9 July 2018
Where Are We in Achieving SDG 15?
Photo Credit: Lynn Wagner
story highlights

Biodiversity and healthy ecosystems support transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies, the theme of the 2018 HLPF.

Response indicators for SDG 15 show that while commitments towards implementation are increasing, the indicators available on the state of Life on Land show decline.

The 2018 HLPF could support further actions to implement the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 in the remaining two years of the UN Decade on Biodiversity, and call for an ambitious new global framework on biodiversity to be negotiated under the CBD.

Biodiversity is essential for all life on Earth, including human life. Forests cover around 30% of the Earth’s land area, containing 80% of terrestrial biomass and providing habitat for over half of the world’s known terrestrial plant and animal species. Many of which provide humanity with essential benefits and services. The biodiversity of inland water, addressed as well by SDG 15, sustains ecosystems and ecosystem services that are key for human well-being, as well as for many life stages of aquatic and migratory species.

But biodiversity does more than that. Healthy ecosystems play a critical role in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development imperative of ‘leave no one behind’. For example, ecosystem services are estimated to make up between 50% and 90% of the livelihoods needs, among poor rural and forest-dwelling households. The UN Human Rights Council at its 34th Session noted that the loss of biodiversity-dependent ecosystem services has a disproportionate effect on people who are vulnerable for other reasons, including gender, age, disability, poverty or minority status. The loss of biodiversity-dependent ecosystem services is likely to accentuate their social inequalities and marginalization (SDG 10) by decreasing their access to basic materials for a healthy life and by reducing their freedom of choice and action.

Biodiversity and healthy ecosystems also support transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies, the theme of the 2018 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). Urban and rural ecosystem services and nature-based solutions contribute to climate-change mitigation and adaptation (SDG 13), such as shade provision, and flood and drought protection. More green space generally means more vegetation that can act as a carbon sink for partially offsetting urban emissions. And increasing the biodiversity of urban food systems can enhance resilience through food and nutrition security (SDG 2): local food systems have historically proved to be critical to a community’s survival in the face of food security crises.

Biodiversity, SDGs’ Basis

While all the SDGs are important in themselves and for the achievement of the others, biodiversity is clearly the linchpin between all of them. Essentially, without biodiversity, we would not exist, let alone develop.

Biodiversity provides the essential resources and ecosystem services that directly support a range of economic activities, such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism, contributing to poverty eradication (SDG 1). The link between biodiversity and human health (SDG 3) is increasingly acknowledged: many pests and diseases are consequences of ecosystem disturbance; many medicines have been derived from biological products; and a substantial proportion of the world’s population depends on traditional medicines derived from biodiversity for their health care needs.

Protecting biodiversity has a direct impact on gender equality (SDG 5), as biodiversity loss and degraded ecosystems can perpetuate gender inequalities by increasing the time spent by women and children on collecting valuable resources including fuel, food and water, and reducing the time for education (SDG 4) and income generating activities.

Healthy ecosystems underpin the delivery of water supplies, water quality, and guard against water-related hazards and disasters (SDG 6), while the bio-energy produced from renewable biomass (such as forestry byproducts and agricultural residues) and other forms of renewable energy generated based on ecosystems (such as hydropower systems), can provide major opportunities for supplying cleaner and affordable energy (SDG 7). Marine and terrestrial ecosystems are essential for many national and global economic sectors that provide employment (SDG 8), while biodiversity and healthy ecosystems can provide reliable and cost-effective natural (green) infrastructure (SDG 9).

Biodiversity underpins the day-to-day functioning of cities and human settlements by delivering the basic services and conditions that enable, support and protect human production, consumption and habitation (SDGs 11 and 12).

Biodiversity underpins all fishing and aquaculture activities, as well as other species harvested for foods and medicines (SDG 14). Environmental crime such as wildlife trafficking, illicit fishing and illegal timber trade threaten global security by benefiting organized crimes and non-state armed groups, while conflicts over natural resources, environmental degradation and contamination often lead to social insecurity and violence (SDG 16).

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 provide a global framework for international cooperation on science, technology and innovation related to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Under the Convention, governments work together to disseminate knowledge and technologies for environmental management, enhance South-South cooperation, and strengthen national and local capacities for policy and science. Such capacities and wealth of knowledge are essential for the SDGs implementation and monitoring (SDG 17).

Where Are We in Achieving SDG 15?

The science is clear and the alarm bells are ringing: biodiversity loss and destruction of ecosystems continue at unprecedented rates according to the Red Life Index. The recent Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) regional assessments reports, launched in March, present a worrying picture in all regions of the world. Furthermore, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report listed ecological collapse, together with biodiversity loss, among the top global risks in terms of impact. We are on the brink of crossing ecological boundaries and reaching tipping points in climate and ecosystems that might lead to an acceleration of planetary destruction. Humanity’s “Titanic” is moving faster and faster towards the iceberg.

The 2018 UN Secretary-General Report ‘Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals’ found that progress in preserving and sustainably using the Earth’s terrestrial species and ecosystems is uneven.

The number of protected forests, areas under long-term management plans, and voluntary certifications have increased. From 2000 to 2017, average worldwide coverage of terrestrial, freshwater and mountain key biodiversity areas by protected areas increased from 35% to 47%, from 32% to 43% and from 39% to 49%, respectively. In 2015, bilateral official development assistance (ODA) in support of biodiversity amounted to US $8.8 billion, an increase of 39% in real terms over 2014. This is good news.

Yet, wildlife poaching and trafficking continues to thwart conservation efforts. While 15% of land is currently under protection, that does not cover all areas important for biodiversity. Land and soil degradation undermine the security and development of all countries, currently brining more than 1 billion people under threat.

The global community appears committed to conserving biodiversity: as of April 2017, 144 countries ratified the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and 96 countries ratified the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization. But much more needs to be done.

“TO DO” for SDG 15

Response indicators for SDG 15 show that while commitments towards implementation are increasing, the indicators available on the state of Life on Land show decline. Solving this dichotomy between commitments and outcomes is imperative.

First, it is essential to understand what is continuing to implicate this decline and to internalize biodiversity knowledge within mainstream decision-making in biodiversity-relevant sectors. Bridging existing biodiversity-related knowledge and facilitating engagement of local actors in sustainable development processes is also important.

Second, governments need to provide an enabling environment to support evidence based policy making and development planning pathways, underpinned by high quality, timely, reliable and disaggregated data, in a way that empowers all relevant actors to become effective change agents in their own context.

Third, governments could exchange insights and experiences on innovations and solutions to address biodiversity and development challenges. This could be explored through diverse networks, knowledge and capacities to position the pivotal role of biodiversity in societal transitions emerging in all economic sectors and regions. This could leverage long term nature relevant impact investments, communication, data, technologies and other resources in a way that benefits our natural capital.

Fourth, governments could undertake natural capital assessments and accounting, and formulate goals to work towards a “sustainable balance sheet” within all policy sectors. Rather than presenting a static picture one could think about a “dynamic balance sheet,” in which economies in balance with nature generate as much ecological, economic and societal value as is used.

Overall, the 2018 HLPF could support further actions to further implement the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 in the remaining two years of the UN Decade on Biodiversity, and call for an ambitious new global framework on biodiversity to be negotiated under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

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