In 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 goals for countries to strive for, as well as measures of success and specific targets for those measures. SDG 15 pertains to the protection of terrestrial ecosystems, including the protection of forests. Protecting forests is a key example of the interconnection of the SDGs, as forests help to mitigate climate change, protect watersheds, and provide habitats for countless plant and animal species, and homes for indigenous groups. Notably, the international community has already failed to achieve SDG 15 to some extent, as Target 15.2 was to halt deforestation by 2020. Most UN member states are also parties to the Paris Climate Agreement. Article 5 of the Paris Agreement discusses the importance of conserving and enhancing sinks of greenhouse gases, including increasing forest cover and reducing emissions related to deforestation. Thus, addressing deforestation is key to limiting global warming to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels, a goal endorsed by the 2018 IPCC special report.
Although the loss of forest area has slowed in recent decades, the global community is far from restoring forests to natural levels. Between 2000 and 2020, forested areas fell from 31.9% to 31.2% of total land area on the planet, totaling 100 million hectares of forest lost. Deforestation is particularly concentrated in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, while Asia, Europe, and North America have gained forest area since 2000. As of February 2021, 127 countries have made commitments to establish targets for achieving land degradation neutrality, where land restoration efforts meet or exceed the rate of land degradation. However, only 68 countries have formally endorsed such targets as of February 2021.
Several problems remain in the area of deforestation. How should the UNEP encourage countries to commit to land degradation neutrality? Is land degradation neutrality sufficient, or should countries also commit to afforestation (increasing the proportion of their land area covered by forests)? If afforestation is needed, how much? How should we ensure that countries make satisfactory progress toward their targets? What methods can countries use to protect their forests from illegal deforestation? How can underdeveloped nations find the resources necessary for reforestation efforts?
Goal 15 | Department of Economic and Social Affairs:
Forests, desertification and biodiversity | United Nations Sustainable Development:
Deforestation | UNEP: