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Sustainable development to save life on Planet Earth – Times of India

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The author is a Professor and Head of Center for Environmental Sciences & Engineering at School of Natural Sciences, Shiv Nadar Institution of Eminence
Earth is not only unique but precious as it is the only place to host life in the entire universe. The life on earth is sustained in the biosphere or biomes in different ecosystems. The biosphere which provides the necessary environmental conditions for survival extends from the deepest root systems of trees, to the dark environments of ocean trenches, to lush rain forests, high mountaintops, deserts and transition zones like this one, where ocean and terrestrial ecosystems meet. Within the biosphere more than 80 percent of the life/ biodiversity is sustained in forests, which are the storehouse of biodiversity.
Global biodiversity has grown and shrunk in earth’s past due to changes in abiotic factors such as natural mass extinction, changes in temperature and oxygen levels and sea levels. Current threats to global biodiversity are mainly anthropogenic factors such as pollution, deforestation, desertification, etc. The most comprehensive view of global biodiversity loss is summarized in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), which was carried out between 2001 and 2005 by over 1300 scientists from around the world. The MEA found that changes in biodiversity due to human activities were more rapid in the past 50 years than at any time in human history; species loss was about 1000 times higher than the background rate.
Forests which cover 30 percent of the Earth’s surface, provide vital habitats for millions of species, and important sources for clean air and water, as well as being crucial for combating climate change. Forests, the storehouse of biodiversity, were once considered an inexhaustible resource mainly due to exaggerated notions of their regeneration potential. However, the rate of forest exploitation was so high that our forests are deteriorating and disappearing at an alarming rate. The total forest area lost during the past 15 year-period was approximately 200 million hectares, total land area of Mexico or Indonesia !!! How much biodiversity we are losing forever with this rate of forest loss is unimaginable.
Since sustenance of human beings is directly dependent on utilization of natural resources from the closed system of Earth it needs proper management and their sustainable utilization, especially forests as about 13 million hectares are being lost every year. In the light of rampant destruction of ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, deforestation looks certain that human life is not going to survive on Earth which has taken millions of years to evolve. A recent UN report on biodiversity found that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.
So, what can be done to safeguard our precious resources and overall environment on Earth which can save life?
Early Environmental concerns were raised following the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, which drew attention to the strong relationship between economic growth and development and environmental degradation. Subsequently, UN supported World Conference at Stockholm placed environmental issues at the forefront of international concerns and marked the start of a dialogue between industrialized and developing countries on the link between economic growth, the pollution of the air, water, and oceans and the well-being of people around the world. 
However, it was not until 1987 when the UN World Commission on Environment and Development released the report – Our Common Future, commonly called the Brundtland Report based on modern concept of Sustainable Development. The report was primarily rooted in earlier ideas about Sustainable Forest Management during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Germany and twentieth century environmental concerns in Europe. Sustainable Development was considered as the organizing principle for sustaining finite resources necessary to provide for the needs of future generations of life on the planet. The desirable end result is a state of society where living conditions and resource use continue to meet human needs without undermining the integrity and stability of the natural systems. When put into practice, Sustainable Development helps combat environmental deterioration in air quality, water levels and terrestrial control. At the same time, its practice maintains habitat diversity, helps improve poverty, controls over consumption and improves health and education.
To achieve Sustainable Development, in 2015 all the countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Everyone has their goals in life, but what if the planet came together to work towards the same ones? This is the thinking behind the 17 Global Goals created by the United Nations to achieve a more sustainable world by 2030. With the power to end poverty, battle inequality and paralyze global warming, the goals will build a more responsible, just and peaceful future for everyone. 
Life on earth is extraordinary which is intricately linked with our forests known to possess more than 80% of all land-based species. Our remarkable ecosystems allow us to eat, breath and live through various ecosystem services. Yet through deforestation, global warming and meat-production, we’re slowly killing our earth and its inhabitants. 
Before we panic, it’s worth reminding ourselves that we can fix this. SD Goal 15 is all about working together to protect, restore and promote our planet’s biodiversity including plants, insects and animals and of course the homo sapiens itself. By focusing on the changes we can make now to help our future, we can sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, reverse land degradation and put a stop to biodiversity loss. This goal aims to conserve all forms of life on land, from humans to the very last insect. Thus, saving the precious life on our planet.
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Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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