Goal 15 aims to protect land resources by reducing ecosystem and biodiversity loss. Biodiversity and a functioning biosphere are critical to health of ecosystems, and in turn, the health of humans. More than 1.6 billion people directly rely on forests for their livelihoods, and many more depend more broadly on forest resources. Despite signs of progress such as the protection of 15% of Earth’s total land area and a slowing of net forest loss, environmental degradation continues at an alarming rate. Desertification, poaching and environmental changes continue to endanger species on land and in water. Global populations of vertebrates declined by 57% between 1970 and 2012 and scientists propose that we have unleashed a mass extinction event whereby we could witness a two-thirds decline in the half-century from 1970 to 2020. Key challenges include addressing species and habitat extinctions, which are driven by habitat conversion (largely due to agriculture), climate change, pollution, unsustainable exploitation and invasive species. Climate change threatens ecosystems, water quality, species habitat and biodiversity – which in turn reduces resilience to climate change.
Technology in action
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Opportunities & Challenges
We need to be better informed about impacts to lands, prioritize our land resources differently and take a long term approach to how we value species, habitats and lands as vital components of our human ecosystem.
Increasing productivity: As global population and incomes increase, demand for food, shelter, products and services will put pressure on land resources and will require that we do more within the limits of the planet. Targeted conservation: Currently, protected land areas are not sufficient to protect biodiversity, and often these lands are not those in most need of protection. Additionally, the interaction of climate change and human activities makes it challenging to track discrete causes and subsequent impact of conservation efforts.
Intelligent land management and policy setting: Target 15.9 calls for the incorporation of ecosystem and biodiversity values into national and local planning which could be supported by technological development in government planning systems.
Track and monitor destructive activities: Over-hunting, overfishing and over-harvesting contribute greatly to the loss of biodiversity, and are responsible for the demise of numerous species over the last several hundred years. Poaching and other forms of hunting for profit increase the risk of extinction; the demise of an apex predator can result in catastrophic consequences for ecosystems.
Limited funding: Despite advancements in capability and application of digital technology in the conservation space, funding has long posed a challenge. Given the high cost of many of these technologies (e.g. drones, data analytics software) it will be difficult to implement these technologies at the scale needed without widespread investment from the public and private sectors. Just as the causes of these environmental challenges are many and varied, demonstrating the impact of a singular project or solution can often prove difficult. Also, skilled researchers and analysts will be required to demonstrate the benefits of technology solutions so that investment continues.
Digital technology could transform conservation in terms of our ability to monitor and understand changes in natural systems over time, ensuring that the decisions we take and the interventions we design are informed by sound science.Mark Rose, Fauna & Flora International