• Editorial

Life on Land

Promote Sustainable Use of Terrestrial Ecosystems, Sustainably Manage Forests, Combat Desertification, Land Degradation and Biodiversity Loss


SDG 15 aims to protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, halt and reverse land degradation, combat desertification and halt biodiversity loss.


Almost 31% of the world's land area is covered by forests[1]. Forests provide us humans with the essentials for our survival: the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. They are home to more than 80% of all terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects, and more than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods. Yet man removes 13 million hectares of forest each year.

Despite efforts to meet the targets of this goal, the UN's 2021 SDG Progress Report does not offer good prospects, noting that terrestrial ecosystem conservation is not trending towards sustainability, terrestrial ecosystems continue to disappear at an alarming rate and protected species are heading towards extinction.

Deforestation and habitat encroachment not only deprive us of essential nutrients but are the main pathways for the transmission of emerging infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Seventy-five per cent of emerging diseases (including avian influenza and Ebola) are transmitted from wildlife to humans. This occurs when humans invade natural habitats and alter ecosystems. Wildlife crime, poaching and illegal trafficking of animals - such as the pangolin, which is a prime suspect in the transmission of the bat coronavirus to people - not only threaten ecosystem health and biodiversity, but can also disrupt human health, economic development and global security, as is happening with the current pandemic.

It is estimated that more than 2 billion hectares of the earth's land surface are degraded, directly affecting the well-being of an estimated 3.2 billion people, driving species to extinction and intensifying climate change[2].

The global forest area, as we can see, continues to shrink, albeit at a slightly slower rate than in previous decades: from 2015 to 2020, the annual rate of deforestation was 10 million hectares, compared to 12 million hectares in the 2010-2015 period. Globally, forests shifted from 31.9% (2000) to 31.2% (2020). However, while forest loss remains high, data for 2020 - the latest available to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) - show that those in protected areas have increased or remained stable. More than half of the world's 4.06 billion hectares of forest are now under protection plans[3].

But biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate and human activity is making ecosystems more fragile and less resilient. The risk of species extinction has worsened by 10% over the last three decades globally. More than 142.500 species are now on the red list and threatened with extinction[4].

By trying to reverse the situation, countries are intenting to implement programmatic principles to protect biodiversity and ecosystems, including raising public awareness. In early 2020, 123 countries committed to setting voluntary targets to achieve land degradation neutrality. This would not only improve the diversity and well-being of millions of people but would also help in the fight against climate change.

Reversing this reality has become an overriding goal at the international level. For this reason, protecting, restoring and promoting the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably managing forests, combating desertification and halting and reversing land degradation and biodiversity loss is SDG 15 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in September 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda.

Land degradation, biodiversity loss, and species extinction, forest destruction, terrestrial ecosystem issue and increased zoonotic disease spread are alarming. Forests are sources of food and energy also regulate biodiversity, the water cycle, and climate change. Sustainable management of the forests are a priority for countries. The process of safeguarding key biodiversity areas have already progressed but still needs to be improved. invasive alien species are developing native biodiversity extinction and disrupt local ecosystems and need to be controlled.

[1] Food and Agriculture Organization oft he United Nations. The State of the World´s Forests 2020. https://www.fao.org/state-of-forests/en/

[2] United Nations Development Report 2021

[3] FAO Report 2021

[4] IUCN Red List 2021: https://www.iucnredlist.org/about/background-history