greater opportunities for eco-tourism. Abu Dhabi wants to ensure its coastal ecosystems are resilient in the face of global warming and rapid coastal development in what is already one of the world’s warmest seas. Some 7500 hectares of coastal areas have already been restored with another 4500 hectares under restoration for 2030.
UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said, “Transforming our relationship with nature is the key to reversing the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. These 10 inaugural World Restoration Flagships show that with political will, science, and collaboration across borders, we can achieve the goals of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and forge a more sustainable future not only for the planet but also for those of us who call it home.”
With the World Restoration Flagships, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is honouring the best examples of large-scale and long-term ecosystem restoration in any country or region, embodying the 10 Restoration Principles of the UN Decade. At the conference, India has highlighted the urgent need to create a new and dedicated fund to help developing countries successfully implement a post-2020 global framework to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. India has also said that biodiversity conservation must be based on ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities’ (CBDR) as climate change also impacts nature.
The 196 parties to the Convention sought to finalize negotiations for a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) – a new set of goals and targets to halt and reverse biodiversity loss – there have been repeated calls for the inclusion of the CBDR principle in finance-related targets. The GBF has sought to propose and accept the ‘30x30’ conservation target. In the ‘30x30’ conservation target, 30% of the earth’s land and sea will be conserved through the establishment of protected areas and other area-based conservation measures.