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Biodiversity and terrestrial ecosystems

Sustainable Development Goal 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

Overview

Biodiversity is a critical foundation of the Earth’s life support system on which the welfare of current and future generations depend. Healthy ecosystems contribute directly to human well-being in many ways and are vital for human resilience, particularly of those living in poverty. Biodiversity provides basic goods such as food, fiber, fuel, and medicine; underpins ecosystem functions and the provision of benefits to people (services), such as water purification and supply, pollination, regulation of pests and diseases, soil nutrient cycling and fertility; provides ecosystem resilience and contributes to the ability to respond to unpredictable global changes and natural disasters; includes genetic diversity essential for the adaptation of species and ecosystems to meet current and future challenges; and finally, biodiversity is valued for cultural, spiritual, and religious reasons, and provides opportunities for research and education. The conservation, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity can provide solutions to a range of societal challenges. Nevertheless, over 60% of the ecosystems and their services upon which we rely are degraded, overexploited or already lost (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005), thereby reducing their capacities as natural buffers to provide protection against hazards, which is essential in protection and sustainability of livelihoods. It is expected that current pressures on the planet’s natural resources and life support system will increase.

Globally, forests cover 31% of the land area, contain over 80% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity and, after oceans, are the largest storehouse of carbon . Forests provide solutions for addressing many development challenges, including poverty eradication, environmental sustainability, food security and agriculture, energy, clean water and watershed protection, biodiversity conservation, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, combatting desertification and land degradation, and disaster risk reduction. Forests are vital for creating green economies and over 10 million people are employed in the formal sector. Overall, more than 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forest for food, medicines and fuel, as their jobs and livelihoods. Worldwide, 13 million hectares of forest were converted to other uses or lost through natural causes each year in the period 2000-2013, including some of the most diverse habitats on Earth.

Among the targets proposed for SDG 15 are to “take urgent and significant action to reduce degradation of natural habitat, halt the loss of biodiversity, and by 2020 protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species” and that “by 2020 ensure conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements”. All of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are relevant to these objectives. With regards to other more specific objectives proposed under SDG 14, Aichi Biodiversity Targets 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 20 are particularly relevant.

Challenges

The greatest challenge today is to meet the needs of a large and growing population, while ensuring the sustainability of biodiversity and natural resources. Benefits provided by biodiversity are important to all people, yet at present biodiversity is threatened by a range of issues. These include land use change and land degradation, overexploitation, pollution, invasive alien species, climate change and ocean acidification. As biodiversity is lost, ecosystem services are compromised, and, in some cases, there is a risk that some thresholds will be passed, undermining the functioning of the Earth’s support system. Many economic sectors depend on biodiversity and ecosystems services, including water supply, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, health, nutrition, energy, transport and tourism. Ultimately, the loss and degradation of biodiversity impact negatively on all people. However, the impacts are particularly severe and more immediate on the poor and vulnerable, women, children and indigenous peoples. To them, the goods and services provided by ecosystems underpinned by biodiversity often constitute social safety nets. Among the targets proposed under Goal 15 is that by 2020 ecosystem and biodiversity values are integrated into national and local planning, development processes, poverty reduction strategies and accounts.

All sectors of the economy benefit directly or indirectly from nature and ecosystems, including water supply, agriculture, fisheries, forestry health, nutrition, energy and tourism. Their engagement is required for the transition to a greener economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

Deforestation and the loss of other ecosystems not only results in a decrease in biodiversity and clean water, and an increase in soil erosion, land degradation and the release of carbon into the atmosphere, in most cases it also results in the loss of a major economic asset and livelihood opportunities.

Messages

  • One billion people in developing countries depend on fish for their primary source of animal protein, and as many as 80% of people living in rural areas in developing countries rely on traditional plant-based medicines for basic healthcare.
  • Large populations in South and East Asia are dependent on complex rice-fish agro-ecosystems, where fish and other aquatic animals serve as a source of nutrition to local communities and provide essential services for rice productivity in the flooded fields.
  • A range of ecosystems act as buffers against natural hazards, providing valuable yet under-utilized approaches for climate change adaptation, enhancing natural resilience and reducing the vulnerability of people, for example to floods and the effects of land degradation. By improving sustainability and economic efficiency of built infrastructure, ecosystems are critical for sustainable and resilient urban areas.
  • Many economic sectors depend on biodiversity and ecosystems services, including water supply, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, health, nutrition, energy, transport and tourism.
  • Three-quarters of the top ranking global prescription drugs contain components derived from plant extracts.
  • Genetic diversity is central to the seed industry, with its 10 top companies reporting commercial seed sales of US$15 billion in 2006.
  • Insects and other animals that carry pollen between crops, especially fruit and vegetables, are estimated to be worth more than US$200 billion per year to the global food economy.
  • The world’s fisheries employ approximately 200 million people, provide about 16% of the protein consumed worldwide and have a value estimated at US$80 billion.
  • Ecotourism generates significant employment and is now worth around US$100 billion/year.
  • The conservation, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity can provide solutions to a range of societal challenges, for example protecting ecosystems and ensuring access to ecosystem services by poor and vulnerable groups are an essential part of poverty eradication.
  • Reducing deforestation and forest degradation and enhancing carbon stocks in forests, drylands, rangelands and croplands, is not only a cost effective way to mitigate climate change but it also generates other social and economic benefits. Ensuring the provision of forest services and products has led to the development of the concept of sustainable forest management (SFM), which is now regarded as one of the most effective tools to combat deforestation.
  • Conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems generates value through sustainable use of ecosystem services such as sustainable tourism, while sustainable tourism minimizes negative impacts upon them.
  • Land degradation, which refers to diminishment of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning that negatively impact the provisioning of ecosystem services and ultimately impedes poverty eradication and sustainable development, directly affects 1.5 billion people. Some 40% of the world’s degraded lands are found in areas with the highest incidence of poverty.

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme