Environmental policy experts Dr Malgorzata Blicharska and Richard Smithers discuss the key role that biodiversity plays in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals, and how this links to the upcoming post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework negotiations being discussed at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in December 2022.
People benefit from biodiversity in many ways that are under-appreciated or ignored. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (‘the 2030 Agenda’) comprises 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but only explicitly mentions biodiversity in two goals relating to “Life below water” (SDG14) and “Life on land” (SDG15). However, we have identified many sources of robust evidence that biodiversity may contribute directly to ten SDGs and indirectly to the remainder (Blicharska et al. 2019, Nature Sustainability https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-019-0417-9).
Biodiversity’s direct contributions to sustainable development are numerous and wide-ranging. For example, a diversity of pollinators ensures crop pollination, and a third of global food production is dependent on them (which links clearly to SDG2). Microorganisms also contribute to waste management (SDG12), and many species have inspired people to develop new products and ways of doing things (SDG9). Biodiversity has also many impacts on health (SDG3), for example, vegetation is important for air and water quality, microorganisms are crucial for our immune system and green areas can reduce stress and promote a healthier lifestyle.
Perhaps less obvious are the ways in which biodiversity indirectly supports sustainable development. By maintaining and supporting increased food production, biodiversity can play a vital role in reducing poverty (SDG1), preventing hunger (SDG2) and improving health (SDG 3). Tree cover can counter the urban heat-island effect in cities (SDG 11), reducing children’s cumulative exposure to heat and thereby support better school performance (SDG 4). In developing countries, women’s greater knowledge of a wide range of crops and wild sources (SDG 2) can strengthen their societal role and promote gender equity (SDG 5). Ultimately, such indirect contributions by biodiversity to education (SDG 4) and gender equality (SDG 5) may, in turn, also help to reduce inequalities more generally (SDG 10).
Over the past two decades, there has been increasing recognition of the need to ensure coherence between the international agenda for sustainable development and for biodiversity. In 2008, the Millennium Development Goals incorporated the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) target “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss […] as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of life on earth”. Subsequently, in 2015, the 2030 agenda included the SDGs on “Life below water” and “Life on land”. The CBD Secretariat and others analysed how the CBD Strategic Plan’s Aichi Targets are reflected in SDGs and associated targets and identified ways in which the 2030 Agenda may ameliorate drivers of biodiversity loss and improve associated governance. It highlighted that biodiversity may contribute to the achievement of a number of SDGs and to some of their targets. In December 2016, the thirteenth Conference of the Parties to the CBD called for integration of national strategies and plans regarding the 2030 Agenda with those addressing the Aichi targets.
Our study identified that biodiversity may contribute to fulfilling SDGs at different scales, which has implications for governance at all levels. Almost all biodiversity’s direct contributions to fulfilling SDGs are delivered at the local and sub-national scale but effective interventions to maintain or restore individual countries’ biodiversity at this scale may also require national, transboundary and international actions. A country’s starting point may limit its future biodiversity potential and possibilities for achieving sustainable development, so a first step for sustainable development could be that countries each systematically identify specific interactions between their biodiversity and SDGs to identify mutually beneficial actions. This could then inform integration of their national biodiversity plans in relation to the GBF and national development plans regarding the SDGs rather than maintaining the continuing incoherence of policy development and implementation to no great effect.
Biodiversity could be mainstreamed in existing national and sub-national policy processes at a sectoral level, as biodiversity contributes to sustainable development in many sectors, including agricultural production, health, water management, economic development and urban planning. Such processes could also establish arrangements with neighbouring countries in order to maintain transboundary biodiversity benefits, including those related to water quantity and quality associated with river basins and forest cover.
Our civilisation’s ever-growing use of resources at the expense of the biodiversity and climate that underpins it, increasingly compromises the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and are a growing existential threat. At the upcoming UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) and UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), it is vital that discussions focus in earnest on the extent to which biodiversity, climate change and sustainable development are inextricably linked. We believe that there is an urgent need to develop an integrated global framework agreed by all the World’s countries that unifies global goals for biodiversity, climate change and sustainable development. Only through coherent implementation of national, transboundary and international actions can we hope to maintain and restore biodiversity, mitigate and adapt to climate change and develop in ways that ensure our future.
Dr Malgorzata Blicharska is a Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor at Department of Earth Sciences, Programme of Natural Resources and Sustainable Development, Uppsala University, Sweden. She currently works on numerous issues linked to sustainable development, including implementation of environmental policies, biodiversity conservation conflicts, environmental attitudes (governance aspects and management measures in fish conservation and habitat restoration, socio-economic valuation of recreational fisheries), ecological and socio-economic assessment of ecosystem services, implementation of the ecosystem services concept and Sustainable Development Goals.
Richard Smithers is the Technical Director - Climate Adaptation Lead at Ricardo Energy & Environment, a global sustainability consultancy. He is an international expert on climate adaptation and ecosystem-based issues with wide-ranging experience in: evidence and policy development; policy, programme and technical monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment; systematic rapid evidence assessment; natural resource management; and stakeholder involvement. Work that he leads for national and subnational governmental organisations frequently considers co-benefits and trade-offs between climate action and sustainable development, including with regard to biodiversity.