Livable Planet

Keeping the World's Forests Sustainable Would Cost $160 Billion

The Sustainable Development Goals have specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. Today we look at how to ensure our forests, drylands, and other public and private spaces remain viable homes for people, plants, and animals across the globe.
October 2, 2017, 5:00pm

The UN's Sustainable Development Goals are 17 encompassing objectives meant to address the world's most pressing health, educational, social and economic issues by 2030. This month, the UN General Assembly, as well as many of the governing bodies behind the UN's SDGs, will be convening and we'll be breaking down a goal a day.

SDG #15: Life on Land

Forests cover more than 30 percent of the earth's surface, serve as a home to more than 80 percent of the planet's terrestrial species, and provide a livelihood to more 1.6 billion people -- 70 million of which are part of indigenous communities. And while deforestation has begun to slow, more more than 32 million acres of forested land continue to be lost every year. Desertification also poses a risk to viable land, with more than half of all agricultural land currently affected by soil degradation.

With a price tag of up to $160 billion and $440 billion to develop forest sustainability and combat desertification respectively, it's going to take an orchestrated global effort to make sure our forests, drylands, and other public and private spaces remain viable homes for people, plants, and animals across the globe.

Photo via UN.

The Effect

Like many major climate-based concerns, deforestation and desertification disproportionately affect the world's poor, with more than 75 percent feeling the effects of land degradation directly. In the U.S., that means an increasing loss of farmland, costing the agriculture industry $44 million per year, according to the USDA.

And while the net loss of forest land is slowing, indigenous communities continue to feel the impact of deforestation directly, as their traditional forest management, hunting, gathering, and settlement patterns are disrupted or destroyed. And humans aren't the only species feeling the heat. Twenty-two percent of known animal species are currently considered "at risk," and 1 in 5 plant species are at risk of extinction, with habitat degradation a leading cause for this concern.

The "You" Factor

What you eat, where you call home, and the health of the climate you live in all hinge on the sustainable protection of the land around you. Here are some organizations working to keep our terrestrial future safe.


The Rainforest Action Network takes a targeted, campaign-focused approach to forest protection, with an emphasis on climate justice, biodiversity, and human rights through the lens of corporate accountability. Campaigns against mass paper production, palm oil harvesting, and irresponsible farming practices are a few of their targeted causes focused on preventing further forest degradation.

The Rights and Resources Coalition and the International Land Coalition each put the focus on sovereign land governance and indigenous rights. The Rights and Resources "Who Owns the World's Forests?" database paints a picture of the changing ownership of forested lands through an interactive, region-specific mapping system.

The International Land Coalition also provides resources to increase land sovereignty, including a women's land rights toolkit and small scale farming and tenuring guides for Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

At Home

The Outdoor Alliance and The Nature Conservancy work in the public and private sector to increase access to protected lands, lobby for protective legislation, and support land education opportunities. As a network of more than 600 thousand outdoor enthusiasts and advocates, the Outdoor Alliance has rallied support to successfully protect the Land and Water Conservation Fund, increase land protections in states including Colorado and Utah, and support National Forest and Bureau of Land Management planning efforts.

The Nature Conservancy also supports public land access while promoting sustainable farming, energy management, and biodiversity in the U.S. and beyond.

To learn more about the SDGs, head to the Goalkeepers site created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.