The Sustainable Development Goals: MESHing with the Environment

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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed to in 2015, address issues of human well-being.  SDG 15 is titled “Life on land” and its aim is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems.  This goal calls for the sustainable management of forests, the combat of desertification, the halting and reversing of land degradation and the halting of biodiversity loss. 

Although SDG 15 is about land and environmental impacts, really each of the SDGs can be influenced by environmental issues. Since the beginning of humankind, people’s well-being has been inextricably linked to the environment. Actions that affect the environment can thus affect the different SDG targets, from poverty to hunger to clean energy.

When countries plan to take action, especially developmental actions, that impact on the environment, they must often estimate the extent of the impact. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are becoming common place, and although social implications are taken into consideration within EIAs, the calculation of social impacts, especially those that are indirect, can be complex and poorly done. Furthermore, a system that considers the impacts of different actions on a country’s progress towards each of the Sustainable Development Goals has not really been done yet – until now.

Mapping Ecosystem Services to Human well-being (MESH) is a modeling platform which will calculate the effect of different ecosystem services on the relevant SDG targets. The hope is that such a tool will be used by policy makers and development agencies to calculate the effects that different development practices will have on the given landscape and the impact of these effects on the various SDGs.

The SDGs are really a basis for calculating the sustainability of the practice with regards to all the different realms of human well-being. This tool would then give a more concrete understanding of the long term implications of various different development practices and provide a better basis for deciding whether they should be employed or not.

For now, MESH is still in development, although testing has shown great promise. In the Volta Basin, MESH was used to compare strategies for conserving hydrological ecosystem services and meeting national SDG commitments. Investment in riparian buffer management was found to affect certain facets of SDGs 1 (poverty), 2 (hunger), 6 (clean water), 7 (clean energy), and 13 (climate action). Three different strategies were analyzed and, based on the data, the most effective strategy was determined.

While the tool can be complex, basically MESH will be able to demonstrate the benefits we derive from our ecosystem and provide a greater case for why the environment deserves our protection. The benefit of being able to do that is simple enough to understand.

MESH is being developed in collaboration with the Natural Capital Project, Bioversity International, the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), Science for Nature and People (SNAP), and the CGIAR Research Programs on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) and on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM). Special thanks to Ehsan Dulloo of Bioversity International for giving a session on MESH as part of GCARD3.

Blogpost by Natalie Orentlicher, #GCARD3 Social Reporter – norentlicher(at)gmail.com

This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Global Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 April 2016. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

 


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