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UN recognises Building with Nature Indonesia’s efforts with World Restoration Flagship award

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  • Aquaculture, fisheries and coastal agriculture
  • Coastal resilience
  • Coastal wetland conservation
  • Integrated delta management

Montreal, 13 December 2022 – The United Nations has recognized the Building with Nature Indonesia initiative to protect Indonesia’s coast against flooding as one of 10 pioneering efforts to revive the natural world. 

The UN designated the push, which is using mangrove trees to form a natural barrier against the sea, as one of its inaugural World Restoration Flagships. These initiatives, which are eligible to receive UN support, funding or technical expertise, showcase how environmental advocates are mending damaged ecosystems across the planet. Human activity has significantly altered three-quarters of the Earth’s land and two-thirds of its marine environment, pushing 1 million species towards extinction. 

The announcement came as leaders gathered in Montreal, Canada for the UN Biodiversity Conference, where governments from around the world will agree to a new set of goals for nature over the next decade. 

Talks are expected to include a potential global target for ecosystem restoration. 

Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands, is replete with mangrove forests, which are a haven for wildlife. They also help shelter coastal communities from rising seas and storm surges, problems expected to become more severe as the climate crisis sets in. 

But in many places mangroves have been cut down to make space for development and ponds for fish farming. The ‘Building with Nature’ initiative seeks to restore those forests. Concentrating in Demak, a district on the island of Java, Wetlands International together with Indonesia’s government and other partners are helping local communities regrow mangroves along a 20km stretch of coastline.

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Building with Nature integrates nature-based solutions into water infrastructure practice, combining ecosystem restoration and engineered solutions in an optimal mix, integrated with interventions to boost the local economy, community resilience and biodiversity enhancement. Instead of fighting nature with single solution-focused responses such as seawalls and embankments, Building with Nature works with nature, delivering water infrastructure that protects people while benefiting nature and society.

Instead of simply planting mangroves, the initiative is applying an innovative approach using semi-permeable sea walls made of natural materials to trap mud and sediments. Mangroves then regrow naturally, with a survival rate of 70 percent – significantly higher than the 15-20 percent of planted mangroves. Over time, soil builds up in the roots of the mangroves, which can prevent rising seas from inundating communities. 

The work will increase the resilience of 70,000 people to aspects of climate change. Experts have also helped 277 shrimp farmers construct shrimp-rearing ponds that can coexist with mangroves and improve the sustainability of their operations. These farmers have seen their shrimp yields triple. 

The effort and other flagship initiatives were selected under the banner of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a global movement coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It is designed to prevent and reverse the degradation of natural spaces across the planet. 

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said: “Indonesia’s ‘Building for Nature’ initiative, part of the inaugural group of World Restoration Flagships, is a stellar example of smart and forward-looking adaptation work in action. It’s a model worth replicating for how countries can use nature to both ward of the severe impacts of climate change while simultaneously creating new economic opportunities for people.” 

Qu Dongyu, Director General of the FAO, said: “FAO, together with UNEP, as co-lead of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, is pleased to award the 10 most ambitious, visionary and promising ecosystem restoration initiatives as 2022 World Restoration Flagships. Inspired by these flagships, we can learn to restore our ecosystems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all, leaving no one behind.” 

Muhammad Yusuf, Director of Coastal and Small Island Management, the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs, said: “The region of Demak is badly affected by climate change. Hundreds and thousands of hectares of land are disappearing. This method emulates the mangrove tree root system. So, sediment goes in. Sea water gradually recedes to the sea. When the mangrove trees are rooted there collectively, it’ll act as a natural barrier to reduce the effect of erosion.” 

Following the collaboration in Demak, the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) altogether installed 23.5 kilometres of structures in 13 districts between 2015 and 2019 across Indonesia.

Pieter van Eijk, the programme head of deltas and coasts for Wetlands International, said: “Our experiences from the Demak Building with Nature project have helped create a formula that can be used in other locations. It shows success can come when communities, government, civil society and the private sector work together. We convened expertise from across different areas: ecology, engineering, socio-economics and the result is we’ve managed to create coastal resilience in an area that was badly hit by flooding. We will now use these lessons to take Building with Nature projects to other parts of Asia.”

Countries have already promised to restore 1 billion hectares – an area larger than China – as part of their commitments to the Paris climate agreement, the Aichi targets for biodiversity, the Land Degradation Neutrality targets and the Bonn Challenge. However, little is known about the progress or quality of this restoration. Progress of all 10 World Restoration Flagships will be transparently monitored through the Framework for Ecosystem Restoration Monitoring, the UN Decade’s platform for keeping track of global restoration efforts. 

To learn more about the project, watch this video or download these knowledge products.

Wetlands International is working to scale up Building with Nature in Asia in collaboration with the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, EcoShape and One Architecture, convened in Indonesia, Philippines, India, Malaysia and China, and other countries over time. Watch the video.

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About the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration
The United Nations General Assembly has declared the years 2021 through 2030 the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Led by the UN Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, together with the support of partners, it is designed to prevent, halt, and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems worldwide. It aims at reviving billions of hectares, covering terrestrial as well as aquatic ecosystems. A global call to action, the UN Decade draws together political support, scientific research, and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration. 

About Building with Nature in Indonesia
the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, the Indonesian Ministry of Public Work and Housing, Wetlands International and Ecoshape with support from Witteveen + Bos, Deltares, TU Delft, Wageningen University & Research, UNESCO-IHE, Blue Forests, Kota Kita, Von Lieberman, the Diponegoro University, NIOZ, NWO-OTP, and local communities. Three spin-off research programmes supported scaling up our work in Demak: MuMaCo, PASMI and BioManco in collaboration with TU Delft, NIOZ, NWO-OTP, and WUR.

The initiative is financially supported by: The Dutch Sustainable Water Fund on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) as part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI), and the Dutch Postcode Lottery, Partners for Resilience, Waterloo Foundation, Otter Foundation, Top Consortia for Knowledge and Innovation, and with contributions by all partners.

About the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. 

For more information, please contact: 

Moses Osani, Media Officer, UN Environment Programme 

For media interviews with officials from Indonesia, please reach out to:

Apri Susanto Astra, Coordinator, Nature-based solutions, Wetlands International Indonesia.
Arin de Hoog, Media coordinator, Wetlands International