June 3 (UPI) -- If it wants to avert an ecosystem collapse, the world must move to restore a large area of land to its natural state, an environmental report published Thursday concludes.
The analysis by the United Nations Environment Program and Food and Agriculture Organization says governments worldwide need to restore about 2.4 billion acres of land by 2030. To that end, it also recommends a similar commitment for marine and coastal areas.
The recommended area of 2.4 billion acres is roughly equivalent to the size of China.
Because the world is facing a triple threat of climate change, loss of nature and pollution, the study says governments must prioritize the revival of ecosystems with similar ambition the United States and Russia employed during the space race of the 1960s.
The UNEP and FAO issued the report as part of its launch Thursday of what they called the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030.
"The world's ecosystems -- from oceans to forests to farmlands -- are being degraded, in many cases at an accelerating rate," it states. "People living in poverty, women, indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups bear the brunt of this damage, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened existing inequalities."
The groups go on to note that a third of the world's farmland has been degraded, almost 90% of inland wetlands worldwide have disappeared since 1700 and a third of commercial fish species are overexploited.
"Degradation is already affecting the well-being of an estimated 3.2 billion people -- that is 40% of the world's population."
"Every single year we lose ecosystem services worth more than 10% of our global economic output," UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen and FAO Director-General QU Dongyu wrote in the report.
Without a powerful 10-year drive for restoration, the study says, targets set by the Paris climate agreement will fail.
"Reviving ecosystems and other natural solutions could contribute over one-third of the total climate mitigation needed by 2030. Restoration can also curb the risk of mass species extinctions and future pandemics."
Tim Christophersen, coordinator of the decade on ecosystem restoration, said natural restoration on such a grand scale has rarely been accomplished.
"There are a few examples in China and with the Atlantic rainforest in Brazil, but at the scale that we now need it, very few examples exist," he said, according to The Guardian. "They are investments that sometimes have a similar complexity to large infrastructure projects."
Despite the substantial challenge of the recommendations, the report notes that "nature has an extraordinary capacity for renewal."
"While some ecosystems are approaching a tipping point from which they cannot recover, many others can flourish again if we stop the damage and restore their health, biodiversity and productivity," it states.