World Environment Day 2024 a time to reflect on the cost of land and habitat restoration and conservation


The Endangered Wildlife Trust on 5 June joined communities around the globe in celebrating World Environment Day 2024 to raise awareness about the importance of habitat and land restoration, combating desertification and, in assisting communities, build drought resilience.

The theme this year was “Our Land. Our Future”, which provided the opportunity for all to reflect on the benefits of investing in land and habitat restoration and conservation, for people and wildlife.

The focus on combating desertification, restoring lands and building drought resilience ahead of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Conference of Parties in Colombia later this year, was also aligned to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration’s slogan #GenerationRestoration.  The aim of the UN Decade is to ensure that all countries act on their commitments to prevent, halt and reverse ecosystem degradation by repairing and reviving barren and damaged soil, and replanting forests. 5 June is the most important day on the international environmental calendar, and has grown in importance since 1972 to the largest global outreach on environment-related issues.

World Environment Day came only weeks after the launch of the United Nations’ Global Land Outlook Thematic Report on Rangelands and Pastoralists which shows that about 50% of the world’s rangelands are degraded. Because of overuse, misuse, climate change and biodiversity loss, a severe threat is posed to humanity’s food supply and the well-being or survival of billions of people.

In South Africa, the report states that afforestation, mining, and the conversion of rangelands to other uses are the main causes of degradation and loss of rangelands.  Over the last decade the EWT has driven the establishment of over 100,000 hectares of formal protected areas on privately and communally owned land with associated improved management and resultant habitat restoration. This along with hundreds of hectares of targeted alien invasive tree clearing in critical riparian and water catchment areas has driven improved ecosystem service provision in some of most climate sensitive areas. Linked to this the EWT has been instrumental in restoring wetlands and natural springs in within priority Strategic Water Source Areas (SWSAs) in the eastern part of the country.

What is ultimately needed, at a national scale, is a paradigm shift in the management of natural areas, involving all stakeholders to ensure that targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals of land degradation neutrality is achieved. This paradigm shift, says the International Institute for International Development, could see an increase in revenues for landowners, and result in a situation where natural capital provides sustainably produced goods and services to humanity.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) states that more than one-fifth of the Earth’s land area or some 2 billion hectares, is degraded. Approximately 3.2 billion people, or 40% of the world’s population, are impacted by land degradation. This disproportionately affects those who are least equipped to cope – Indigenous Peoples, rural communities, smallholder farmers and the extremely poor, especially women and youth. More than 55 million people are directly affected by droughts annually, making it the most serious hazard to livestock and crops in nearly every part of the world. If land degradation remains unchecked, says UNEP, it could reduce global food productivity by 12%, causing food prices to soar by up to 30% by 2040. 


It is predicted that more than 720 million hectares in Africa have the potential to be restored.  The continental target for the Pan-African Ecosystem Restoration Action Agenda is to restore over 200 million ha by 2030.

The EWT’s Drylands Conservation Program has found that climate change impacts and shifting land-use patterns are the main threat to southern Africa’s drylands.   To address these threats, the EWT has been driving new opportunities for species and habitat conservation, alongside the development of more sustainable economic activities, such as diversified income streams linked to novel eco-tourism, that do not transform the landscape and their potential to support livelihoods in the future. This, linked with improving the capacity of local people to establish small and medium enterprises and associated conservation friendly products is shifting the economic status of rural communities in our arid rangelands.

In order to make agriculture sustainable, recommendations have been made that a large portion of agricultural subsidies be redirected towards sustainable practices and small-scale farmers, and that governments and the finance sector promote regenerative agriculture to increase food production while preserving long-term ecosystem functioning.

UNEP adds that investments in nature-based solutions need to double to $542 billion by 2030 to meet the world’s climate, biodiversity and ecosystem restoration goals. In making the economic case for the revival of the Thukela River Basin in KwaZulu-Natal, a recent UNEP study found that the benefits of restoring the basin far outweighed the costs.  The research paper highlights the importance of nature being incorporated into economic and financial decision-making without putting a price tag on all species.  It adds that ecosystem accounting can help halt and reverse ecosystem damage in the drive to restore the environment. This would contribute to achieving the National Development Goals but requires extensive buy-in from the private sector as a whole. Through the EWTs National Biodiversity and Business Network, we are working closely with a multitude of the leading corporate entities in the country to ensure reduced biodiversity footprints and ultimately improved ecological sustainability of these impactful and influential companies.

In order to establish and secure long-term resilient landscape, the EWT was a sector wide leader in driving the first carbon trading agreements established with private landowners in the eastern Free State grasslands, and we have since registered more than 75,000 hectares of grasslands with high ecosystem service and biodiversity value. The revenue generated from the sequestration of soil carbon, as a result of improved management practices, will fund the ongoing support of these landowners sustainable practices into the future, while ensuring ongoing agricultural production and resultant food and water security.

With the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 16th Conference of the Parties planned for October this year in Colombia, it is important that countries who have committed to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework meet their undertaking to provide adequate funding and especially to assist developing countries to implement their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs). This global event will see participating nations assess their progress and plan their actions towards achieving the ambitious but critical targets as set out in the Global Biodiversity Framework.

To achieve our national targets to conserve South Africa’s natural assets, it is important that all stakeholders, including government and business, contribute to help make a significant impact in conservating our degraded lands.   The importance of healthy soil and land for the survival of humanity and all other species on Earth, is as critical as clean water and unpolluted air – the Constitutional Right to an environment that is not harmful to the health and well-being of all citizens.