Goal 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

Preserving diverse forms of life on land requires targeted efforts to protect, restore and promote the conservation and sustainable use of terrestrial and other ecosystems. Goal 15 focuses specifically on managing forests sustainably, halting and reversing land and natural habitat degradation, successfully combating desertification and stopping biodiversity loss. All these efforts combined aim to ensure that the benefits of land-based ecosystems, including sustainable livelihoods, will be enjoyed for generations to come.

Net forest loss has decreased by more than half since the 1990s, but the loss of forests continues

Between 1990 and 2015, the world’s forest area diminished from 31.7 per cent of the world’s total land mass to 30.7 per cent. This loss was mainly due to the conversion of forests to other uses, such as agriculture and infrastructure development. Meanwhile, other areas returned to forests through planting, landscape restoration or natural expansion. As a result of these ongoing processes and efforts to slow deforestation, the global net loss in forest area declined from 7.3 million hectares per year in the 1990s to 3.3 million hectares per year during the period 2010-2015. Progress across regions is mixed: Latin America and the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa and South-Eastern Asia accounted for the largest losses in forest area, whereas Eastern Asia accounted for the largest gains.

Annual net change in forest area, 1990-2000 and 2010-2015 (thousands of hectares)

Key biodiversity areas are increasingly covered by protected areas

In 2014, 15.2 per cent of the world’s terrestrial and freshwater environments were covered by protected areas, which are recognized, dedicated and managed to achieve the long-term conservation of nature. A fundamental measure of their efficacy is the extent to which they include places that contribute significantly to the maintenance of global biodiversity, such as key biodiversity areas (KBAs). Globally, the percentage of terrestrial, inland freshwater and mountain KBAs covered by protected areas has increased from 16.5 per cent to 19.3 per cent, 13.8 per cent to 16.6 per cent, and 18.1 per cent to 20.1 per cent, respectively, from 2000 to 2016. Safeguarding KBAs around the globe in all three ecosystems is critically important for maintaining genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity, and in turn the benefits they provide to people.

Proportion of key biodiversity areas that are completely covered by protected areas, by ecosystem type (terrestrial, inland freshwater and mountain), 2000-2016 (percentage)
  • Developed regions
  • Developing regions
  • World

Note: Ecosystem types are not mutually exclusive.



In every region the survival of species is increasingly threatened

As of 2015, over 23,000 species of plants, fungi and animals were known to face a high probability of extinction. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List Index, amphibians are declining most rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean, primarily owing to the chytrid fungal disease, one of numerous wildlife diseases on the rise worldwide. The greatest increases in extinction risk for birds and mammals have occurred in South-Eastern Asia, mainly driven by the conversion of lowland forests. On average, the extinction risk for coral species is increasing most rapidly, while cycad species (an ancient group of cone-producing plants) are the most severely threatened species group assessed. However, the loss of species is not inevitable: extinction risks for vertebrate species have been reversed in five small island developing States (Cook Islands, Fiji, Mauritius, Seychelles and Tonga) as a result of conservation actions over the last several decades.

Red List Index* of species survival, 1993-2016
Goal 15 Chart 5
* The Red List Index for each region is based on the aggregate survival probability (the inverse of extinction risk) for all birds, mammals, amphibians, corals and cycads occurring within the region, weighted by the fraction of each species’ distribution within the region. Values range from 1.0, which indicates a minimum contribution to the global index (i.e., all species in the region are classified as Least Concern) to zero, which indicates the maximum possible contribution to the global index (i.e., all species in the region are classified as Extinct).

Illegal trade in wildlife is a global phenomenon with distinct regional variations

The list of species under international protection continues to grow. At the same time, conservation efforts are being thwarted by the poaching and trafficking of wildlife, crimes that are occurring worldwide. Since 1999, at least 7,000 species of animals and plants have been reported in illegal trade affecting 120 countries. Trafficking in wildlife affects all regions of the world, whether as a source, transit location or destination. Trafficking in birds is most common in Central and South America, mammals in Asia and Africa, reptiles in Europe and North America, and corals in Oceania.

Share of seizure incidents by taxonomic class, 1999-2015 (percentage)
Note: Share of all seizure incidents in the World Wildlife Seizures database, which contains over 164,000 seizures from 120 countries. Regional groupings are according to the United Nations standard geographical regions for statistical use (M49).