SDG #15: Life on Land

There's a sparkle in children's eyes when they see an animal; big or small, weak or strong.

Somewhere along the way, many humans lost that wonder and unconditional love for animals.
We need to bring that wonder and love back to save species. Do you want to lend a helping hand?

You better believe it, show me the way!
Written by Jess Lohmann and Harkiran Bharij

Sustainable Development Goal #15: Life on Land

The forest heals. Not only our wounds of grief and sorrow or sometimes, our illnesses, they heal our soul. Studies show that when you enter a forest, your heartbeat automatically slows down, your breathing becomes more mindful and you can feel and experience things not possible while laying on the couch. That’s why the Japanese created the term ‘forest bathing’ to keep your mind, body and soul in balance and healthy.

This is why I chose Rheinhardswald to be the home of Lily Bowers. It’s a beautiful German forest where the Brothers Grimm once traveled. Germany is known for its deep and rich forests and there’s no other place on this planet I’d rather live myself than near a forest. I don’t live smack dab in the middle of a forest, but I visit one every day to get grounded and in tune with nature.

Forests are more than just a collection of trees and a few handmade tipis near residential areas. They are their own world, providing clean air, shelter and a home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial species on Earth. Plants, animals, fungi and bacteria live in the forest.

They cover ⅓ of the earth’s surface and are vital for economic development, a healthy and balanced biodiversity, our own livelihood and environmental changes that require adaptation. Three hundred million people worldwide live in forests. Power to the trees!

Unfortunately, we’re depleting forests faster than we can regenerate them and if we continue at this rate, we will have serious problems in a few decades.

Current efforts to protect the world’s forests, rainforests included, are being made, however, as with our world’s oceans, they are not yet meeting the urgent need to safeguard these places. These efforts need to be accompanied with action from individuals and businesses. From you and me. We can no longer rely on the government to fix all of our problems. We all have the opportunity and responsibility to take action on Sustainable Development Goal #15: Life on Land.

That may sound overwhelming and scary, but it isn’t. We, the people, have the power, resources, knowledge to heal and protect life on land. It’s all about passion and fun learning. For you and your family.

Protect life on Earth as if your life depended on it! psst. because it does!

UN Sustainable Development Goal #15: Life on land

SDG #15: Life on Land

“Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”

Source: United Nations

 The Challenges

You may have thought our deep blue oceans remain a mystery. Well, just wait until you learn about our forests! So much we don’t know, even though we can see more of who and what’s on land than below water.

With our curiosity, we constantly discover new species. With our harmful lifestyle, we can also see the monster we created.

What’s at stake for life on land:

  • Land Degradation
  • Wildlife Crimes
  • Loss of Biodiversity

Land Degradation

Land degradation is any negative change that happens to land because of human intervention or natural causes. It’s a global problem with more than 36 types and is mainly caused by agricultural use, deforestation and climate change.

One major kind of degradation is deforestation, the removal of a forest or part of a forest to be turned into something else.

Forests are disappearing quickly at the rate of 10 million hectares per year between 2015 to 2020, primarily because of agricultural expansion to feed livestock. 77% of soy is fed to farm animals globally. 7% is used to make tofu, soy milk, edamame beans, and tempeh for humans. Most of the 16% rest is used for biofuels, industry or vegetable oils. As you can see, it’s not the vegans who are mainly responsible for deforestation due to soy plantations. Source: Our World in Data

The Amazon — the world’s largest rainforest — lost at least 17% in the last 50 years because of our interference and misuse. On the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, 85% of its forests have been destroyed to produce palm plantations for oil and pulp. Borneo, home of the beautiful orange Orangutans, suffer the same demise.

Out of 4.06 billion hectares of forest, more than half are subject to management plans. Additionally, the share of forests designated primarily for soil and water protection is increasing, growing especially over the last decade.

Experts and scientists estimate that 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by deforestation. There is trouble in the forest!

A few things that happen when we degrade land:

  • Over 31,000 species are being driven into extinction.
  • It undermines the wellbeing of 3.2 billion people by increasing carbon emissions and, diminishing biodiversity and forcing migration for human and non-human species.
  • Landslides intensify due to vegetation clearance, road construction, etc.

Source: United Nations

Wildlife Crimes

A wildlife crime consists of illegal poaching, smuggling or transporting specific animal products or species. This is usually carried out by criminal groups or individuals for unbelievable amounts of money.

That’s the official definition anyway. I’d like to add canned and trophy hunting as well as taking an animal from its native home to entertain us or be someone’s pet (all fish, birds and reptiles in pet stores and breeders’ homes are descendants of those who were once wild and free). Animal testing is in my opinion a crime too!

Zoos, entertainment parks, circuses, tourist traps such as swimming with the dolphins, lion cub petting, walking with the lions, elephant/ostrich riding, and yes, even pony rides at the local carnival are examples of entertainment that are known to be harmful for the animals in some way, be it emotional or physical.

There has been a lot of improvements in many zoos over the past few decades and if they were to shut down, the caged animals still need a home because they wouldn’t survive in the wild, so there’s still a need for zoos in my opinion, but there are still many that don’t provide adequate care or a somewhat natural environment.

Stealing wildlife from their homes and exploiting them in any way, be it in a laboratory, turning them into food or a product or using them for entertainment, endangers both human and non-human animal species. One dangerous example is the coronavirus.

These horrific crimes help drive species into extinction which upsets the circle of life by causing an imbalance in an entire ecosystem. Not only that, it rips apart families, leaves babies orphaned and causes traumatic experiences in those animals who are affected.

What happens when we harm animals?

  • 75% of emerging infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and the bird flu are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted from wildlife to humans. Transmission happens through human contact and tends to occur when populations invade natural habitats.
  • Pangolins are the most heavily trafficked wild mammal on Earth. For their scales and meat. From 2014 – 2018, the number of pangolins trafficked globally has increased tenfold. 370,000 were seized globally despite the ban on their legal trade.
  • We will have to explain to our great-grandchildren why there are no more pangolins, elephants and rhinos on Earth and show them photos of how rich and wonderful life with them used to be.

Source: United Nations

Loss of Biodiversity

Simply defined, biodiversity is the variety of life forms on Earth. From bacteria to insects, plants, fungi and animals. There are 2 million known species with an estimated 13 more million to be discovered according to Science Daily. That’s a lot of mystery!

A healthy biodiversity provides us with clean air, water, quality soil and pollination. It helps us combat and adapt to climate change as well as reduce natural disasters.

A healthy biodiversity helps all life on Earth thrive and that’s what we want, right?

The United Nations reported in 2019 that nearly 1 million species face extinction. But the UN’s number of species living on Earth is 8 million, not 2 million. Who are we to believe? Both are highly credible sources.

Either way, numbers aren’t always important. Important is that we know species are dying, we know the reason why and we know the consequences.

When we threaten any species into extinction or decrease the numbers enough to create a broken link in the cycle of life, we don’t know everything that could happen. We only know what’s been researched and that’s often not good!

What happens when the cycle of life breaks or gets interrupted?

  • Without urgent and heavy conservation measures there will be an acceleration in the rate of species extinction on a global scale.
  • Scientists are saying that we’re in the middle of the 6th mass extinction in the history of Earth. Previous mass extinctions wiped out 60-95% of all species. It takes millions of years to recover, but we won’t be here anymore to witness it. Roaches will survive for sure! Sharks? Even though they’re 450 million years old, they may not make it this time if we continue with shark finning.
  • Globally, species extinction has worsened by about 10% over the last three decades.
  • The Red List Index (IUCN) declined from 0.82 in 1990 to 0.75 in 2015, and to 0.73 in 2020, meaning 31,000 species are threatened with extinction. The Red List Index value ranges from 1 (all species are categorized as ‘Least Concern’) to 0 (all species are categorized as ‘Extinct’), and so a low or decreasing number is bad news.
  • If current trends continue, the Red List Index will drop to or below 0.70 by 2030.

Sources: United Nations and European Parliament

Twelve Targets

The UN set twelve targets for the Sustainable Development Goal #15: Life on Land:

  1. Ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of land and inland freshwater ecosystems by 2020.
  2. Promote the implementation of sustainable forest management practices by 2020.
  3. Become a land degradation neutral world by combating desertification and restoring degraded land and soil.
  4. Ensure the conservation of mountain ecosystems by 2020.
  5. Take serious action to reduce degradation of natural habitats. Protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species by 2020.
  6. Support fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from using genetic resources as well as providing access to these resources.
  7. Act immediately to end poaching and trafficking of protected plant and animal species and address the demand and supply of illegal wildlife products.
  8. Introduce measures to halt the introduction of an invasive alien species and control or destroy the priority species by 2020.
  9. Increase funding to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity and ecosystems.
  10. Consider ecosystem and biodiversity needs during the planning and development phases on a national and local level as well as in poverty reduction strategies.
  11. Increase resources, finance sustainable forest management and provide incentives to developing countries to implement sustainable forest management practices.
  12. Enhance global support to combat poaching and trafficking of protected species and increase the capacity of local communities to seek sustainable livelihood opportunities instead. For instance, tourism, before COVID-19 anyway, provides more money for the local communities than poaching ever will.

Source: United Nations

The Progress

Not all targets have been met by the dates prognosed above, but still, some progress has been made:

  • The rate of deforestation in tropical regions has decreased over the last 10 years.
  • The number of areas marked as protected increased by around 13-14% from 2000 – 2020.
  • As of February 2021, 127 countries committed to setting targets to become land degradation neutral, 68 of those countries had officially endorsed those targets.
  • Green coverage on mountainous areas have remained stable at about 73% between 2000 – 2018.
  • The risk of driving species into extinction has risen by about 10% in the last 30 years, however, there was a decrease in the Red List Index going from .81 in 1993 to .73 in 2021.
  • 98% of all countries have adopted some kind of legislation to prevent or control invasive alien species. Those who align their legislation to that of the SDGs has risen from 74% in 2016 to 84% in 2020.
  • By March 2021, 89 countries and territories implemented the System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA), up 29% from 2017. 70% of those countries (62 to be exact) regularly compile and publish their SEEA statistics.

Source: United Nations


Fun and Easy Actionable Steps

Some good intentions and implementation processes have been set on a global level. However, much more support is needed to reach this goal.

Each one of us is capable of helping out in some way. Even small steps in the right direction can make a big difference.

The key here is to take one step at a time and always remember that you are not alone.

All of these steps below start with a positive mindset. Let your creative juices flow while asking yourself critical questions and have fun with it.

This is a communal effort. so please involve your family in the planning and decision making process. Especially your children no matter how old they are. These are activities the entire family can enjoy together.

Fun and easy things you can do:

  • Set a goal according to your passion and skills: If you want to save species, including our own, it’s important to first know why you want to do this. ‘Because it’s the right thing to do’ may not be enough to keep yourself motivated. ‘Because I can’t just sit here and watch big business and lobbies ruin the land for my grandchildren’, however, will. The next step would be to figure out how you can help in the most effective way. When you combine your knowledge with your passion, you will ensure that your heart and mind will stay inspired. How do you do this? To make it simple, choose a particular species or area of land you want to focus on. Do you love forests and can see yourself actively volunteering with your local forestry commission? Or are you more attached to pangolins who are the most trafficked animals on this planet? Maybe sloths are your favorite animal? Or you’re a hobby gardener with lots of knowledge and want to help your city build a community garden using regenerative farming techniques to feed yourselves and donate the rest to your local food bank.
  • Reduce consumption: Generally speaking, we consume way more than we need as a species and this was brought on by societal pressures. This has not only caused environmental damage, but also debt for thousands, if not millions of people. Ask yourself: ‘Do I really need this item or can I continue using it or repair/repurpose it so that I find enjoyment with it again?’ You may find you don’t need that new iGadget (I’m most certain you don’t) or that new pair of jeans. You can expand your creativity and knowledge and make your own products. There are hundreds of DIY recipes for hand cream, lip balm, deodorant, shampoo, etc. I haven’t bought several everyday items from stores since 2018 or so.
  • Support ethical brands and products: Know how your products were made. Read labels, look up definitions of materials and ingredients and ask the company directly. The more you know, the easier it will be to answer these questions: ‘Do I REALLY need this product?’ or ‘Which brand should I support?’ Brands are slowly being forced to look into more sustainable production methods because the demand is rising.
  • Eat consciously: Know how your food got on your plate. Factory farming is a horrendously cruel and unhealthy industry and yet, there is little support from the government to make the necessary changes. For the animals and everyone eating their bodies, you are what they eat. If you want to remain healthy and care about animal welfare, consider eating more vegan meals or turning vegan altogether. This will also help reach Sustainable Development Goal #13: Climate Action because you may have heard that cow burps and farts emit dangerous methane. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) claim that agriculture is responsible for 18% of the total release of greenhouse gases worldwide which is more than the transportation sector. That was in 2006 and unfortunately animal farming has increased since then! Every vegan meal will help. There are a gazillion quick, easy and creative recipes online too! And no, you will not be missing out on anything! It’s a false statement that a balanced meal includes meat because it’s been proven that humans do not need meat or dairy to remain healthy and a vegan diet, if done correctly, is healthy if not healthier.
  • Get involved with your local government: As mentioned in tips to help reach Sustainable Development Goal #13: Climate Action, you can join join a local group or start one on your own. Organize a vegan Sunday brunch get-together in your local neighborhood. Small farmers really do have it hard and it’d be a shame to put the blame on them or see them shut down their farm. If they want their farm to survive and thrive though, they will have to make some changes and implement more sustainable farming techniques because the demand is increasing. If you’re interested in farming practices, you could pitch in to help them make the transition from animal farming to regenerative farming.
  • Vote for politicians who care about life on Earth and our forests: We need people in power who understand how important healthy land ecosystems are for our survival, wellbeing and livelihoods. Vote and advocate for them.
  • Support an organization: Research forest conservation organizations to find the one that fits your values. If you can, volunteer your time. This will give you valuable experience for your resumé as well as increase your knowledge on this subject. If you prefer to financially support an organization, make sure you support one that is fully transparent about how your money will be spent. They should provide this information on their website. You can also check their credibility on sites such as Charity Navigator and Charity Watch. You can also become a member of an organization such as 1% for the Planet or B1G1 that performs this kind of vetting research. It cost a yearly fee but may be worth your time.
  • Start the conversation: Everyone has a network of business partners, friends and family. Learn and talk about ecocide, “mass damage and destruction of ecosystems – harm to nature which is widespread, severe or systematic” and become an Earth Protector. As soon as we all understand that protecting our home is as important as protecting each human being (think of genocide) and any individual or company who commits this horrific crime on our home will face consequences, is when we will be able to create change on a global level.
  • Use your creativity: Use your talent and passion to start a project or your own business. Look at how Allison Luci has raised $21k for animal sanctuaries with her beautiful paintings. Use your skills and head and become a social entrepreneur who helps save species while doing what you love.
  • Collaborate: Working with others toward a common goal will help reach it quicker. Join animal welfare networks such as Beyond Animal who provides investment opportunity for vegan brands.
  • Educate yourself: There are many online courses about conservation and animal rights. The Animal Justice Academy in Canada provides a free online advocacy course with knowledgeable experts who provide extensive knowledge and ways to help. EcoWatch, a leader in environmental news, provides this excellent resource about biodiversity.

Thank you for caring about wildlife!

Read about the other Sustainable Development Goals for Nature

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