Our fate as a species depends on the state of our most important habitat – land. Our future is linked to the survival of land ecosystems. Through photosynthesis, plants provide the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat and are thus the foundation of most life on Earth. They’re also the source of a majority of medicines in use today. Of the more than 300,000 known species of plants, the IUCN has evaluated only 12914 species, finding that about 68% of evaluated plant species are threatened with extinction. A third or more of all the roughly 6300 known species of amphibians are at risk of extinction. Globally, an estimated 12% of known 9865 bird species are now considered threatened, with 192 species, or 2%, facing an “extremely high risk” of extinction in the wild. Of the 1.3 million known invertebrate species, the IUCN has evaluated about 9,526 species, with about 30 percent of the species evaluated at risk of extinction. About 90% of primates live in tropical forests, which are fast disappearing. The IUCN estimates that almost 50% of the world’s primate species are at risk of extinction. Overall, the IUCN estimates that half the globe’s 5491 known mammals are declining in population and a fifth are clearly at risk of disappearing forever with no less than 1131 mammals across the globe classified as endangered, threatened, or vulnerable. In addition to primates, marine mammals — including several species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises — are among those mammals slipping most quickly toward extinction. Globally, 21 percent of the total evaluated reptiles in the world are deemed endangered or vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN — 594 species.
An estimated 18 million acres (7.3 million hectares) of forest, which is roughly the size of the country of Panama, are lost each year, according to FAO. It is estimated that 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation, according to the WWF.
The persistent degradation of drylands has led to the desertification of 3.6 billion hectares. Currently, 2.6 billion people depend directly on agriculture, however 52% of the land used for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation. Deforestation and desertification – caused by human activities and climate change – pose major challenges to sustainable development and have affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in the fight against poverty.
Why is this important?
Land and forests are the foundation of sustainable development. Forests cover 30% of the Earth’s surface and, in addition to providing food security and shelter, are key to combating climate change, protecting biodiversity and are home to the indigenous population. Forests are home to more than 80% of all terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. At the same time, around 1.6 billion people also depend on forests for their livelihood, including some 70 million indigenous people. Over 80% of the human diet is provided by plants, with rice, maize and wheat providing 60% of energy intake. In addition, 80% of people living in rural areas in developing countries rely on traditional plant-based medicines to provide their basic healthcare.
How can we address this?
Preserving life on land requires concerted action not only to protect terrestrial ecosystems, but to restore them, and promote their sustainable use for the future. Goal 15 calls for urgent action to halt the degradation of natural habitats, to end the poaching and trafficking of animals, and to integrate ecosystem and biodiversity values into local planning and development processes. Safegaurding places which are important from the point of view of biodiversity is another effective tool, and as of 2014, 15.2% of the earth’s terrestrial and freshwater environments had been protected.
India and Goal 15
In India, 176.4 million people were living on degrading agricultural land in 2010 – an increase of 10% in a decade, bringing the share of rural residents who inhabit degraded agricultural land up to 21% of the total rural population. During the same time-period (2000-10), the amount of people living in remote and degrading agricultural areas with limited market access increased by 11%, reaching 16.7 million people which is 2% of India’s rural population. The intensification and expansion of land degradation will harshly affect agricultural productivity, which will jeopardise agricultural livelihoods in the country. The annual cost of land degradation in India is estimated at US$ 15.9 billion which is around 1.3% of the country’s GDP. India became a signatory to the United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in 1994 and ratified it in 1996.
In India, forest cover is now 21% and protected areas cover around 5% of the country’s total land area. India is one of 17 mega-biodiverse countries in the world. With only 2.4% of the earth’s land area, it accounts for 7-8% of the world’s recorded species. As India is home to around 8% of the world’s biodiversity, which includes many species found nowhere else in the world, the country is committed to achieving the Aichi targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity and is also an active participant in the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol. India’s National Afforestation Programme and a national programme on the Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats are core projects aimed at the conservation of land ecosystems. Two specific schemes – Project Tiger and Project Elephant – are being undertaken to conserve two of the country’s most majestic species of animals.
Targets for Goal 15
- By 2020, ensure the 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.
- By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally.
- By 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world.
- By 2030, ensure the conservation of mountain ecosystems, including their biodiversity, in order to enhance their capacity to provide benefits that are essential for sustainable development.
- Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.
- Promote fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources and promote appropriate access to such resources, as internationally agreed.
- Take urgent action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species of flora and fauna and address both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products.
- By 2020, introduce measures to prevent the introduction and significantly reduce the impact of invasive alien species on land and water ecosystems and control or eradicate the priority species.
- By 2020, integrate ecosystem and biodiversity values into national and local planning, development processes, poverty reduction strategies and accounts.
- Mobilise and significantly increase financial resources from all sources to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity and ecosystems.
- Mobilise significant resources from all sources and at all levels to finance sustainable forest management and provide adequate. incentives to developing countries to advance such management, including for conservation and reforestation.
- Enhance global support for efforts to combat poaching and trafficking of protected species, including by increasing the capacity of local communities to pursue sustainable livelihood opportunities.