Sustainably managing forests, combating desertification, reversing land degradation, and halting biodiversity loss
The sustenance and livelihood of human life depends on land as much as it does on oceans. Land is the primary habitat of humans and land-based plant life accounts for 80 percent of our diet. Around the world, agriculture remains one of the most important economic resources for development, while forests, which cover around 30 percent of the Earth’s surface, form habitats for millions of species and remain a vital source of clean air and water. In addition, forests also are critical in combatting global climate change.
However, deforestation and desertification, caused mainly by human activities and climate change, have posed a major challenge to sustainable development and affected the lives and livelihood of millions of people around the world. The loss of arable land is at 30 to 35 times the historical rate; approximately 13 million hectares of forests are being lost each year, while droughts and persistent degradation of dry-lands have led to the desertification of 3.6 billion hectares.
With such significance for human sustenance, it is no surprise that the unprecedented land degradation we are witnessing today is cause for serious concern. Acknowledging the importance of protecting land for survival of all life forms on Earth, the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Sustainably managing forests, combating desertification, halting and reversing land degradation, and halting biodiversity loss was made Goal-15 of the SDG.
Among the targets set for achieving Goal-15 is promoting the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halting deforestation, restoring degraded forests and substantially increasing afforestation and reforestation by 2020. The goal also aims, within the same time span, to the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, especially forests, wetlands, mountains and dry-lands under international agreements.
The goal also calls for combatting desertification, restoring degraded land and soil, and striving to achieve a land degradation-neutral world by 2030. It urges taking urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halting the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protecting and preventing the extinction of threatened species. The goal also seeks to end poaching and trafficking of protected species of flora and fauna, and addressing both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products.
In particular the goal sets the target of conserving mountain ecosystems and enhancing their capacity to provide benefits essential for sustainable development of indigenous population. Mountain zones cover 22 percent of the earth’s land surface and are home to 13 percent of the human population. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), while global hunger figures are declining, the number of food insecure people in mountain areas rose 30 percent over 12 years to nearly 330 million. “That means that one in three mountain people, both urban and rural, in developing countries faced hunger and malnutrition, compared to one out of nine people globally,” said the FAO in its latest report on the subject.
Goal-15 also notes that promoting sustainable management of forests and halting deforestations is also vital to mitigating impacts of climate change and reducing the loss of natural habitats and biodiversity on the planet. Acknowledging the link between deforestation and climate change, the heads of Governments from major forest countries, meeting on the sidelines of the recent
At their meeting, sixteen countries recommitted to providing strong, collective and urgent action to promote equitable rural economic development while slowing, halting and reversing deforestation and massively increasing forest restoration. For their part, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom, announced their commitment to collectively provide $5 billion from 2015 to 2020, if forest countries demonstrate measured, reported and verified emission reductions. Meanwhile, African and Latin American countries announced progress on land restoration through their 20 x 20 initiative which aims to restore 20 million hectares by 2020.
It is noteworthy that the private sector has also joined hands in promoting the initiative to sustainably manage land by setting ambitious goals. Over 40 major companies have committed to the ‘We mean Business Coalition’, which aims to remove commodity driven deforestation from all supply chains by 2020. The targets include achieving zero net deforestation on supply chains of agricultural commodities, such as palm oil, soy, paper and beef products, and ending all natural forest loss by 2030.
Also, members of Consumer Goods Forum that represents 400 companies and commodity traders have expressed their commitment to preferentially sourcing commodities from sustainably managed forests through quantity or pricing guarantees. Commercial banks and private investors have for their part committed to mobilizing a specific amount of financing for land sector development in these areas.
Calling for reversing the trend of soil degradation, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Sustainable soil management is fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, many of which reflect the centrality of soils to sustain life, food and water on Earth.”
Love the land
Forests: Around 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihood. This includes some 70 million indigenous people.
Forests are also home to more than 80 percent of all terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects
Desertification: Some 2.6 billion people depend directly on agriculture, but 52 percent of the land used for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation, affecting 1.5 billion people globally.
Arable land loss is estimated at 30 to 35 times the historical rate.
Due to drought and desertification each year 12 million hectares are lost (23 hectares per minute), where 20 million tons of grain could have been grown. Nearly 74 percent of the poor are directly affected by land degradation globally
Biodiversity: Of the 8,300 animal breeds known, 8 percent are extinct and 22 percent are at risk of extinction.
Of the over 80,000 tree species, less than 1 percent have been studied for potential use
Fish provide 20 percent of animal protein to about 3 billion people. Only ten species provide about 30 percent of marine capture fisheries and ten species provide about 50 percent of aquaculture production
Over 80 percent of the human diet is provided by plants. Only three cereal crops – rice, maize and wheat – provide 60 percent of energy intake
As many as 80 percent of people living in rural areas in developing countries rely on traditional plant-based medicines for basic healthcare
Micro-organisms and invertebrates are key to ecosystem services, but their contributions are still poorly known and rarely acknowledged