SDG#15 Life on Land

Arguably, the most talked about facets of sustainability is environmental sustainability, of which a vital aspect is Life on Land. With urbanisation, deforestation, desertification, and unsustainable agricultural practices, preserving Life on Land is vital for habitat protection and for shielding our ever-so-fragile biodiversity. The nature of this planet sustains us, and it is time we sustain it too.

SDG#15 Life on Land: doing it for planet and people

Forests sustain humanity: they are the engines of our ecosystems that produce the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. As natural carbon sinks, they are also important agents in our fight against climate change. Within the space of 5 years (2010-15) the world lost 3.3 million ha of forested areas. Humanity are putting increasing stress on nature, and the planet is struggling to keep up. Our activity has already altered almost 75% of earth’s surface, leaving just 25% for natural biodiversity, wildlife, and nature to thrive.

Anthropogenic climate change and resulting weather pattern changes have been disrupting not just nature, but human lives for decades. Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by the habitat loss as they tend to depend on indigenous forests and nature for their livelihood. The same population is also adversely affected by soil degradation, courtesy of unsustainable land practices of large-scale agriculutre. As part of the evil cycle, productivity of agricultural sites is plummeting due to the degrading soil which pushes people to extend agricultural areas through deforestation, thereby further degrading soil quality. Agricultural productivity has reduced by 23%, and arable land loss is estimated to have out accelerated to 30 times the historic rate, translating to 23 ha lost per minute. Today, 2 billion ha of land on Earth are degraded (1/5 of all land) affecting 3.2. billion people, many species, and intensifying climate change further.

Moreover, proximity to wildlife – as a result of deforestation – increases the risks of zoonotic epidemics, that is, viruses transmitted between animals and humans, including the SARS-Cov-2 pandemic that is our current reality.

In COVID-19, the planet has delivered its strongest warning to date that humanity must change

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen

Our human economies, livelihoods, health, and food systems depend on our action to preserve Earth's ecosystems. Protecting and restoring our biodiversity and wildlife is then imperative. We need to work for sustainable practices that help us manage forests, combat desertification, and halt, as well as reserve land degradation, and biodiversity loss. Climate justice starts with taking care of what we have to stop the inhabitants of the most nature-dependent areas pay the price for our harmful industrial activities. As globally only a third of the 113 UN countries are on track to integrate biodiversity into their national planning, we must do our part on a grassroot level to ensure the health of our planet and in turn, our population. Volunteering your time for habitat preservation, climate justice, and Life on Land ensures you take responsibility for people and planet.

UCL and Life on Land

Researchers at UCL do an immense amount of work to further Agenda 2030 and SDG#15 specifically. Urban sustainability is an important part of restoring the balance between humanity and nature, and halting deforestation, desertification, and soil degradation elsewhere. Urban expansion and the inevitable destroying of habitats as our population grows is a huge concern, while in England 340,000 new homes are needed each year. Green spaces in urban areas have advantages beyond restoring biodiversity – they clean the air and can act as refuge from city life. Awareness in the construction industry of techniques such as green roofs, living walls, or green space inclusion however, is low – says Dr Alex Opoku of UCL Bartlett School. He and his UCL team work together with the University College of Northern Denmark to educate construction industry leaders of best sustainable and biodiversity-preserving practices.

UCL researchers are also directly engaged with London’s local biodiversity: The UCL Nature-Smart Centre is developing new ways to monitor biodiversity in East London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – home to UCL East. The team monitors bat populations in the park as they are a natural indicator of the health of the environment in any given area – says Professor Kate Jones, the centre’s academic lead. Bats live off thriving insect populations and as such, their numbers are tied to the state of biodiversity. Echo Box – the innovation of the team – records the surrounding soundscapes to capture high frequency sounds like bat calls thereby giving a good indication of local populations. Through the health of bat populations across urban areas the effectiveness of the biodiversity-loss-preventing feature of various types of green infrastructure can be measured.

On the global scale, UCL’s researchers are working towards understanding the entangled nature of all SDGs. A team from the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research is cooperating with other UK and African research teams to explore the trade-offs of achieving #2 Zero Hunger in sub-Saharan Africa. Increased pressure on agricultural systems as populations grow led to harmful ways of extending arable land, inevitably harming life on land. The interdisciplinary team is exploring ways to measure the trade-offs between food provision and agricultural expansion. The project supplies vital information to policymakers and development actors and works towards a sustainable Zero Hunger solution.

Support a Goal #15 Charity

While you might have thought that an urban centre, such as London could not be part of the solution to Life on Land, there are many things we can do here to help nature in our immediate surroundings, and elswhere. We have a responsibility to make our urban lives leave the smallest impact possible. Recycling in cities such as ours will make a huge difference and using your bins right should be number one on your to-do list.

Target 15.1. Conserve and restore terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems

To sustainably conserve our surroundings requires intricate knowledge of our local terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. Become a Conservation and Citizen Science Volunteer with Cody Dock in Canning Town and engage in the collection of vital data yourself. You will take part in exciting surveying projects across the river Lea and around Cody Dock to help the charity learn more about the local environment and biodiversity, and to help protect the river. Activities include birdwatching and river safaris as well as community river clean-ups. Alternatively, you can expand your knowledge of permaculture and seasonal veg by becoming a Gardening Volunteer for Cody Dock. Here, you will engage in organic food growing for the Newham community to contribute to a sustainable urban lifestyle.

Target 15.5. Protect biodiversity and natural habitats

Ensuring the integrity of our green areas is vital for all above mentioned reasons, and for the wellbeing of the citizens of London who retreat in parks and near lakes. While admiring London’s greenery it is important that visitors do not harm the natural habitats of the park’s biodiversity. Heath Hands took it upon themselves to look after Hampstead Heath. As a Wildlife Interpreter, you will teach visitors how to both enjoy and preserve their surroundings. Through the delivery of fun and engaging nature activities you will spread awareness of good park practice and conservation. If you are keen engage in more hands-on ways to help the biodiversity of London, The Conservation Volunteers have various activities spread across the month and London related to Habitat Management and Bug Hotel construction.

15.A. Increase financial resources to conserve and sustainably use ecosystem and biodiversity

While this target certainly is aimed at governments and multilateral organisations it does not mean that NGOs cannot do anything about it. By dedicating just a few hours a week to The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds as a Pin Badge Volunteer, you will contribute to raising money for the noble cause of protecting biodiversity and wildlife across the UK. RSPB is the largest wildlife conservation organisation in the UK with over one million members and therefore have considerable power to fight against wildlife threats whether in the form of preventing construction, or controlling unruly tourism.

With the newest IPCC report reminding us about the consequences of inaction, grassroot participation has never been so important. Preserving what we have limits our dependency on ecosystems already stretched thin. With as little as a weekly gardening session, living sustainably, and buying locally you can contribute to Life on Land remaining intact.