Sustainable Development Goals for Biodiversity

updated May 2017

The cause of biodiversity has been relatively well served in the text of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by world leaders at the UN in 2015. Separate Goals address marine and terrestrial concerns:

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems…. and halt biodiversity loss

The Targets listed for each Goal are very ambitious, even bringing forward the mainstream SDG target date of 2030 to 2020 for a number of key areas. These include targets to “halt deforestation”, “end overfishing” and “prevent the extinction of threatened species”. The broader target to “halt the loss of biodiversity” is linked with the longer timeframe to 2030.

Such unconditional resolve defies the unhappy history of multilateral objectives associated with the loss of biodiversity. The principal international treaty addressing biodiversity is the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The Convention was one of several important outcomes of the Rio de Janeiro “Earth Summit” in 1992 but its 20th anniversary in 2012 offered scant grounds for celebration.

The world had failed on every one of the 21 indicators for biodiversity goals “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level.” Not one country could claim independent success.

Inclusion of biodiversity as one of the targets for the Millennium Development Goals made no difference. And the United States has never signed the Convention, in common only with Andorra and the Holy See.

Fresh resolve emerged in a new Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 approved at the 2010 CBD conference at Nagoya in Japan. The Plan centres on goals known as the “Aichi Biodiversity Targets” which include the objective that: “by 2020 the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, is at least halved.” The urgency of action to protect coral reefs is recognised by a special target date of 2015 rather than 2020.

However, only 5 out of 56 Aichi progress indicators are reported to be on track for 2020. There is concern that many National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans are neither sufficiently aligned with the Targets nor adequately integrated across government departments.

Nonetheless, the Sustainable Development Goals appear to be more ambitious and rigorous than the Aichi Targets. And a new scientific body, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), started work in 2013. Armed with a progressive Conceptual Framework, IPBES will aim to improve the quality of scientific advice to policy makers and to identify priorities for much-needed new research.

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Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 – the Convention on Biological Diversity finds that global targets set for 2010 were not met.


Sir Bob Watson, Chair of IPBES discusses progress, including the relationship with the IPCC

more Biodiversity briefings
The Anthropocene
Importance of Biodiversity
Biodiversity Loss and Planetary Boundaries
Causes of Biodiversity Loss
Climate Change and Biodiversity
Conservation of Biodiversity
Solutions to Biodiversity Loss
Biodiversity Finance and Economics
Biodiversity Access and Benefit-Sharing
Source Material and Useful Links

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