Progress in preserving and sustainably using the Earth’s terrestrial species and ecosystems is uneven. The pace of forest loss has slowed and improvements continue to be made in managing forests sustainably and protecting areas important for biodiversity. However, declining trends in land productivity, biodiversity loss and poaching and trafficking of wildlife remain serious concerns.
- The net loss of forest continues to slow and forest biomass stock per hecta re is stable. More forests are being protected and areas under long-term management plans and voluntary certification have increased. From 2010 to 2015, the annual net loss of forest area globally was less than half that of the 1990s. The proportion of land area covered by forest decreased from 31.6 per cent in 1990 to 30.8 per cent in 2010 and 30.6 per cent in 2015.
- Fifteen per cent of land is currently under protection, but that does not cover all areas important for biodiversity. Protecting key biodiversity areas is necessary to strengthen natural resource management and biodiversity conservation. From 2000 to 2017, average worldwide coverage of terrestrial, freshwater and mountain key biodiversity areas by protected areas increased from 35 per cent to 47 per cent, from 32 per cent to 43 per cent and from 39 per cent to 49 per cent, respectively.
- As of 2017, 76 per cent of the world’s mountain areas are covered by some form of green vegetation, including forests, shrubs, grasses and crops. Green cover on mountains is lowest in Central Asia (31 per cent) and highest in Oceania (excluding Australia and New Zealand) (98 per cent).
- From 1998 to 2013, about one fifth of the Earth’s land surface covered by vegetation showed persistent and declining trends in productivity. South America and Africa are most affected; in some cases, advanced stages of land degradation there are leading to desertification in dryland areas, particularly in the grasslands and rangelands. Land and soil degradation undermine the security and development of all countries. Reversing the effects of land degradation and desertification through sustainable land management is key to improving the lives and livelihoods of more than 1 billion people currently under threat.
- Biodiversity loss continues at an alarming rate according to the Red List Index. The extinction risk for corals is increasing most rapidly among all assessed species groups owing to the growing threat from climate change and local impacts. Chytrid fungal disease, another grave concern, is decimating many amphibian species and increasing their risk of extinction.
- Wildlife poaching and trafficking continues to thwart conservation efforts. Illicit wildlife markets are complex and subject to rapid fluctuations. Demand for a given wildlife product can grow quickly, before the international community can react. In 2013, elephant ivory, rosewood and rhinoceros horn comprised over 60 per cent of total wildlife and timber product seizures.
- The global community is committed to conserving biodiversity. Two international agreements aim at sharing the benefits from using genetic resources in a fair and equitable way. As of April 2017, 144 countries ratified the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and 96 countries ratified the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization.
- In 2015, bilateral ODA in support of biodiversity amounted to $8.8 billion, an increase of 39 per cent in real terms over 2014.
Source: Report of the Secretary-General, "Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals", E/2017/66
- Preserving diverse forms of life on land requires targeted efforts to protect, restore and promote the conservation and sustainable use of terrestrial and other ecosystems. Goal 15 focuses specifically on managing forests sustainably, restoring degraded lands and successfully combating desertification, reducing degraded natural habitats and ending biodiversity loss.
- Between 1990 and 2015, the world’s forest area diminished from 31.7 per cent of the world’s total land mass to 30.7 per cent. The loss was mainly attributable to the conversion of forest to other land uses, such as agriculture and infrastructure development. Meanwhile, other areas were transformed into forests through planting, landscape restoration or the natural expansion of forest. Owing to the balance of the two processes and efforts to slow deforestation, the global net loss of forest area declined from 7.3 million hectares per year in the 1990s to 3.3 million hectares per year during the period from 2010 to 2015.
- To safeguard places that contribute significantly to global biodiversity, protected areas have been established and identified as key biodiversity areas. In 2014, 15.2 per cent of the world’s terrestrial and freshwater environments were covered by protected areas. The percentage of terrestrial key biodiversity areas covered by protected areas has increased, from 16.5 per cent in 2000 to 19.3 per cent in 2016. Over the same period, the share of freshwater key biodiversity areas that are protected has increased from 13.8 per cent to 16.6 per cent, and the share of mountain key biodiversity areas under protection has grown from 18.1 per cent to 20.1 per cent.
- The focus in Goal 15 on halting biodiversity loss comes at a critical time, since many species of amphibians, birds and mammals are sliding towards extinction. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List Index, amphibians are declining most rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean, primarily as a result of the chytrid fungal disease, one of numerous wildlife diseases on the rise worldwide. The greatest extinction risks for birds and mammals are found in South-Eastern Asia, mainly owing to the conversion of lowland forests. However, their decline is not inevitable, with extinction risks for vertebrate species having been reversed in five small island developing States (the Cook Islands, Fiji, Mauritius, Seychelles and Tonga) as a result of conservation actions over the past several decades.
- Conservation efforts can also be thwarted by poaching and the trafficking of wildlife. Since 1999, at least 7,000 species of animals and plants have been detected in illegal trade, and the list of species under international protection continues to grow. Comparing the size of legal trade in wildlife products (about 900,000 transactions per year) to the quantity of wildlife seized (about 16,000 seizures per year) provides an indication of the scope of illicit wildlife trafficking. The value of legal and illicit wildlife products can also be compared. For example, the value of recorded seizures of Crocodylus genus represents between 0.4 per cent and 0.6 per cent of the value of legal protected exports of this species between 2009 and 2013, with no clear trend discernible.
- In 2014, bilateral ODA to support biodiversity amounted to $7 billion, an increase of 16 per cent in real terms over 2013. The two largest recipients of biodiversity assistance were the Philippines and India, which together received about $1 billion of the total aid.