Last updated: 20 Jan 2023 | Authors: Galaletsang Keebine
SDGs are complex and interlinked, as such the advancements and or deterioration of SDG 15 can, directly and indirectly, affect the attainment of other SDGs.
According to Reid et al., 2017, the environmental SDG’s, SDG 15 along with SDG 14 (Life below water), should form the foundation for all the other SDG’s, as an ecological foundation allows for the others to thrive, through the provision of ecosystem services and promoting the practice of the sustainable use of natural resources.
Reid and company (2017) created a visualisation of the aforementioned concept in a form of a tree. The base structure (roots) being the environmental SDG’s, from which a bark, hosting several branches emerges. These branches are the various SDG’s, see figure below.
The protection of land has positive intersections with SDG 6, “Ensure availability and sustainable
management of water and sanitation for all”, with particular interlinkages being between targets 6.4, 6.5 and 6a.
Unstable, unhealthy and poorly managed terrestrial ecosystems have direct implications on the quantity and quality of water available for human consumption and sanitation, SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation for all). Ecosystems in a good ecological condition can sustain life and offer provisioning and regulating services (NBA, 2018). Anthropogenic activities are one of the many key pressures which negatively alter terrestrial ecosystems services. Thus, recessions in efforts toward attaining SDG 15 can be directly associated with regressions in the availability of clean water (SDG 6). That is to say, with increased terrestrial ecosystem degradation in the forms of pollution, urbanisation, overexploitation (tragedy of the commons) and deforestation etc. there will be a reduction in the amount of safe water that is available for human use. This is a sentiment that is shared by Reid and Co (2017), that if the foundation, being SDG 14 and 15, is to crumble, be altered or become unstable, all the other SDG’s, which rely on healthy functioning ecosystems will inevitably deteriorate. Therefore, the maintenance, as well as protection of terrestrial ecosystems, are essential for water security and attaining the sustainable development goals.
The Bureau of Reclamation outlined that 71% of the planet is covered with water, however, only 3% of that is freshwater which is fit for human consumption, of which more than two-thirds (83%) are frozen as ice glaciers and unavailable for use. SDG 6 is aimed at attempting to mitigate the global effects of water scarcity, as access to clean water is essential for the survival of humans, the economy and animals on Earth (Guppy et al., 2019). According to the WHO (2018) by 2025 two-thirds of the world will have difficulty accessing clean water. For this reason, the preservation and protection of freshwater ecosystems is essential. Inland aquatic ecosystems are a source of water for societal and economic use, thus large amounts of water are required to remain within these ecosystems to ensure their health and continued provision of services (UN-WATER, 2021). That is because healthy ecosystems offer protection to the quantity and quality of freshwater. SDG 6 is therefore vital, as the lack of clean water is related to human deaths by water-borne diseases and the lack of food security, leading to hunger for subsistence farmers and decreased/exhausted income for the commercial farmers as crop farming is not viable without clean water supply (UN-WATER, 2021). The lack of crop cultivation will in turn result in bare land which is more susceptible to degradation. Thus interlinkages exist between SDG 6 and SDG 15, to safeguard the inland water ecosystems as to ensure that they remain healthy(natural or near-natural) and resilient (UN-WATER, 2021).
As indicated above, SDG 6 aims to safeguard water (as a resource) from pollution, excessive exploitation and other environmental and anthropogenic pressures, so as to provide protection to the health of terrestrial ecosystems. Therefore, close collaborations exist between SDG 6 and SDG 15 focusing mostly on water quality, wastewater treatment and the reduction of environmental pollutants being fed into ecosystems as freshwater ecosystems (including natural and artificial wetlands) provide environments with resilience capabilities toward droughts, flooding and storms. (UN-WATER, 2021). Other services which these ecosystems can provide include the treating of wastewater and polluted runoff (UN-WATER, 2021).
A key international instrument for terrestrial protection and sustainability is the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD was developed by the United Nations as a framework for “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources.” The main objective of the CBD is to encourage UN member states to participate in actions, which will lead to a biologically diverse future. Furthermore, the CBD developed a set of 5 strategic global goals divided into 20 targets under the 2011-2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity known as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Targets 4, 5, 7 and 11, respectively promote the expansion of protected areas. Stipulated for target 11 is a threshold to have at least 17% of terrestrial ecosystems conserved through protected areas. South Africa currently falls short of the threshold at 8.37% (Fig 1.1.3).
Similarly, sustainable development goals are a global initiative to which the 193 UN member states have pledged allegiance. Therefore, the member states are continuously aiming towards ensuring the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems and their services by December 2020 with particular focus on forests, mountains and drylands as per SDG Target 15.1.
Bureau of Reclamation: https://www.usbr.gov/mp/arwec/water-facts-ww-water-sup.html accessed 13 May 2021
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