Urbanization and the continuous need for land resources has taken a toll on the world’s ecosystems and biodiversity. The irony is, while we need to extract resources from the land to fuel the economy, we also need the benefits the land provides in its natural state such as biodiversity. As a result, the sustainable utilization of land resources is necessary in order to enable the land to provide all its services effectively.
Loss of biodiversity
Humans rely on biodiversity for everything, as it is vital to support all processes of life on earth. Diversity in animal and plant species is necessary to maintain healthy ecosystems. We depend on biodiversity for the food we eat, for the soil to grow the food, for medicines, for flood protection, etc. There is so much that biodiversity does for us that many of us remain unaware of. Despite the great importance of biodiversity to the wellbeing of humanity, human activities such as agriculture, logging, building of infrastructures, etc., contribute significantly to the loss of biodiversity by enhancing deforestation, the loss of mountain ecosystems and desertification.
Forests are home to over 80% of terrestrial animals, plants and insects, with over 1 billion people relying on forests for their livelihood. In addition, the world’s forests act as a carbon sink as they absorb more carbon dioxide than they release (about 2.6 billion tonnes per year). Deforestation is the removal of trees from a forest, and currently, the largest amount of deforestation is occurring in the Amazon rainforest. It results from the need for land for agriculture and livestock, urbanization and loggin. In addition to biodiversity loss, other impacts of deforestation include (but are not limited to) climate change, desertification, erosion, landslides, and flooding.
Mountains support a diverse range of climates, conditions and habitats, and consequently hold a large amount of biodiversity. Mountains are also home to a large number of communities, and we rely on them for water, energy, and other resources. Over 60% of freshwater is from mountains, and cities such as Tokyo, New York, Nairobi and Rio de Janeiro almost exclusively rely on this freshwater source. With the loss of mountain ecosystems we also lose biodiversity, food security, strong genetic resources, etc.
Desertification can happen due to climate change, drought, loss of vegetation and the overuse of agricultural practices that are not sustainable. A quarter of the total land area of the world and a sixth of the population is affected by desertification. It threatens biodiversity, the people that reside on the land, as well as those that rely on it for their livelihood. Each year 12 million hectares of land are lost due to desertification and drought, with over 70% of poor populations directly affected.
Sustainable Development Goal 15: Life on Land
In order to address these issues and promote the sustainability of our land’s ecosystems, the United Nations General Assembly established the Sustainable Development Goal 15 (SDG15): Life on Land, which is intended to be achieved in 2030. The aim of SDG 15 is to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. The Goal consists of several targets which provide a framework for the necessary actions to enhance the sustainable utilization of land resources. The SDG 15 targets include:
15.1 – Conserve and restore terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems
15.2 – End deforestation and restore degraded forests
15.3 – End desertification and restore degraded land
15.4 – Ensure conservation of mountain ecosystems
15.5 – Protect biodiversity and natural habitats
15.6 – Promote access to genetic resources and fair sharing of the benefits
15.7 – Eliminate poaching and trafficking of protected species
15.8 – Prevent invasive alien species on land and in water ecosystems
15.9 – Integrate ecosystem and biodiversity in governmental planning
15.A – Increase financial resources to conserve and sustainably use ecosystem and biodiversity
15.B – Finance and incentivize sustainable forest management
15.C – Combat global poaching and trafficking
What is being done?
Governments and several organizations and individuals have taken on initiatives and created plans to conserve, preserve and restore ecosystems and biodiversity. Some examples include:
Sustainable forestry is a technique used to harvest logs in a sustainable manner, in which it can replenish itself on a long term basis. Instead of ‘clear cutting’ a large amount of trees, sustainable forestry cuts down selected trees. By doing it this way we are also maintaining biodiversity, and allowing a variation of trees to survive. Canada is an example of a country that has implemented sustainable forestry management, the government manages about 90% of forest land, using these sustainable practices.
EcoMatcher created an app called TreeCorder, which can be used by companies to track the growth of planted trees. Each tree has a tracking code and GPS coordinates for easy pinpointing and tracking.
UBEES is an app focused on monitoring the health of a bee hive and ensuring the survival of these essential pollinators.
EnvironFocus is hosting a webinar event on SDG 15, on Thursday, September 15th, 2022 from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM EDT, titled “Sustainable Utilization of Land Resources”. We will be joined by guest panelists Hiba Mohammad, and Abhijeet More . Panel presentations will be followed by a live Q&A session. The event is FREE! If you are interested in learning more about SDG 15, you can register here.
ClientEarth Communications. (2020, December 22). What is a carbon sink?. ClientEarth. https://www.clientearth.org/latest/latest-updates/stories/what-is-a-carbon-sink/.
EcoTree. (2021, November 08). What’s sustainable forestry and why’s it important for the forest?. https://ecotree.green/en/blog/what-s-sustainable-forestry-and-why-s-it-important-for-the-forest.
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Mastrojeni, G. (2022, January 21). Why mountains matter. OneEarth. https://www.oneearth.org/why-mountains-matter/.
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[PDF] United Nations. (2019). Canada’s Forest-related Contributions to Sustainable Development. https://www.un.org/esa/forests/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Canada-good-practices.pdf.
United Nations. (2021, March 03). SDG 15: Life on land – facts and figures, targets, why it matters. United Nations Knowledge Hub. https://knowledge.unccd.int/publications/sdg-15-life-land-facts-and-figures-targets-why-it-matters.
United Nations. (2022). Desertification, land degradation and drought. https://sdgs.un.org/topics/desertification-land-degradation-and-drought.
United Nations. (2022). Forests. https://sdgs.un.org/topics/forests.
Wangchuk, K. (2020, December 19). Halting the loss of mountain biodiversity. The Kathmundu Post. https://kathmandupost.com/columns/2020/12/10/halting-the-loss-of-mountain-biodiversity.