Ecosystems approach can be a cost-effective way to achieve multiple SDGs, support implementation of the Disaster Risk Reduction agenda and Paris Agreement  

Ecosystem services provide multiple societal benefits such as nutritious food and clean water, regulate disease and climate, support the pollination of crops and soil formation, and provide recreational, cultural and spiritual benefits. (UN, 2019) It has been widely recognized that despite an estimated value of $125 trillion (UN, 2019), the ecosystems services assets are not adequately priced and valued in economic and public policy. It results in underinvestment and poor protection and management of such assets, their degradation, and irreversible loss. The risks and stakes have never been so high as today.

The degradation of land and marine ecosystems undermines the well-being of 3.2 billion people. Most vulnerable suffer first. Ecosystem services and other non-marketed goods are estimated to make up between 50% and 90% of the total source of livelihoods among poor rural and forest-dwelling households – the so-called ‘GDP of the poor’

and costs about 10 percent of the annual global gross domestic product in loss of species and ecosystems services. (UNEP, 2019) Current and further growing anthropogenic pressures on the world’s ecosystems call for urgent complex and holistically-oriented policy interventions on global, regional and national levels in order to restore ecosystems and protect the biodiversity that is in decline in all the regions of the world. Causes of biodiversity loss include a lack of policy coherence, pollution, overexploitation such as overfishing, and other unsustainable practices in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Agriculture accounts for 70% of the projected loss of terrestrial biodiversity, and a growing world population will put further pressure on food production systems through rapidly raising food demand. (Stockholm Resilience Center Report, 2016). The role of the ecosystems services has also been recognized as a cost-effective way of climate mitigation and adaptation action (CBD, 2018-2019)  Ecosystems play a key role in the global carbon cycle and in adapting to climate change, while also providing a wide range of ecosystem services that are essential for human well-being (CBD, 2018) UNEP is running several projects that are based on ecosystems-climate change action nexus. For instance, the four-year ProEcoServ "Soils for food security and climate" project focused on the valuation and mainstreaming of ecosystem services into policy design, studied four pilot countries: South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Viet Nam and Chile with the aim to demonstrate that protection of soils produces a positive effect on food security and supports climate action. The UNFCCC regularly underscores that natural ecosystems are cheap and effective barriers to climate impacts (UNFCCC, 2017) At the same time, certain kinds of responses to global climate change, such as afforestation of the tropical grasslands, that support unique biodiversity and provide important ecosystem services that are not provided by forests, pose serious risks to biodiversity. Similarly, while biofuels may generate fewer emissions than fossil fuels, biofuel monocultures may come at the expense of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Nonetheless, Prof. Midgley from IPBES underscored that protecting biodiversity can make substantial contributions to climate change mitigation and adaptation, for instance, through reducing deforestation in tropical regions, especially when combined with other efforts to reduce GHG-emissions. But such objectives may be in conflict with needs to increase food security. New approaches, such as ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation, could help to reduce such conflicts. The bottom line is that policymakers are required to balance several challenges, and need the best scientific evidence to chart the most sustainable course. (IPBES, 2019)


Recently, ecosystems moved high on the global policy agenda. In 2018 the role of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems in sustainable development achieving the SDGs was considered on the High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development,  dedicated to theme "Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies" where the UN Member states took a stock review of progress on the following SDGs: Water and sanitation for all (SDG 6); sustainable and modern energy for all (SDG 7); cities and human settlements (SDG 11); sustainable consumption and production patterns (SDG 12); sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss (SDG 15); and global partnership for sustainable development (SDG 17). In March 2019, the UN declared UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, to scale up the restoration of ecosystems as a proven measure to fight climate change, and enhance food security, water supply, and biodiversity. Estimates suggest that restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded land between now and 2030 could generate US$9 trillion in ecosystem services and take an additional 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. (UNEP, 2019)


In 2018, the CBD Secretariat has published the Voluntary guidelines for the design and effective implementation of ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. They emphasize the importance of bioecosystem- based approaches and Eco-Disaster Risk Reducion build on other practices such as ecosystem conservation and restoration which seek to increase the resilience of ecosystems for the benefit of people.diversity and ecosystems in overall climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) measures. (CBD, 2018). See, also the 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services by the IPBES, the intergovernmental body which assesses the state of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services. Prepared by 150 leading international experts from 50 countries, balancing representation from the natural and social sciences, with additional contributions from a further 250 experts, working with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services will inform better policies and actions in the coming decade, - says the pre-release of the Report, that is often described as the 'IPCC for Biodiversity'.

Photo: Degraded land in Ethiopia. Photo by Flickr

By Katsiaryna Serada



SDWatch.org is an independent, non-profit and student-led project initiated and managed by students and alumni of the LL.M in Sustainable Development at the University of Milan. It is supported by the Department of Italian and Supranational Public Law of the University.