SLM and SDG 15

Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Ecosystem Services


Functional ecosystems are a prerequisite for ecosystem services, which play the following roles: supporting (e.g. soil formation), regulating (e.g. hydrology), provisioning (e.g. food), and cultural (e.g. leisure) (

Why are ecosystem services a global issue?

Throughout the world, functioning ecosystems provide essential services and thus play a vital role as the lifeblood of our planet. Nowhere on the planet can they be ignored – all ecosystems are important and depend on one other to deliver their vital services. Ecosystems fall under SDG 15: “life on land”.

SLM and ecosystem services

There is a very close connection between maintaining ecosystem function and services, protecting biodiversity, and avoiding land degradation. The goal of SDG 15.1 is “to ensure, by 2020, the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements”. Within a landscape there may be several ecosystems that border, and depend on, each other. Thus, alpine ecosystems may be followed, downslope, by forest ecosystems, then mixed agricultural ecosystems, wetland ecosystems, and coastal ecosystems – each with their own characteristics and their own specific functions. An example of where SLM can be beneficial for maintaining ecosystem services is along tropical coastlines, where mangrove forests – ecosystems in themselves – have an essential role in supporting the life cycle of fish and other marine life, as well as regulating (or acting as a buffer) against sea surges and floods from inland.

Payment for Ecosystem Services


The term payment for ecosystem services (PES) applies to situations where one group of land users acts as custodians of an ecosystem whose services have an impact on a group situated offsite: under a PES scheme these beneficiaries pay the custodians to maintain the ecosystem and its services (see and

Why is payment for ecosystem services a global issue?

The PES principle is universal, and applicable in many situations worldwide, although it may differ in the type of service and the means of payment. In some cases there are also inter-country issues such as rivers that cross national boundaries: pollution upstream affects countries downstream. PES is not yet widely formalized and applied, but it is growing in importance, and each country should understand how it can work.

SLM and payment for ecosystem services

A typical application of PES is where a company located downstream – such as a hydroelectric plant supplying electricity to urban inhabitants – is faced with reservoir sedimentation and possible damage to its turbines through soil eroded by small-scale agriculture upstream. The most effective way to resolve this would be for the hydroelectric company to seek agreement with the land users upstream, offering regular payments in return for an improvement in farming practices. The improvements to the land would involve SLM measures: e.g. terraces, vegetative strips, agroforestry, and crop rotation. Other practices covered by such an agreement could include controlled grazing of common pastures and community forest management. While PES appears to offer win-win scenarios, with upstream land users benefiting doubly (from improved production as well as payment) and the downstream party/ parties also reaping rewards, it is usually very difficult to come to actual PES agreements that are practical, as well as possible to implement and monitor. In some richer countries people pay contributions through taxes to maintain the cultural services of some natural landscapes. Entry fees to nature reserves are also a form of PES.



Biological diversity – more commonly known as biodiversity – is the variety among living organisms within ecological complexes of which those species are part.

Why is biodiversity a global issue?

SDG 15 calls for preserving diverse forms of life on land and ending biodiversity loss. Maintaining biodiversity is important all over the world: wherever there is life, greater diversity is better for the environment, locally and also more widely (see

SLM and biodiversity

A high level of biodiversity is important as it constitutes an essential part of a healthy and functional ecosystem. It is also crucial as a source of genetic material – wild plants and animals contain potentially useful gene pools for breeding. Agrobiodiversity is used to describe biodiversity associated with the cultivation of crops and rearing of animals. There are three elements to agrobiodiversity (a) the overall range of different crops and animals (b) the diversity of crops and animals within a particular farming system and (c) the overall biodiversity of both cultivated and natural species within a farming system. Loss of biodiversity is a common result of land degradation. Sustainable land management can help maintain and build up levels of biodiversity in all ecosystems. One example of biodiversity enhancement is through advocating community forest management. Here, indigenous forest represents a very biodiverse natural resource, and sustainable management by local people maintains that natural wealth. In turn they benefit from regulated use of products like honey, fibre, and some fodder for their livestock.

Land Degradation and “Land Degradation Neutrality”


“Land degradation neutrality” means the maintenance and increase of the amount of healthy and productive land resources, in line with national development priorities.

Why is land degradation neutrality a global issue?

SDG 15 aims to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use ofterrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, andhalt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss". Within that aim, land degradation neutrality is described as “a new global ambition”.

SLM and land degradation neutrality

Land degradation neutrality is the target of SDG 15.3 and its aim is to combat desertification; restore degraded land and soil; including land affected by desertification, drought and floods; and strive to achieve a “land degradation neutral world” by 2030. But what exactly is land degradation neutrality? It refers to a situation in which there is no net land degradation, i.e. any losses must be balanced by gains. Where degradation still occurs – e.g. caused by deforestation, poor farming practices, overgrazing, or land lost to mining or urbanization – it must be, at least, balanced by improved sustainable land management practices elsewhere. While accepting that, realistically, we cannot stop all forms of land degradation, it can at least be offset by improved SLM on land used for agriculture, pastoral systems, or forestry. The practices and approaches to achieve improvements in SLM are well-known: WOCAT has been documenting them for 25 years. There are basically three facets to land degradation neutrality. The first is through employing sustainable land management and “sustainable intensification” practices on land that is currently under productive use (e.g. by climate-smart agriculture); the second is reduction of the degraded area (e.g. through sustainable harvesting of plantation forestry); the third is land restoration, i.e. bringing land back into production and reviving ecosystems and their services (e.g. resting and protection of degraded pastures).