The extent of human-induced change and damage to Earth's ecosystems renders ecosystem repair an essential part of our future survival strategy, and this demands that restoration ecology provide effective conceptual and practical tools for this task. We argue that restoration ecology has to be an integral component of land management in today's world, and to be broadly applicable, has to have a clearly articulated conceptual basis. This needs to recognize that most ecosystems are dynamic and hence restoration goals cannot be based on static attributes. Setting clear and achievable goals is essential, and these should focus on the desired characteristics for the system in the future, rather than in relation to what these were in the past. Goal setting requires that there is a clear understanding of the restoration options available (and the relative costs of different options). The concept of restoration thresholds suggests that options are determined by the current state of the system in relation to biotic and abiotic thresholds. A further important task is the development of effective and easily measured success criteria. Many parameters could be considered for inclusion in restoration success criteria, but these are often ambiguous or hard to measure. Success criteria need to relate clearly back to specific restoration goals. If restoration ecology is to be successfully practiced as part of humanity's response to continued ecosystem change and degradation, restoration ecologists need to rise to the challenges of meshing science, practice and policy. Restoration ecology is likely to be one of the most important fields of the coming century.