The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of goals that meet the urgent environmental, political, social and economic challenges facing our world. Utilising The Salvation Army’s International Social Justice Commission’s SDG publication Go and Do Something, we have created easy to read focus articles looking at each SDG from an Australian, Salvation Army perspective. These articles explore how each SDG affects us locally, and include practical tips of how you can get involved. We hope this tool will be of benefit to you as you seek to partner with God in bringing about his Kingdom.
Sustainable Development Goal 15: PROTECT, RESTORE AND PROMOTE SUSTAINABLE USE OF TERRESTRIAL ECOSYSTEMS, SUSTAINABLE MANAGE FORESTS, COMBAT DESERTIFICATION, AND HALT AND REVERSE LAND DEGRADATION AND HALT BIODIVERSITY LOSS
- Ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands
- Promote sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally.
- Combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world
- Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats.
The importance of ‘land’ to many cultures has been well recognised, from the importance of the ‘promised land’ to the Hebrews we read about in scriptures, to the strong link our First Nations Peoples have to the land here in Australia. History tells us that we need to understand and recognise the true value of land. “Land is not a limitless resource and ignoring and disregarding its role in our everyday lives threatens food and water supplies, biodiversity and the security of us all”.
Forests, bushlands, woodlands, and other land ecosystems regulate climate, remove harmful CO2 emissions and can help slow the rate of climate change, yet across the globe, around 177,000 square kilometres of trees and forests are lost each year. This is equivalent to 50 football fields each minute . Deforestation, tree-clearing, desertification and other practices that degrade the land have significant negative impacts on plants and animals, and also on the health of our whole planet . Australia is in the top ten on the global list of deforestation fronts, and is the only developed nation on the list.
Australia is rich in biodiversity – in fact almost 8% of Earth’s plant and animal species live in Australia, with high percentages of plants and animals found only in Australia. Land clearing, deforestation and other forms of land degradation puts this biodiversity at risk. Habitat loss is a key threat to many Australian plants and animals, making it so important for us to take this issue seriously . On average in Queensland, the equivalent of more than 1,500 football fields worth of native land ecosystems are cleared every day . This not only impacts the rate of climate change, leads to soil erosion and results in significant loss of habitat for Australian plants and land animals, but it also pollutes rivers that connect to the Great Barrier Reef, leading to added pressures on this already vulnerable natural resource . Eastern Australia (particularly Queensland and New South Wales) are leading the way in deforestation – a practice which needs to stop if we want to continue to see an Australia that is so rich in diversity of plants and animals in the future.
Desertification is the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems by climate variations, like drought, and human activities, like deforestation. In relation to this, Australia has some good policies. In fact, Australia’s Indigenous Protected Area and Rangers Programme received a bronze award for the 2017 Future Policy Award, at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.
While this is great, there is still much to be done, both physically and through legislation, to protect and care for land ecosystems in Australia.
God creates, governs and preserves all things. The Earth, and everything in it, belongs to Him. As people made in the image of God, we have been entrusted to care for the Earth’s resources (Genesis 1-2). We have been invited to be good stewards of the Earth through caring and working towards healing the earth so it continues to bring glory to God (Psalm 19:1-6). Earth’s degradation is in a large part the consequence of human activity, so it is up to us to work with God towards its restoration. The rippling effects of climate change and environmental degradation often affect the poorest parts of the world, resulting in additional needs to care for and assist those who are vulnerable and living in places that are becoming unlivable. The Salvation Army’s International Positional Statement ‘Caring for the Environment’ aligns with this and goes on to say, “The Salvation Army is concerned about the effects of environmental damage on present and future generations. Sustainable environmental practices are required to meet today’s global needs and aspirations without compromising the lives of future generations”.
So what can we do to sustainably meet the global needs of today?
What can we do?
- Buy products with sustainability certifications rather than products without. Many products contain a label that means it has followed a specific standard that respects the environment throughout production. Take the time to look into some of these labels and find out what specific certifications mean. You can find some sustainable certifications here and find out more about them on their websites (linked within).
- Avoid woods that have come from unmanaged sources (such as mahogany and teak). “Managed woodlands are healthy woodlands… Good management promotes biodiversity, helps prevent spread of diseases to neighbouring woodlands, and can mitigate against damage by pests” . Therefore by purchasing from managed sources, you are supporting positive practices.
- Contact your favourite restaurant or business to ensure their ‘behind the scenes’ practices are sustainable. Trees and forests can be cleared to raise beef cattle for use in restaurant chains, so it’s not just wood related products that impact land ecosystems. Remember, companies can have a huge impact, so tell them how you feel.
- Stop paper bank statements and pay your bills online or via mobile to reduce the need for paper and thus forest destruction.
- Respect the ecosystems around you. When you are out and see rubbish, pick it up. Make sure your rubbish isn’t left on the ground, and goes into the appropriate bin.
- Plant a tree.
- Commit this SDG to prayer both individually and as a Corps
– Thank God for all of nature – for the ecosystems that sustain life and make our planet beautiful
– Pray for those who develop policies and programmes to protect God’s creation. Pray that they will act justly, prioritising the needs of the poor and marginalised people and our earth, and preventing those who seek to exploit the world’s resources for selfish purposes.
– Pray that everyone around the world, and in Australia specifically, will gain a greater awareness of the problems of deforestation.
– Pray for legislation and projects around conserving, protecting and restoring land ecosystems, will cause people to think again about the impacts of all their actions.
For more reading on The Salvation Army’s thoughts around SDG 15, see the International Social Justice Commission’s Go and Do Something publication.
 https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/06/1012222  Lt Colonel Julius Mukonga https://www.salvationarmy.org/isjc  http://www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/species/tree-clearing#gs.zUnKkuQ  http://www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/species/tree-clearing#gs.zUnKkuQ  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/05/global-deforestation-hotspot-3m-hectares-of-australian-forest-to-be-lost-in-15-years  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/05/global-deforestation-hotspot-3m-hectares-of-australian-forest-to-be-lost-in-15-years  https://theconversation.com/lets-get-this-straight-habitat-loss-is-the-number-one-threat-to-australias-species-85674  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/05/global-deforestation-hotspot-3m-hectares-of-australian-forest-to-be-lost-in-15-years  http://wwf.panda.org/our_work/forests/deforestation_fronts/deforestation_in_eastern_australia/  https://www.greenfacts.org/en/desertification/l-2/1-define-desertification.htm  https://s3.amazonaws.com/cache.salvationarmy.org/25206b0f-277d-49f5-a35f-4014f629d09f_Caring+for+the+environment.pdf  http://www.rfs.org.uk/news/2017/8/unmanaged-woodlands-the-hidden-threat/