Our Fraying Ecosystems
When the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were launched 15 years ago, the environment was largely an afterthought. The MDG goal that addressed environmental concerns was awkwardly designed and lacked ambition.
The forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a profound departure from this approach by placing sustainability at the core. The SDGs reflect the growing recognition that environmental, economic and social issues are inextricably linked and development strategies must take a more holistic approach if they are to succeed.
This shift is clearly illustrated by SDG 15, which aims to improve the management of forests, combat desertification, reverse land degradation, and preserve biodiversity. Importantly, it recognizes that poverty reduction, healthy land and vibrant ecosystems all go together.
Over the past 15 years, we have witnessed an alarming increase in the fraying of ecosystems. Between 2001 and 2014, the world lost on average 18 million hectares of tree cover per year (an area twice the size of Portugal), and many other ecosystems have been badly damaged. One-third of all land is moderately or severely degraded, and yet more than one billion people still rely on agriculture as their principal source of income.
If we don’t radically change how we interact with the natural world now, how will we do so in 20 years when global GDP doubles and the middle class expands from two to five billion, with a corresponding rise in consumption patterns? Avoiding rapid degradation of ecosystems requires a decoupling of growth and consumption.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the agriculture sector. The irony is that agriculture expansion is one of the leading causes of land degradation, but productive agriculture depends on fertile land. In order to address extreme poverty among rural populations, we need to ensure the vitality and resilience of lands and forests.
What’s the solution?