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SDG 15: Life on Land

This article looks at SDG 15, and how we can make small changes to our behaviour to reduce biodiversity loss. Written by Dr Eleanor Jew
The icon for SDG 15
© University of York

Earlier we looked at SDG 14: Life Below Water which aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Now we are going to look at SDG 15: Life on Land, which aims 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.

In the past, many of the strategies to conserve nature have been about protecting it, rather than conserving it. This meant that local communities were often excluded from the natural resources that they needed. We now recognise that it is the people who use and need these natural resources who are the best custodians, and today conservation strategies enable sustainably managed natural resource use and crucially involve local communities.

This includes us, wherever we may be. We can help protect our local biodiversity by picking up any litter we see, sticking to designated footpaths and supporting our local grassroots conservation organisations.

What is ‘sustainable use?’

Sustainable use means that the resource can be utilised, but that this should be done in a way that doesn’t deplete the resource for future generations.

We could use an example from the miombo woodlands in Tanzania for this.

Farmers need to access the forest for timber to dry tobacco and construct buildings. They also harvest fruits, mushrooms and roots for ropes. As we saw earlier, clear felling for timber causes deforestation, and other harvesting can lead to degradation. However, access to the woodland could be monitored and regulated. Areas can be set aside to allow harvesting, and logging can be selective, not taking every tree but allowing some to reach maturity. Other areas can be set aside as ‘no-take’ zones, where no activity is permitted.

This would enable sustainable use, and let people and the environment co-exist. This would take considerable effort, resources and co-operation to set up and regulate access. But the local community is aware that the landscape is being degraded, and are likely to support any action to increase sustainability, as long as they are involved in its development and implementation. Addressing tobacco cultivation would also be required, as the current demand for wood and land cannot be managed sustainably.

A conservation method. Credit: Unsplash

Ethical consumerism and lobbying governments

However, not all biodiversity can be protected by local communities. A lot of biodiversity loss and land use change is to supply global demands for goods. Examples of this include rainforest loss in Indonesia that has led to the orangutan being listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered.

Deforestation here is largely due to palm oil plantations. Palm oil is found in about 50% of supermarket products, from cleaning products to food to make-up. Other products that we consume that cause biodiversity loss elsewhere include toilet paper, chocolate, clothes, cosmetics….. The list is long, and can be daunting! But we can do our bit here too, making sure that we buy products with palm oil from sustainable sources, toilet paper that is FSC approved, and chocolate and tea that is Rainforest Alliance certified. A good place to start is at a website called the Ethical Consumer.

But perhaps the most important thing we can do is keep up the pressure on our governments to facilitate real change in the way the global economy and trade works. We need meaningful, financially viable and government backed global action to make the enormous effort needed to halt global diversity loss.

© University of York
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Tackling Environmental Challenges for a Sustainable Future

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