Global Goals Week 2021: SDG 15

SDG 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. 

Protecting, restoring, and promoting the conservation and sustainable use of terrestrial and other ecosystems are all necessary for preserving various forms of life on land. That is why the Sustainable Development Goal 15 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is devoted to sustainable forest management, preventing and reversing land and natural habitat degradation, successfully combating desertification, and preventing biodiversity loss. All of these initiatives are aimed at ensuring that the benefits of land-based ecosystems, such as sustainable livelihoods, are enjoyed for succeeding generations.

Ending environmental degradation and rebuilding our world are essential for long-term growth. Despite this, forests are being cut down, biological diversity is subsiding, and terrestrial ecosystems are degrading at alarming rates, all of which have serious implications for human survival and well-being. One-fifth of the Earth’s land area is now affected by land degradation. The expansion of zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted from animals to humans), which currently account for the most emerging diseases, places human health, economic development, and security at risk. The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a stark reminder that by endangering biodiversity, humanity is endangering its own survival.

The United Nations has initiated a Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) to prevent, delay, and reverse ecosystem deterioration around the world. The goal of this internationally coordinated response to habitat loss and degradation will be to strengthen political will and capacity to reestablish humanity’s relationship with nature. It’s also a direct response to science’s call, as expressed in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Climate Change and Land, and to decisions made by all UN Member States in the Rio Conventions on Climate Change and Biodiversity, as well as the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.

Forest management is becoming more sustainable, yet loss of forests continues at an alarming level

Forests, which occupy 4.1 billion hectares of land, are home to the majority of the world’s biodiversity. They aid in the regulation of the water cycle, reduce climate change, and provide food, income, shelter, and energy to around 1.6 billion people. For present and future generations, sustainable forest management attempts to maintain and enhance the economic, social, and environmental value of all types of forests. According to the 2021 report on SDGs in the Asia and the Pacific, from 2000 to 2020, there was significant progress toward the sustainable management of the world’s forests. At the worldwide level and in most regions, the area of recognized forest increased or stayed stable, as did the share of forests in protected areas or under long-term management plans, and the above-ground forest biomass per hectare.

Despite the fact that the rate of decline has decreased, the global loss of forests is still concerning. Forest area decreased from 31.9 percent of the total land area of the planet in 2000 to 31.2 percent in 2020. This equates to a net loss of about 100 million hectares of land. Forest loss has accelerated in Southeast Asia and Africa, as well as in least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries, and small island developing states (SIDS), owing primarily to the conversion of forest to agricultural land. Deforestation and forest degradation continue to be major issues, particularly in the tropics. The continued loss of forests highlights the urgent need to stop deforestation, rebuild degraded areas, and apply sustainable forest and land management techniques. As a result of these activities, ecosystems will be more resilient to climate change, biodiversity will be protected, and rural livelihoods will be supported.

Funding is needed to implement legislation adopted in almost all countries in response to invasive alien species

Invasive alien species are animals, plants, or other organisms that have been brought by humans into ecosystems outside of their natural range and have established themselves, posing a threat to native biodiversity. These species are a key contributor to biodiversity loss and extinction. Ecosystem services, human livelihoods and well-being, and economies are all negatively impacted. Invasive alien species are brought to new places either intentionally – for example, through hunting or fishing – or accidentally, for example, as a contamination on traded commodities or as a “hitchhiker” on vehicles or boats. Between 2005 and 2050, the number of established alien species is predicted to rise by 36% due to increased global mobility of people and goods.

The most cost-effective strategy to address the repercussions of invasive alien species, which are estimated to cost the world economy billions of dollars each year, is to prevent their emergence. Governments are responding, with nearly all countries (98%) now having national legislation to prevent or regulate invasive alien species, but the scope of such regulation varies greatly by sector. Most countries have passed laws related to plant and animal health in agriculture (92 percent and 82 percent, respectively), while fewer have passed legislation related to the environment (42 percent) or fisheries and aquaculture (27 per cent). Adequate resources are essential for a successful response. Only 55% of countries have reported allocating funds from their national budgets to combat invasive species, and only 37% have used global financial strategies. 

UN Environment in the promotion of integrated and landscape  approaches

The UN Environment Programme has collaborated with other UN agencies to support the development of national biodiversity strategy and action plans (NBSAPs), which, if executed, may significantly contribute to SDG 15 in more than 150 countries. Where cross-sectoral implementation committees or delivery units were constituted and persisted for execution, real success could be attained. Another effective strategy is to reach out to sectors and build long-term partnerships with them in order to co-deliver NBSAP measures. 

The UN Environment Programme is proposing a novel way to engage with and empower faith-based organizations to achieve the SDGs through the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative. The Interfaith Rainforest Initiative will mobilize and train high-level faith leaders as well as grassroots networks in major rainforest and consumer countries to engage in protecting rainforest’s advocacy, action, and leadership. The multi-partner Global Peatland Initiative, with a specific focus on tropical peat swamp forest, is assisting the UN Environment in making the case for the protection, restoration, and sustainable use of peatlands around the world. Furthermore, the rapid response assessment of “Smoke on Water” provides a global review of the current state of knowledge.

SDG 15 in Asia and the Pacific

In Asia and the Pacific, overall progress on land is very slow. Only around half of the targets are measurable, and the region is only likely to achieve one of them (ODA for biodiversity). Current trends in forest and biodiversity loss must be reversed, as these trends are expected to increase in most of the region’s countries by 2030. To meet its goals under the 2030 Agenda, the region must strengthen its preservation of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, as well as improve forest management and mountain ecosystem conservation. It is also worth noting that wildlife and ecosystem protection are critical for preventing future pandemics and disease transmission from animals to humans.

Terrestrial ecosystems provide a variety of goods, such as raw materials for construction and energy, food, and a wide range of ecosystem services, such as carbon capture, soil quality maintenance, biodiversity habitat provision, water quality maintenance, water flow regulation, and erosion control, all of which help to reduce the risk of natural disasters such as floods. Climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts are considerably aided by maintaining certain ecosystems.

However, deforestation and desertification, which are driven by human activity and climate change, pose substantial hurdles to long-term development and have impacted countless lives and livelihoods. Thus, forests are essential for the survival of life on Earth and play a critical role in the fight against climate change. Land restoration is also crucial for enhancing livelihoods, reducing vulnerabilities, and lowering economic risks.

Facts about SDG 15:

  • Every year, 13 million hectares of forest are lost, containing over 80% of all land-based species and providing livelihood for 1.6 billion people.
  • Land degradation has reduced productivity in 23% of the worldwide terrestrial area, and unsustainable land and water use and management practices are putting $235 billion to $577 billion in yearly global crop output at risk. 
  • 127 countries and territories had committed to setting voluntary targets for land degradation neutrality as of February 2021, with 68 countries and territories having already publicly accepted such targets. Overall, land restoration pledges are anticipated to encompass 1 billion hectares, with 450 million hectares covered by commitments made through land degradation neutrality targets. 
  • Whereas protected areas today comprise 15% of terrestrial and freshwater habitats and 7% of the marine domain, they only cover a portion of significant biodiversity hotspots and are not yet ecologically representative, effective, or equitably maintained.
  • As of March 2021, 89 nations and territories had adopted the environmental economic accounting system, with an increase of 29% from 2017. In addition, 62 countries and territories (70%) have incorporated the accounting system into their normal statistical production procedures, compiling and publishing the accounts on a regular basis.
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