Some sustainable development goals may impact forests adversely: study

On the 04/08/21 at 7:37AM


Adrien Paredes-Vanheule

Recent research by the University of Leeds identified 63 out of 169 sustainable development targets with potentially beneficial, damaging and mixed impacts on forests.

Investors battling against deforestation should have a closer look to the United Nations-supported sustainable development goals (SDGs) they pursue within their investment policies as a new study from the University of Leeds advises. Is there published literature that suggests or demonstrates that achieving a given target can have implications for forests? To answer this question and assess the strength of the answer’s evidence, the authors of the study sieved academic literature. From 466 sources, the research team collected 963 records of impacts spanning 63 SDG targets.

“Summarising these findings at the target level, we identified 29, 15 and 19 targets with potentially beneficial, damaging and mixed impacts, respectively, of which 36 have a high level of associated confidence and 27 a low level. No impacts were identified for 41 targets, and although these receive little attention in the remainder of this article, we do not dismiss the possibility that some associated forest impacts may exist, despite these not being evident in the literature encountered in our searches,” the study pinpointed.

Education is a positive for forests' preservation

Hence, the authors highlighted the potential beneficial outcome on forests of some SDGs including SDGs 4 (quality education), 5 (gender equality) and 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions). On SDG 4 targets’ beneficial effects, the team exhumed empirical observations suggesting that improving access to all levels of education can result in a reduced tendency to clear forests. Mechanisms by which this occurs are not always clear, the study noted, but are often related to one or more of a number of associated outcomes. These are “a higher proportion of people working in the service sector; an increased tendency to migrate from rural to urban areas; increased knowledge of new farming techniques/technologies resulting in agricultural intensification over expansion into new areas; or an increased awareness of  the ‘Western’ environmental movement.”

Conversely, a few SDGs have mostly damaging and/or mixed potential impacts, in particular SDGs 9 (industry and infrastructure) and 11 (sustainable cities and communities). SDGs 9 and 11 have two and three targets respectively assessed as damaging. “In most cases, damaging impacts were associated with hard infrastructure (including roads, railways, dams, housing and industrial areas. Regarding roads, there is good evidence to suggest that roads designed to boost access to markets (target 9.3) are especially damaging. Despite this, occasional records suggest potentially mixed or even beneficial impacts of roads, but such evidence is relatively weak.” Among other SDGs targets that may carry a potential damaging effect on nature forests are targets 2.3 (double agricultural productivity and small food producers’ incomes) and 8.9 (promote sustainable tourism).

Peace could be detrimental to forests in some cases

Besides, many SDGs have varying combinations of impacts (beneficial, mixed, damaging) such as the SDG 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions). The authors said that targets 16.1 (reduce violence) and the related 16.a (strengthen institutions to combat violence, combat terrorism and crime) can both have mixed impacts. “The implications for forests of ending civil or international armed conflicts can be highly complex, requiring consideration of a multitude of factors,” the research pointed out. In the authors’ view, ending a conflict may alleviate forest pressures whereas it may concurrently allow for other damaging activities to begin or resume, including agricultural expansion or increased exploitation of forest resources from formerly hostile environments.

Looking at the SDG target 16.4 (reduce organised crime), the research underlined this target can have potentially damaging impacts, citing evidences over the fight against coca-related criminality in Colombia. “Despite having some forest benefits, coca crop eradication has been shown to result in cultivators simply moving their damaging activities elsewhere or switching to agricultural practices that are more damaging themselves,” the authors said.

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