Economic and Social Council: High-Level Forum on Sustainable Development

Note: A complete summary of today's meetings will be available after their conclusion.

Review of Sustainable Development Goal Implementation

In the morning, the Forum held a discussion on “Goal 15 — Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”, chaired by Jerry Matthews Matjila (South Africa), Vice‑President of the Economic and Social Council, and moderated by Rene Castro, Assistant Director General of Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Development of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), with a presentation by Heather Page, Sustainable Development Goal Monitoring Section of the Statistics Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and a keynote speech by Simon Levin, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Director of the Center for BioComplexity at Princeton University in the United States.  Panellists included Anne Larigauderie, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services; Cécile Bibiane Ndjebet, Director of the African Women's Network for Community Management of Forests, Cameroon; Roy Brouwer, Professor and Environmental Economist of the Department of Economics at the University of Waterloo, Canada; and Martha Rojas‑Urrego, Secretary‑General of the Ramsar Convention.  Lead discussants were Gertrude Kabusimbi Kenyangi, Executive Director of Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment, Uganda; Jill Blockhus, Director of International Partnerships of The Nature Conservancy; and Chiagozie Chima Udeh, Executive Board Member of the Plant‑for‑the‑Planet Foundation, Nigeria (Major Group of Children and Youth).

Mr. MATJILA said Goal 15 can be narrowly perceived as primarily environmental, but it is a critical measure of overall progress against the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as well as a key enabler for many other Goals and targets.  Examining progress towards Goal 15 targets requires taking into account obstacles, challenges, enablers and interlinkages through various cross‑cutting lenses deriving from social and economic dimensions.

Ms. PAGE, providing a statistical snapshot of Goal 15, said forest loss has slowed, but full implementation of sustainable forest management plans is needed to halt deforestation.  Land degradation threatens the security and development of all countries as well as the livelihoods of more than 1 billion people.  The proportion of key biodiversity areas covered by protected areas has continued to increase in freshwater, terrestrial and mountain ecosystems.  The Red List Index shows an alarming trend in biodiversity decline for mammals, birds, amphibians, corals and cycads, she said, with the primary drivers being habitat loss from unsustainable agriculture, deforestation, unsustainable harvest and trade, and invasive alien species.  Action to combat invasive species is intensifying, but they remain a major contributor to biodiversity loss, she said.

Mr. LEVIN, delivering the keynote address, said that without success with Goal 15, none of the other Goals will be achievable.  Goal 15 involves sustainable forest management, combating desertification and halting and reversing land degradation and biodiversity loss.  Biodiversity is being lost at an unprecedented rate, but there are insufficient incentives to do what is necessary.  While the trend for renewable water resources is downward, the overall story regarding forests is mixed, with substantial net forest loss occurring in the global South.  Land productivity is also declining, alongside loss of biodiversity due to poaching and wildlife trafficking.  Noting the outcome of a meeting of the Forum’s working group on biodiversity two months ago, and describing biodiversity as “one of the great challenges of our time”, he called for better metrics to understand what progress is being made, as well as intergovernmental cooperation, taking into account social values and preferences while finding equity for indigenous and other underrepresented groups.  He also appealed for more evidence‑based disaggregated knowledge, from which priorities could be set, with the engagement of stakeholders.  Concluding, he emphasized the need for holistic thinking and cross‑sectorial actions to achieve success in the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecological systems.

Mr. CASTRO, making a PowerPoint presentation, said climate change is exacerbating water scarcity.  At the same time, biodiversity is decreasing, with a reliance on only 10 species for 50 per cent of agriculture production.  Only nine plants account for 66 per cent of the world’s crop production, he added.  Moreover, it takes 15,000 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of meat, and some people eat 100 kilograms of meat a year.  Without change and action in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, “we know what is going to happen”, including human migration, notably from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific islands.

Ms. LARIGAUDERIE discussed some of the major findings from five reports approved earlier this year by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, established in 2012 with 130 member countries.  These reports indicate that biodiversity in Europe and Central Asia is in strong decline, with a high percentage of marine habitats and species under threat.  Land use is the major driver of change, but the impact of climate change is growing rapidly.  The erosion of indigenous and local knowledge has implications for biodiversity‑friendly land management practices, she said.  All five reports emphasized that action is still possible, she said, citing the expansion of protected areas.  However, protected areas alone will not permit the achievement of Goal 15, she said, warning also that climate change will prompt a migration of species.  Given current trends, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets will not be met by their 2020 deadline, threatening the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  “We know what needs to be done,” she said, including enabling values of environmental responsibility, changing the way national welfare is measured, and ensuring that new technologies do not harm the environment.

Ms. NDJEBET, describing forests as the foundation of Goal 15, called for broad public awareness for sustainable forest management, particularly among city dwellers whose support is essential for Goal l5.  Changing the biodiversity narrative also calls for promoting a bio‑based economy, accompanied by a halt to the use of fossil fuels.  Underscoring the link between Goal 15 and the rest of the Sustainable Development Goals, she said investment in forests contributed to most of the Goals.  Government action is crucial, not only through better forest laws but also through fiscal incentives and forest certification schemes.  Speaking on behalf of the women’s major group, she called for, among other things, identifying policy initiatives to strengthen women’s resilience to climate change and the voices of women land‑users, forest‑users and farmers.

Mr. BROUWER discussed his research into the use of payments for ecosystems services as a way to achieving Goal 15 and how such a policy instrument can change human behaviour and land use.  Such payments involve downstream water users compensating upstream landowners as a way to encourage better upstream land and forest use.  Creating such a system requires a willingness among downstream water users to pay, as well as a willingness of upstream landowners to accept payment, he said, adding that there is little data about the impact of current payment‑for‑ecosystem services schemes.  Watershed forests are a nature‑based solution to water security, he said, emphasizing the need to understand and steer land use changes for watershed biodiversity conservation.  While payment‑for‑ecosystem schemes are promising, they require better targeting and more enforcement, he said, adding that international monitoring guidelines are needed to measure their effectiveness.

Ms. ROJAS-URREGO said wetlands — including lakes, rivers, swamps, marshes, mangroves, tidal flats and coral reefs — are rich in biodiversity and important for achieving Goal 15.  She emphasized the need for integrated approaches that would underscore the connection between wetlands and water quality and availability, as well as the link with climate change, given that wetlands are an effective store of carbon.  She went on to call for scaling up mechanisms for the conservation and wise use of wetlands, alongside improved biodiversity monitoring and increased funding to support biodiversity goals.

Ms. KABUSIMBI KENYANGI called for more gender‑responsive and human rights‑based approaches, with resources being distributed in gender‑equitable ways.  Policy instruments are only as good as their implementation, she added, and the entire value chain must be kept “in the know”.  She also emphasized the need to consider the impact of Goal 15 implementation on people’s livelihoods.

Ms. BLOCKHUS said the adoption of sustainable land use practices at scale will require substantial decades.  To this end, she proposed the creation of sustainable land bonds that would enable Governments to access large amounts of inexpensive long‑term capital in mainstream capital markets.  Such bonds would be unique in that the issuer would commit to using the proceeds for sustainable land management initiatives that would lower greenhouse gas emissions.  At the same time, the issuer would enter into a long‑term results‑based payment agreement with a third party that would reduce or offset the bond’s interest cost, provided that pre‑agreed levels of land-based emission reductions are achieved.

Mr. CHIMA UDEH, speaking on behalf of the children and youth major group, drew attention to the Trillion Tree Campaign launched by Plant‑for‑the‑Planet aimed at large‑scale forest restoration as a way to counter climate change.  He recommended bolstering education about biodiversity and forests, with the participation of indigenous peoples and an end to deforestation and illegal logging.  Noting that the Group of 7 spent a combined $854 billion per year on their armed forces, compared to the $10 billion put into the Green Climate Fund since 2015, he called for increased and more transparent investment in biodiversity.

During the discussion, more than 40 speakers took the floor to set out the various ways their Governments and organizations are striving to protect and improve biodiversity.

The representative of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said land use is the “next big thing in climate action”.  However, less than 3 per cent of public and private climate finance is going to sustainable land use.  A significant increase in such finance is needed to improve agriculture, save forests and restore degraded landscapes throughout the world.

The representative of the Convention on Biodiversity said decision‑makers must address the drivers of biodiversity loss and ensure that solutions and benefits provided by nature are integrated into national economic and development plans.  Noting that the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity will end in 2020, she said a global summit at the level of Heads of State is needed to raise awareness of biodiversity and its importance in achieving the 2030 Agenda.  She went on to underscore the need for transformational change, including changes in behaviour on the part of producers, consumers, Governments and businesses.

The representative of the European Union said taking action on Goal 15 means protecting the environmental backbone of economic development as well as addressing conflict and migration.  Eighteen per cent of the bloc’s land area, and almost 11 per cent of its marine area, have protected status, but that is not enough, she said, calling for renewed efforts to meet the Aichi Targets and for the Conference of States Parties to the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Beijing in 2020 “to be the Paris moment for biodiversity”.

The representative of the farmers major group said agricultural producers are already implementing best practices to increase resilience and produce food.  Farmers are always looking for innovative ways to manage terrestrial resources.  They have a key role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and they deserve to be involved in decision‑making processes, she said, adding that there is no time left for siloed thinking.

The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said that, with 150 million hectares of forest under the stewardship of indigenous peoples, his country was part of the biodiversity solution.  However, it could become part of the problem if recently discovered peat lands are mismanaged and if — despite a national financial mechanism to distribute $1 billion over five years — a funding gap for biodiversity is not closed.

The representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) underscored the role of World Heritage Sites as well as the connection between and biodiversity.  She also called for working in close partnership with local communities to ensure access to natural resources.

Ms. ROJAS-URREGO welcomed the focus that speakers had put on the importance of wetlands and inland water ecosystems.  She emphasized the importance of biodiversity on local communities and the need to localize the issue.

Mr. BROUWER said it is crucial to embrace the idea that lands and forests cannot be protected without considering the watersheds in which they are located.  He cited New York City and the upstate sources of its fresh water as an example of sustainable watershed management.

Ms. NDJEBET said a major global action plan is needed to halt deforestation and forest degradation in the tropics.  Rural women, indigenous women and other stakeholders must be fully engaged in Goal l5, she added.

Ms. LARIGAUDERIE said the session has underscored the importance of engaging all stakeholders.  Going forward, it would be useful to focus on trade‑offs between Goals rather than addressing them separately, she added.

Also speaking were the representatives of Norway, Malaysia, Australia, Israel, Germany, Finland, Czechia, France, Mexico, Italy, Romania, Switzerland, Philippines, Iran, Sweden, Russian Federation, Jamaica, Indonesia, Benin, Turkey, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Togo, Kenya, Estonia, Oman, Morocco, China, Palestine and South Africa, as well as the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the major group for women and the stakeholder group for volunteers.

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