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9. Manage Natural Resource Assets Sustainably

High Level Panel on the Post-2020 Development Agenda

a) Publish and use economic, social and environmental accounts in all governments and major companies

b) Increase consideration of sustainability in x% of government procurements

c) Safeguard ecosystems, species and genetic diversity

d) Reduce deforestation by x% and increase reforestation by y%

e) Improve soil quality, reduce soil erosion by x tonnes and combat desertification

Protecting and preserving the earth’s resources is not only the right thing to do, it is fundamental to human life and well-being. Integrating environmental, social and economic concerns is crucial to meeting the ambition of a 2030 which is more equal, more just, more prosperous, more green and more peaceful. People living in poverty suffer first and worst from environmental disasters like droughts, floods and harvest failures, yet every person on earth suffers without clean air, soil and water. If we don’t tackle the environmental challenges confronting the world, we can make gains towards eradicating poverty, but those gains may not last.

Today, natural resources are often used as if they have no economic value, as if they do not need to be managed for the benefit of future generations as well as our own. But natural resources are scarce, and damage to them can be irreversible. Once they are gone, they are gone for good.

Because we ‘treasure what we measure’, an important part of properly valuing the earth’s natural abundance is to incorporate it into accounting systems. Our current systems of accounting fail to integrate the enormous impact of environmental concerns; they become ‘externalities’, effects which matter and have real social and economic consequences, but which are not captured in calculations of profit, loss and growth.

Countries’ standard measure of progress is Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or, for companies, profit. This leaves out the value of natural assets. It does not count the exploitation of natural resources or the creation of pollution, though they clearly affect growth and well-being. Some work is already being done to make sure governments and companies do begin to account for this: the UN System of Environmental-Economic Accounting, the Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services and corporate sustainability accounting have been piloted and should be rolled out by 2030. More rapid and concerted movement in this direction is encouraged.

Value for money assessments in public procurement can be a powerful tool for governments to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable development. This can enable governments to use their considerable purchasing power to significantly accelerate the market for sustainable practices.

Ecosystems include forests, wetlands and oceans. Globally, over a billion people living in rural areas depend on forest resources for survival and income. Yet the world loses about 5.2 million hectares of forest per year to deforestation. Growing global demand for food, animal feed, fuel and fiber is driving deforestation. Many of these forests have been traditionally managed by indigenous peoples and local communities. When forests are cleared, people and communities lose a traditional source of their livelihoods while societies lose an important natural resource that could be managed for more sustainable economic development. The destruction of forests also accelerates climate change, which affects everyone.

Maintaining forests with many different species and planting a wide range of food crops benefits people’s livelihoods and food security. Such measures would keep forests providing essential services, such as protecting the watershed, mitigating climate change, increasing local and regional resilience to a changing climate and hosting many species. With 60 per cent of the world’s ecosystems degraded, tens of thousands of species have already been lost.

New partnerships are needed to halt the loss of forests, to capture the full value of forests to people and society, and to tackle the drivers of deforestation. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) is an emerging global effort to give developing countries economic incentives to conserve their forests and increase reforestation in the context of improving people’s livelihoods and food security, taking into account the value of natural resources, and biodiversity. These major efforts in low-carbon development and carbon sequestration need more financial support.

Every year, 12 million hectares of land become degraded—half the size of the United Kingdom – losing opportunities to grow 20 million tons of food. World leaders have already agreed to strive for a land degradation-neutral world and to monitor, globally, what is happening in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas. It is time to do this systematically in the new post-2015 framework.

Emissions from deforestation