The world is torn by the pandemic; the threat of global warming and climate change looms large; the developing economies decelerate; unemployment is on the rise; inequality is peaking; social cohesion is breaking; and global peace is at stake as political views of individuals in the social space and geopolitical positions of nations become more polarised. In the midst of this gloom, human systems have always responded with some positivity, thereby, revealing amazing resilience. It is with this spirit of resilience that the United Nations (UN) marks this year’s World Environment Day with the theme of “Ecosystem Restoration”. On this occasion, UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration is also being launched.
Though such a theme may bring about the idea that climate change and other related environmental issues have been put on the backburner, the case is exactly the opposite. Rather, the theme is a reminder to the human community that the fundamental force of life lies in the natural ecosystem; the human system is a component of the broader social-ecological system, and the forces emanating from both the systems affect each other. As such, the spread of the novel coronavirus is a rude reminder to humanity to relook, revise and rework its behavioural patterns in terms of its interactive dynamics with the natural ecosystem. Unbridled human ambitions and development aspirations have often gone to the extent of impairing a critical supporting service of the ecosystem—biological control—the result of which is often felt in terms of large-scale crop losses and epidemics, which at times take the shape of pandemics. Loss in ecosystem has also resulted in losses in provisioning services (like food, fish, water, medicinal plants, etc) that have clear linkages with lives and livelihoods at various scales. On the other hand, ecosystem losses result in changing capacities of ecosystems to sequester and stock carbon, as also impair the ecosystems’ capacities to act as a bio-shield against cyclones and extreme events, or minimise impacts of droughts or floods. From all these perspectives, therefore, ecosystem restoration is an extremely critical message. The action has its implications on human livelihoods and development, human health and nutrition, and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Ecosystem restoration is a phenomenon already in vogue, given that the global north has witnessed problems with land-use change and changes in flow regimes. Apart from forest clearences, the large-scale dam building and structural interventions over rivers had led to irreversible ecosystem destruction at the basin scale
At the same time, it needs to be remembered that ecosystem restoration is a phenomenon already in vogue, given that the global north has witnessed problems with land-use change and changes in flow regimes. Apart from forest clearences, the large-scale dam building and structural interventions over rivers had led to irreversible ecosystem destruction at the basin scale. However, lately, the EU’s adoption of the Water Framework Directive in 2000 led to a spree of dam decommissioning in Europe. The last two decades witnessed around 5,000 such structural interventions that fragmented river systems being removed in France, Sweden, Finland, Spain and the United Kingdom. Interestingly, the United States, the nation that witnessed large-scale dam building from the 1920s to the 1960s, also dismantled around 1,200 such structures in the recent decades in attempts to revive the basin ecosystem. However, such phenomena are not so frequent in the emerging economies and growth nerves of the world, especially China and India. Ecosystem restoration is indeed sporadic and infrequent in these parts, and does not really lead to addition of forest land at a macro-scale or natural flow regime restoration.
At a global scale, ecosystem restoration has to hinge primarily upon building long-lasting and sustainable partnerships. The dispute on cutting down greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), generating green finance or finding viable solutions to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been grabbing both eyeballs and headlines for years. With the onset of the pandemic since the fag end of 2019, one can observe a marked change in human lifestyles and also the attitudes or stances of the nation states. It has brought to light the need for an effective response to and risk management of an unknown enemy, in this case the COVID-19 virus.
As such development partnerships are considered synonymous with financial aid or even with official development assistance (ODA). Traditionally, the concept of cultivating developmental support for oneself and for others is an outcome of a variety of historical processes and theoretical concepts. To put it precisely, the idea of development is a product of a long-term relationship between Europe and the non-European parts of the world whose activities have been dominated by erstwhile colonial power relations. In the contemporary world, development partnership is the bridge that connects the prosperous global North and the not-so-prosperous global South. Although this divide appears to be blurring, India still has to face the undercurrents of uneven power rivalries, particularly the China challenge. Nevertheless, countries are scurrying to collaborate and converge on fighting the virus with shipping COVID aid in the form of vaccines, medical kits, testing apparatus, oxygen concentrators etc. Hence, development partnerships have significantly undergone both economic and political modifications.
Countries are scurrying to collaborate and converge on fighting the virus with shipping COVID aid in the form of vaccines, medical kits, testing apparatus, oxygen concentrators etc. Hence, development partnerships have significantly undergone both economic and political modifications
Considering the world has now entered the decade of action, efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change have become extremely imperative. The broader target of achieving the SDGs can be categorised as a natural catalysis of building partnerships, as pertinently highlighted by the recently launched SDG Index and Dashboard (2020-21) by the NITI Ayog. SDG 17 focussing on global partnership for the goals takes the spotlight here. While India, as an emerging partner, is attempting to move beyond the traditional donor-donee relationship, it is expected that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)- Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members pitch in more by honouring their pledge of providing 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income as ODA.
Evidently, the pandemic has pushed back progress resulting in cascading effects with economic setbacks, political upheavals or rampant health emergencies. Nevertheless, an effective response and risk management system is vital if the world aims at putting up a decent show in the coming years. A coalition-based approach could be a good start. Take, for instance, India’s key initiations of launching the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in 2015 or the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) in 2019. Both these platforms offer an avenue of knowledge sharing and imparting technical expertise to help other developing countries in building resilient and robust societies. It also provides a window of opportunity for New Delhi to mobilise finance, necessary investments and streamlining institutional capacities of the developing regions in Africa and South Asia.
In this regard, one can also take a look at a traditional donor’s approach, say the European Union (EU). The new European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen renamed its development cooperation as international partnerships. Vying to gain more traction on the geopolitical front, von der Leyen is keen on constructing a “Geopolitical Commission” pivoted on fostering positive synergies between the Union and other actors. Recently, it joined hands with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for envisaging environmental cooperation in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) on a host of issues, such as climate change, biodiversity conservation, circular economy etc. Considering its stewardship in environmental negotiations and international climate agreements, the EU can be viewed as an apt model for translating theory into practice, i.e., understanding the inherent linkages between partnerships and ecological restoration. By working in the LAC region, the Union is forthrightly pushing its geopolitical priorities, including the European Green Deal.
Taking a cue from Brussels, New Delhi must ponder upon its development partnerships in the context of the impending task of ecosystem restoration. This is something that India may begin with its immediate neighbours in south Asia, especially those with whom transboundary rivers and landscapes are shared
Taking a cue from Brussels, New Delhi must ponder upon its development partnerships in the context of the impending task of ecosystem restoration. This is something that India may begin with its immediate neighbours in south Asia, especially those with whom transboundary rivers and landscapes are shared. A case in point is the transboundary Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin shared by Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Bhutan (apart from China) that also harbours the transboundary Sundarbans landscape shared between Bangladesh and India. While structural constructions like dams and diversion channels have caused ecosystem damages, and have also made the rivers subjects of transboundary water conflicts between nations, the decline of the ecosystem health of the Sundarbans have also been a matter of concern. Ecosystem restoration through a development partnership will lead to an integrated approach in this context, and India being the largest nation in the region needs to take the lead. In fact, India can potently build on such endeavours, come up with similar approaches paving the way for sustainable partnerships to build back better in this upcoming decade of action.
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Dr. Nilanjan Ghosh is a Director at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India. In that capacity, he heads two centres at the Foundation, namely, the ...Read More +
Dr Swati Prabhu is Associate Fellow with theCentre for New Economic Diplomacy (CNED). Her research explores the interlinkages between Indias development partnerships and the Sustainable ...Read More +