Among all of the Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 15 is probably the most pro-ecological one. It calls on the Member States to “sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss”. Like all the assumptions of 2030 Agenda, it is focused mainly on the management and use of resources by people in a more balanced way, rarely granting nature a value in itself. However, this is a non-drastic, pragmatic step towards a better future. Do we have time for environmental pragmatism – it remains a contentious issue. However, let’s look at what the problem is and what guidelines for development in a less invasive way, with respect to the Earth, we must stick to as the Agenda’s signatories.
What is happening to the terrestrial ecosystems?
Forests, which currently occupy about 30% of the land area, are key to maintaining biodiversity and combating climate disaster. They provide shelter for both wild animals and some human populations. Over 80% of all terrestrial species live there.
Of this already small percentage of land area, which forests occupy (optimistically looking at it), we lose an additional 13 million hectares every year. About 3.6 billion hectares of land, devastated by felling and violation of water management, have already changed into desert areas. Deforestation and desertification – caused by our irresponsible activities – threaten both people and diversity among animals and plants. It’s increasingly difficult for people to have fertile, nutrient-rich soil for growing food, and more and more difficult for animals to have a forest roof over their heads. For animals, which abundance is drastically decreasing – scientists are alarming that we are just witnesses of the 6th mass extinction of species. Huge contributor to such state of affairs is also loss of habitats, poaching and illegal trade of endangered species.
What does Sustainable Development Goal 15 tell us to do?
It is no wonder that the United Nations placed such a goal in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The countries that signed it explicitly committed themselves to:
- ensure protection, restoration and sustainable use of freshwater terrestrial and inland ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and arid areas;
- promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, prevent deforestation, restore degraded forests and significantly increase reforestation all over the world;
- ensure the protection of mountain ecosystems, including their biodiversity, in order to enhance their ability to deliver the benefits necessary for sustainable development;
- take urgent and significant measures to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, stop the loss of biodiversity and prevent the extinction of endangered species;
- promote the fair sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources and promote adequate access to such resources;
- take urgent action to put an end to poaching and trade in protected species of flora and fauna and address both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products;
- introducing measures to prevent the introduction and significantly reduce the impact of invasive species on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and to control or eliminate priority species;
- integrate the values of ecosystems and biodiversity with national and local planning, development processes and strategies to reduce poverty;
- increase financial resources from all sources to protect and sustainably use biodiversity and ecosystems;
- increase global support for efforts to combat poaching and trade in protected species.
Economy instead of ecology?
Some of the above assumptions do not sound pro-ecologically at all, but, unfortunately, pro-economically. There seems to be a lot to do, especially in the case of environmental awareness of governments and decision-making bodies, but such guidelines are a step forward. Perhaps too slow, perhaps not very effective – our potential efforts will be summarized in 11 years. We will see then the real strength (or weakness) of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.