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SDG #15

Protecting Life on Land for a Sustainable Future

Imagine a world where the air we breathe is polluted, the water we drink is contaminated, and the delicate balance of nature is on the verge of collapse. Our planet's ecosystems, with their remarkable biodiversity, provide essential services that sustain life and bolster our resilience against mounting challenges. Yet, the actions of humankind have drastically altered the face of these terrestrial ecosystems, leading us down a perilous path with alarming consequences.

The evidence of our impact on ecosystems is undeniable. Shockingly, approximately 40,000 species teeter on the brink of extinction within the coming decades[1]. This staggering number vividly illustrates the magnitude of the threat posed to the intricate web of life surrounding us. The destruction of our forests is a prime example of this crisis, as an area equivalent to the size of Iceland—10 million hectares—is lost each year. The consequences of rampant deforestation reverberate throughout the natural world, resulting in the loss of critical habitats for countless species and the disruption of vital ecosystem functions.

In 2015, the international community acknowledged the urgent need to address the global triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. As part of the United Nations Global Goals, Sustainable Development Goal 15 was established with a specific focus on protecting, restoring, and promoting the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems. This goal acknowledges the crucial importance of preserving biodiversity, combating land degradation, and ensuring the sustainable management of forests.

We need to understand the implications of biodiversity loss. Preserving biodiversity and maintaining healthy ecosystems not only support the survival of countless plant and animal species but also directly benefit human well-being. Achieving SDG 15 has the potential to enhance food security, promote sustainable livelihoods, and increase resilience to climate change. Furthermore, it offers opportunities for eco-tourism, nature-based solutions, and the sustainable use of natural resources. In summary, SDG 15 plays a vital role in achieving sustainable development by safeguarding life on land and fostering harmony between human activities and the environment.

Key Targets and Indicators:

SDG 15 encompasses a set of specific targets and indicators that help measure progress and guide efforts toward its achievement. These targets include halting deforestation, restoring degraded land, conserving biodiversity, and combating desertification. Indicators such as forest cover, protected areas, species extinction rates, and land degradation provide a roadmap for tracking progress and identifying areas that require intervention.

Why it Matters

The degradation of land is posing a significant threat to the quality of life for approximately 3.2 billion individuals, exacerbating climate change, and pushing numerous species towards extinction[2]. Our planet's land area is comprised of forests, which encompass nearly 31 percent of its total expanse[2]. These forests play a crucial role in sustaining our existence, providing us with clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, and nourishing food to eat. They serve as habitats for over 80 percent of terrestrial species, encompassing a diverse array of animals, plants, and insects[2]. Unfortunately, the current era is witnessing an unprecedented acceleration in the decline of biodiversity, presenting potential consequences that are cause for concern.

Environmental Impacts

  1. Biodiversity Loss: Forests are home to a diverse range of plant and animal species. When forests are lost, numerous species lose their habitats, leading to a decline in biodiversity and the potential extinction of certain species.

  2. Carbon Emissions: Forests store vast amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. When forests are cleared or burned, the stored carbon is released into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming.

  3. Climate Regulation: Forests play a crucial role in regulating local and global climates. They influence rainfall patterns, maintain moisture levels, and help stabilize temperatures. Forest loss can disrupt these climate-regulating functions.

Social and Economic Impacts

  1. Displacement of Indigenous Communities: Many indigenous communities rely on forests for their livelihoods, cultural practices, and identity. Forest loss can lead to the displacement and marginalization of these communities.

  2. Loss of Ecosystem Services: Forests provide a wide range of ecosystem services, including water purification, soil conservation, and flood control. When forests are lost, these services are compromised, affecting communities that depend on them.

  3. Economic Consequences: Forests contribute to the economy through timber production, non-timber forest products, ecotourism, and other forest-related industries. Forest loss can result in economic losses and reduced opportunities for sustainable economic development.

To develop effective strategies and policies for safeguarding, restoring, and promoting the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, managing forests sustainably, combating desertification, halting and reversing land degradation, and addressing biodiversity loss, it is crucial to have a comprehensive understanding of the significant developments and challenges in this area. A recent report by the United Nations on Sustainable Development Goal 15 provides a snapshot of the goal, shedding light on the current state of affairs. By examining the following fact, we can gain insights into the progress made and the setbacks encountered about SDG 15.

SDG 15 Factsheet

  • Forest Cover Loss: The global forest cover decreased from 31.9% of the total land area in 2000 to 31.2% in 2020, resulting in a net loss of approximately 100 million hectares.

  • Deforestation Drivers: Agricultural expansion is the leading cause of deforestation, accounting for nearly 90% of global deforestation. This includes 49.6% for cropland expansion and 38.5% for livestock grazing.

  • Forest Certification: Between 2010 and 2021, the area of forest land under certification schemes witnessed a 35% increase. The proportion of forests under long-term management plans also rose from 54% in 2010 to 58% in 2020.

  • Protected Areas: In 2020, more than 700 million hectares of forest (18% of global forest cover) were legally designated as protected areas, offering crucial conservation measures.

  • Habitat Encroachment: Human activities such as logging and farming are encroaching upon habitats, endangering approximately 20% of reptile species.

  • Biodiversity Coverage: The mean percentage coverage of key biodiversity areas globally increased from over one quarter in 2000 to nearly one-half in 2021, highlighting efforts to protect critical habitats.

  • National Targets: An increasing number of countries are setting national targets to incorporate ecosystem and biodiversity values into their accounting and reporting systems. As of January 2022, 37% of assessed countries are on track to achieve or surpass their national targets.

A Look at Challenges and Way Forward.

The importance of healthy natural ecosystems cannot be overstated, as they form the foundation for many business activities and the well-being of communities[3]. Taking care of these ecosystems can yield immense benefits. However, achieving the objectives of SDG 15, which focuses on life on land, is confronted by significant challenges. Deforestation, habitat loss, and land degradation pose major threats to biodiversity and ecosystems. Unsustainable agricultural practices, urbanization, and infrastructure development further contribute to these challenges. Additionally, illegal wildlife trade and invasive species disrupt delicate ecological balances. It is crucial to recognize that practices leading to biodiversity loss not only hinder the attainment of SDG 15 but also impede the achievement of other SDGs such as SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) due to the risk of deforestation and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) due to potential resource losses for communities engaged in economic activities, such as rivers and minerals[3].

Addressing these societal, environmental, and economic challenges is essential for successfully implementing SDG 15. Many innovative solutions and best practices contribute to its achievement. Numerous countries are adopting sustainable forest management practices, protecting biodiversity-rich sites, and implementing national conservation legislation and policies. Examples of effective measures include reforestation and afforestation programs, sustainable land management practices, community-led conservation initiatives, and the promotion of sustainable agriculture. Projects focused on ecosystem restoration, wildlife conservation, and sustainable forestry showcase the positive impact that individuals, organizations, and governments can have in preserving life on land.

The role of stakeholders is crucial in advancing SDG 15. Governments play a vital role in enacting and enforcing policies that protect ecosystems, promote sustainable land use, and support conservation efforts. Businesses can adopt sustainable practices and engage in corporate social responsibility initiatives to minimize their ecological footprint. Civil society organizations and individuals can raise awareness, advocate for policy changes, and actively participate in local conservation efforts. Collaboration and collective action are essential in achieving the goals of SDG 15.

Global partnerships are also integral to the achievement of sustainable development goals. In the context of SDG 15, initiatives like the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) facilitate collaboration among countries, provide financial support, and promote knowledge exchange. Public-private partnerships and collaborations between governments, NGOs, and local communities are crucial for sharing expertise, resources, and best practices in the pursuit of SDG 15.

Call to Action

We find ourselves at a critical juncture where the need to address the challenges facing our ecosystems is more pressing than ever. Time is of the essence, and we must fully grasp the significant impact we wield over the health of our planet's delicate balance. Every one of us has a vital role to play in supporting the objectives of SDG 15.

On an individual level, there are concrete steps we can take to contribute to the cause. Engaging in local conservation projects, actively participating in tree-planting initiatives, and raising awareness about the importance of biodiversity and sustainable land use are meaningful actions. Supporting organizations dedicated to preserving ecosystems and protecting endangered species is another way to make a difference. We can also make sustainable choices in our daily lives, such as adopting locally-based diets that are sustainably sourced, reducing waste, and supporting sustainable agricultural practices.

The power to effect change lies within our hands. It is within our collective ability to protect and restore nature's delicate equilibrium before it reaches a tipping point. By working together, we can pave the way towards a more sustainable future where the marvels of biodiversity flourish, the purity of our air and water are preserved, and our planet's resilience is safeguarded for the well-being of future generations. The time to act is now, and together we can forge a path toward a brighter and more sustainable tomorrow.


[1]United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Report for 2022

[2]United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15 - Why It Matters

[3]SDG Blueprint | SDG 15

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