Establishing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with their long-overdue incorporation of environmental aspects alongside social and economic dimensions of sustainability, has sparked intense debate about the contributions of largely natural and restored terrestrial environments towards sustainability.
This debate is intensifying given the rapidly approaching deadline for the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and global thinking about what might replace it. The Paris Agreement under the UN climate change convention and the Land Degradation Neutrality target of the UN convention on desertification have added further momentum to the discussions.
There have been many attempts to conceptually map the various SDGs against each other, against the activities of different sectors, and against the human-environment landscape but there have been few attempts to map the SDGs’ spatial requirements so that the interactions and trade-offs between them can be assessed.
In particular, the spatial requirements of SDG 6 on clean freshwater have yet to be examined in any detail or compared to the spatial requirements of other SDGs. For example, upland catchments could be maintained as natural forest to support the goals on freshwater, carbon storage and biodiversity, or converted to agriculture to support the food security goal, or to carbon capture and storage to support the climate change goal.
Many areas of the world have many, sometimes conflicting, sometimes synergistic, values to society when viewed through the SDG lens. The spatial mapping of SDGs and their overlap has untapped potential to support sustainability efforts and may help overcome transboundary challenges to decisions over natural resource management.
IUCN, Conservation International, UNEP-WCMC, King’s College London, The Nature Conservancy and WWF with support from the Luc Hoffmann Institute are testing different approaches to combining spatial information on agricultural potential, freshwater production from natural ecosystems, irrigation, carbon storage and sequestration, biodiversity and other important societal values. They will examine the contribution different approaches can make to SDG implementation, to the objectives of different environmental conventions and to setting land-use priorities.
The overall goal is to jointly develop proof-of-concept mapping approaches and guidance for testing within a wider community of SDG practitioners. If one (or more) of the approaches proves to be useful to this community, IUCN will seek to incorporate it into key processes in the run-up to 2030 when the current SDG mandate will be reassessed.
The first step will be to develop the scientific underpinnings of the broad approach to be taken. Which SDGs and values should be considered? What values should be considered and why? What spatial data will be used as proxies for these values and how closely do these map to the values being examined? What similar work has been done in the past and how much can this be built on?
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