Roots for Change: CEE Issues Report on Ecosystem Restoration
“There must be a dramatic change in our relationship with the natural world,” says Karenna Gore, founder and executive director of the Center for Earth Ethics. “Ecosystem restoration signals that shift by calling attention to the symbiotic relationship between human and planetary health.”
Gore makes this observation in CEE’s new report, “Roots for Change: Using Values, Culture and Spirituality to Restore Ecosystems.” This comprehensive study emphasizes the crucial role of values, culture and spirituality (VCS) in anchoring and accelerating successful restoration projects. And it provides a roadmap for restoration efforts to synthesize environmental principles, cultural values and spiritual insights in creating meaningful change for ecosystems and communities alike.
“The report highlights the significance of engaging communities and creating space to share, create new relationships and find new ways of working together,” says Andrew Schwartz, CEE’s director of strategic initiatives and one of the report’s co-authors. “We wanted this report to amplify the part of the restoration process that does not fit neatly into a spreadsheet—the things that are hard to quantify but that can have such an impact on a project’s success.”
The report outlines 10 guiding principles for engaging the VCS framework in ecosystem restoration initiatives. Recognizing the intricate relationship connecting human health, cultural heritage, spiritual traditions and the environment, the principles provide actionable strategies to engage communities, accelerate restoration projects and promote long-lasting solutions. “The 10 Principles of VCS are meant to complement the 10 Principles of Ecosystem Restoration” says Schwartz, “to facilitate community engagement and understanding of the deeply enmeshed values and cultural and spiritual traditions that can help give shape to people’s lives and how they understand or interact with the ecosystems they occupy.”
10 Guiding Principles
1. Creating a Flourishing World
2. Uplifting Stories, Narrative and History
3. Practice Humility
4. Find Ways to Be Inclusive
5. Restore Relationship
6. Honor Grief and Pain
7. Acknowledge Sacredness and Worldview
8. Integrate Rituals and Traditions
9. Develop Inner Restoration
10. Encourage Celebration and Gratitude
“Roots for Change” is the culmination of a multi-year process in which CEE conducted research, hosted grassroots dialogues, and organized high-level consultations with communities across the globe. This initiative engaged diverse groups—including religious, spiritual and Indigenous communities—in conversations with UN partners, advocacy organizations and local government officials. By highlighting the ways cultural and spiritual traditions support and sustain ecosystem restoration projects, these consultations informed the 10 principles. The “Stories of Place” consultations included:
- A Consultation on Air & Plastic Pollution (St. James Parish, United States): Residents stood up against petrochemical giants, leading to landmark UN Environment Assembly Plastic Pollution Treaty negotiations.
- A Consultation on Water (The River Yamuna, India): Hindu temples engage lawmakers and environmentalists to restore the sacred River Yamuna, which faces catastrophic pollution.
- A Consultation on Urban Restoration (Mombasa, Kenya): Advocates integrate green spaces into city plans and preserve mangrove forests to address urban environmental challenges.
- A Consultation on Species (The Sacred Philippine Eagle, Philippines): Conservation efforts by the Bagobo Tagabawa tribe align cultural practices with the protection of the critically-endangered Philippine Eagle.
- A Consultation on Food Security (Jordan): Initiatives in Jordan balance agricultural needs with climate change impacts and the influx of refugees displaced by conflict.
A common theme through both the consultations and the report is the power and significance that VCS can have in uniting communities to heal the ecosystems that they call home. The report showcases the multifaceted nature of restoration and argues that it extends beyond the hectares restored. Crucially, it involves repairing the relationship between people and the land, water and air that are essential for life. Ecosystem restoration is not a substitute for decarbonization, but rather is a complementary effort that necessitates a fundamental shift in our relationship with the natural world. As such, the report advocates for holistic approaches that consider societal subtexts that have contributed to the fragmented relationship between land and people, including colonialism, racism, classism and sexism.
This report is part of CEE’s ongoing engagement with UN frameworks, in particular the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). This initiative aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems globally. The UN Decade’s Flagship projects focus on restoring forests, landscapes and seascapes, emphasizing the urgent need for collective action to protect biodiversity, combat climate change and enhance food security.
The report’s release coincides with the sixth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 6), scheduled at the end of this month in Nairobi. UNEA 6 will provide a platform for global leaders, policymakers and environmentalists to continue the critical work of restoring “harmony between humanity and nature, [and] improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people.”
“Roots for Change” is not just a report—it is a call to action to undertake “the process of restoring our relationship to the Earth and how we live on it.” CEE urges global communities not only to recognize the symbiotic link between human and planetary health, but also to embrace values, culture and spirituality as they pursue long-term global ecosystem restoration.
“Elevating this form of conscientiousness,” writes Gore, “we can transform a moment of peril into a new era of mutual flourishing.”