The 12th edition of our monthly SDG Meetup, which we developed in collaboration with SDG House and C-Change, focused on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15: Life on Land.

SDG 15 focuses specifically on managing forests sustainably, halting and reversing land and natural habitat degradation, successfully combating desertification, and stopping biodiversity loss. All of these efforts combined aim to ensure that the benefits of land-based ecosystems, including sustainable livelihoods, will be enjoyed for generations to come.

As is the case with each monthly SDG Meetup, we invited speakers to help us explore different perspectives on SDG 15, namely Coenraad Krijger (SDG 15 coordinator for the Netherlands), Leandro Viecili, Agribusiness & Project Developer at Impact Hub members reNature, and Tineke Lambooy, Professor of Corporate Law at Nyenrode Business University.

“It’s not going well with nature”

“The fabric of life is deteriorating at an unprecedented speed. It’s serious and it’s time to act”, said SDG 15 coordinator for the Netherlands and IUCN NL director Coenraad Krijger. According to an IPBES 2019 report, 1 million species are at risk of extinction. Species potentially going extinct is just the tip of the iceberg and a phenomenon that threatens the health of entire ecosystems. The Netherlands, for instance, has seen a significant drop in insect biomass, which has serious implications for pollination and how our food is produced.

Krijger focused on nature as a complex and delicate system that’s all about interconnection. And all species are essential to biodiversity and thus to achieving SDG 15, which is one of the four key SDGs supporting our biosphere. Although the mission seems too daunting and complex, the good news is that there we know what to do and the guidelines are in place, such as the SDG 15 indicators. These stress, for example, the need to ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems.

But incremental change on each SDG 15 target will not do the job, according to Krijger. What is required is a ‘New Deal for Nature‘, which he hopes will be the outcome of leading global conferences in 2020, such as the IUCN Congress in France and the Biodiversity Summit in China. Krijger argues that an intergovernmental deal on maintaining biodiversity must be an inclusive, participatory process with an action-oriented agenda, science-based targets, a strong link to the Climate Deal and biosphere-related SDGs and hard commitments.

It is not only governments that can – and should –  take action. Businesses should assess their biodiversity footprints,  measure their true costs by also accounting for environmental impact, green their offices, and, in the Netherlands, join coalitions such as the Delta Plan for Biodiversity. Consumers can also make a difference to SDG 15 by purchasing deforestation-free products, participating in awareness and nature management projects, and taking political action.

Restoring nature through agroforestry

That is the mission of reNature, whose bold ambition is to regenerate 1 million hectares of land worldwide while ensuring food security for 10 million farmers and their communities and sequester 200 million tonnes of carbon. Through regenerative agroforestry, reNature helps blend multiple trees, crops and even livestock that reinforce and complement each other, thus achieving higher, more diversified yields and the natural balance of the planet’s ecosystems.

Leandro Viecili, Agribusiness & Project Developer, explained that agroforestry thus contributes to social impact, food security, economic resilience, and ecosystem services. Among the ecosystem benefits of this regenerative approach are up to 45% more cocoa yield per hectare, 13 % more soil humidity, 73% more biodiversity and 12 tonnes more of carbon sequestration per hectare per year.

reNature wants to expand from six farms being piloted in Brazil in Indonesia to 500 farms by 2030. How does the model farm system work? Regenerative agroforestry Model Farms are implemented in the client’s production unit, followed by Model Schools that act as knowledge hubs, and then scaling up through Transition Packages, performing landscape projects at a fee per farmer or per hectare.

The farms supported by reNature will focus on cocoa, coffee, cotton, livestock, palm oil, rubber, and soy – all resource-intensive crops. But as Viecili points out, the crops themselves are not the problem but how we produce them. Even leading food and beverage brands such as Danone and Nespresso are realizing that regenerative agriculture is the way to produce and that their supply chains must be transformed.

Granting legal personhood to nature

Endangered by intensive human activity, from shipping to fishing and mining, and rising sea levels, to name just a few, the intertidal zone of the Wadden Sea could take action to protect itself. What if this UNESCO Heritage Site could become a legal person, asks Tineke Lambooy, Professory of Corporate Law at Nijmegen Business Universiteit. According to Lambooy, natural sites of key importance to biodiversity could have legal standing through a physical representative with a seat at the table and the ability to negotiate their continued protection.

A municipality, a company, a nonprofit organization – these are all legal fictions, explains Lambooy. In a court of law, for instance, one or more physical persons, such as a Board of Directors, represents an organization and speaks on its behalf. Drawing from the movement for the rights of nature, Lambooy made a compelling case for the legal personhood of our ecosystems and shared that an exploratory study is now being undertaken in the case of the Wadden Sea’s potential such personhood.

Key precedents include article 71 of Ecuador’s constitution, which states: “Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution. Bolivia’s Mother Earth Law has defined nature as a legal entity that takes on “the character of collective public interest”, while Colombia’s Supreme Court ruled that the country’s Amazon Area as ‘an entity subject of rights’ – the same legal rights as a human being.

A lively debate

As per usual, our SDG Meetup concluded with an interactive session – this time in the form of a lively Q&A session.

For instance, one participant asked if the rule of halves (i.e. turning half of all agricultural land into nature reserves) would be the best chance to ensure biodiverse ecosystems. Coenraad Krijger found it unrealistic but hoped that a New Deal for Nature would result in at least 30% protected areas and 20% sustainably managed areas. He also highlighted the issue of separating nature from people in, for instance, efficient, highly circular cities, disconnected from natural ecosystems.

Our Community Lead, asked why permaculture, which sees nature as an equal partner and legitimate user of resources, is such a hard concept to grasp. Leandro Viecili argued that the industrial production has alienated people from the original resource  – nature. Just like a worker on an assembly line cannot see the bigger picture, citizens are in a consumption loop that makes them feel better while having forgotten that nature fills you from inside out – no shopping needed!

Another participant said that the SDG 15 may be a great goal, but do we need penalties to enforce it? Taking the example of global biodiversity conferences attended by governments, Coenraad Krijger argued that any hard commitments should be translated into national laws. Unless, we, the people, push biodiversity on the political agenda, we cannot hold people responsible and impose penalties.

Tineke Lambooy highlighted a ‘carrots rather than sticks’ approach through an example of ASN Bank’s development of a biodiversity component for companies in which the bank invests. This assesses the positive or negative impact a company has in terms of hectares the companies operate on. In a positive trend, more investment managers are adopting this type of methodology and making strides in reducing business’ biodiversity and climate footprint.