The United Nations declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity, a celebration of life on Earth and of the value of biodiversity for our lives. This is good news for the planet, highlighting steps that have already been taken and those that can yet be taken to safeguard the variety of life on earth: biodiversity.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, “restoring lost and damaged ecosystems – from forests and freshwaters to mangroves and wetlands – can trigger multi-million dollar returns, generate jobs and combat poverty.” It maintains that “far from being a tax on growth and development, many environmental investments in degraded, nature-based assets can generate substantial and multiple returns.” These include restoring water flows to rivers and lakes, improved soil stability and fertility vital for agriculture and combating climate change by sequestrating and storing carbon from the atmosphere.

And governments worldwide are already taking action. For instance, initial studies compiled by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity indicate that restoration of grasslands, woodlands and forests offer some of the highest rates of returns. Examples include:

  • The Turkish city of Istanbul has increased the number of people served with wastewater treatment over 20 years from a few hundred thousand to over nine million ‑ 95% of the population ‑ by rehabilitating and cleaning river banks, relocating polluting industries, installing water treatment works and re-establishing river-side vegetation.
  • In Vietnam, planting and protecting nearly 12,000 hectares of mangroves has cost just over $1 million but saved annual expenditure on dyke maintenance of well over $7 million.
  • In Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, strict law enforcement has helped restore the critically endangered mountain gorilla population back to a slight increase in the Virungas National Park ‑ and is generating large revenues from tourism.
  • Restoration of over 500 hectares of mangroves in India’s Andhra Pradesh region has increased the population of edible crabs and fodder for livestock thereby boosting local incomes while increasing biodiversity such as otter and birds, at a cost of only $3 million over seven years.
  • Coastal ecosystems in Biscayne Bay, Florida have been restored for annual benefit worth $1.7 million.
  • Banning unsustainable fishing methods, reintroductions of native fish species and re-planting of native aquatic grasses have transformed the once highly polluted and degraded Lake Hong in China. Since 2003, water quality has improved dramatically, rare birds like the Oriental White Stork have returned after 20 years and fisher folk have seen incomes triple.

Beyond governments, businesses are also lending a helping hand. Cimpor’s Conservancy in South Africa has eradicated some 65% of invasive plants. In addition, a large portion of this successful clearing exercise has seen the reintroduction of indigenous grasses that serve as a major food source for certain birds. In Brazil, the company’s quarry in Atlantic Forest area, one of the most endangered tropical biomes in the world, and considered as one of the largest biodiversity repositories globally, is being carefully rehabilitated. CEMEX is also doing conservation and restoration in Costa Rica, Mexico and France, among other places, to keep its quarries and surrounding areas healthy. Mondi has a sustainable wetlands program in South Africa, and Syngenta has one in Spain. Lafarge protects onsite wildlife and biodiversity.

And the list goes on. All of these drops in the bucket eventually overflow and the result is a healthier world with greater biodiversity benefitting all inhabitants.

According to Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director: “The ecological infrastructure of the planet is generating services to humanity worth by some estimates over $70 trillion a year, perhaps substantially more.” Due to the impact of biodiversity on all our lives, 2010 is thus THE year to undertake biodiversity efforts and highlight what has already been done.