SDG 15 aims to ensure and enhance the health of earth’s terrestrial ecosystems by encouraging sustainable land use and land protection. The past decades have seen a rise in challenges to this goal in the form of global deforestation and the loss of biodiversity. A deteriorating environment undermines the livelihoods of millions of people who no longer benefit from reliable sources of food, water and countless other services provided by healthy ecosystems. Fortunately, progress can be made through smarter development planning and reducing practices that pollute air and water.

SDG 15 is further refined by targets that can be more readily translated into actions. These targets highlight the interconnected nature of the goals: For example, strategies that address SDG 15 also support SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) and SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy).

Below are a series of synergies that can come from providing access to products, services and systems that address Life on Land.

Invest in Access to Clean Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Freshwater ecosystems are undergoing some of the highest rates of biodiversity loss of all biomes, and are home to the highest number of species threatened by extinction.1 The chief threat is growing water contamination by humans in the form of excessive nutrients, sediments, chemicals,2 and more recently, microplastics.3 This is especially a problem in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where water pollution has been getting worse over the past three decades.4 All of these pollutants have the ability to harm or kill the organisms that ingest them.5 To preserve the incredible biodiversity that freshwater supports, access to clean water for terrestrial life must be ensured, and these trends must be reversed.

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Invest in Access to Clean Air

Land ecosystems suffer a range of impacts from poor air quality. Sulphur, nitrogen, and ozone emissions are the main culprits, damaging plant leaves and contributing to the acidification of surface water and soils when it falls to the ground as acid rain.6, 7 Air pollution also cause eutrophication- the process by which too many nutrients, such as nitrogen, accumulate in water bodies, leading to unnatural algae growth and a depletion of oxygen and light for other species.8 Humans are the main contributors to the excessive levels of these pollutants, so rich opportunities exist to encourage practices that translate to cleaner air for life on land to thrive.

Invest in Access to Adequate Housing & Living Conditions

As the global population grows, so will the need for new housing. This is especially true for cities, which are expanding in area at twice the rate of urban population growth.9 This trend threatens to degrade habitats and accelerate the loss of biomass as more land is developed.10 Beyond cities, rural residential development has been linked to decreases in wildlife, landscape health, and water quality as forests are fragmented and as runoff from contaminants such as fertilizer and pesticides increases.11 Poor-quality housing conditions may also lead to habitat degradation when there are no systems in place to handle refuse responsibly.12 The worst of these consequences can be avoided, however, with access to sustainable, adequate, ecologically conscious housing, with a focus on density to reduce space requirements.13

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SDG 15: References

1 https://www.cbd.int/gbo/gbo4/gbo4-water-en.pdf
2 Freshwater biodiversity conservation: recent progress and future challenges. By: Strayer, David L.; Dudgeon, David. JOURNAL OF THE NORTH AMERICAN BENTHOLOGICAL SOCIETY Volume: 29 Issue: 1 Pages: 344-358 MAR 2010
3 Microplastics in freshwater systems: A review of the emerging threats, identification of knowledge gaps and prioritisation of research needs. 2015. Water Research. 75: 63-82. By:Eerkes-Medrano, D (Eerkes-Medrano, Dafne)[ 1 ] ; Thompson, RC (Thompson, Richard C.)[ 2 ] ; Aldridge, DC (Aldridge, David C.)[ 1 ]
4 World Water Development Report 2018. UN Water
5 Freshwater biodiversity conservation: recent progress and future challenges. By: Strayer, David L.; Dudgeon, David. JOURNAL OF THE NORTH AMERICAN BENTHOLOGICAL SOCIETY Volume: 29 Issue: 1 Pages: 344-358 MAR 2010.
6 https://www.fs.fed.us/nrs/pubs/jrnl/2015/nrs_2015_nowak_001.pdf.
7 Effects of Air Pollution on Ecosystems and Biological Diversity in the Eastern United States Gary M. Lovett, Timothy H. Tear, David C. Evers, Stuart E.G. Findlay, B. Jack Cosby, Judy K. Dunscomb, Charles T. Driscoll,and Kathleen C. Weathers. 2009. The Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology.
8 http://www.unece.org/environmental-policy/conventions/envlrtapwelcome/cross-sectoral-linkages/air-pollution-ecosystems-and-biodiversity.html.
9 Angel, S., J. Parent, D.L. Civco, A. Blei and D. Potere (2011). The dimensions of global urban expansion: Estimates and projections for all countries, 2000-2050. Progress in Planning Vol. 75, pp. 53-107
10 Seto, K., B. Guneralp and L.R. Hutyra (2012). Global forecasts of urban expansion to 2030 and direct impacts on biodiversity and carbon pools. PNAS Vol. 109, no. 40, pp. 16083-16088.
11 Private Forests, Public Benefits: Increased Housing Density and Other Pressures on Private Forest Contributions. 2009.
Susan M. Stein, Ronald E. McRoberts, Lisa G. Mahal, Mary A. Carr, Ralph J. Alig, Sara J. Comas, David M. Theobald, and Amanda Cundiff
12 The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements. Revised 2010. UN Habitat
13 Angel, S., J. Parent, D.L. Civco, A. Blei and D. Potere (2011). The dimensions of global urban expansion: Estimates and projections for all countries, 2000-2050. Progress in Planning Vol. 75, pp. 53-107.