Transforming our World by 2030: The essential contribution of ecosystem services to the proposed Sustainable Development Goals

Paul van Gardingen, ESPA Director
September 1, 2015
Earlier this month, the United Nations published its framework for the post-2015 development agenda “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.  This document will be presented at the UN’s General Assembly in September for the world’s leaders to sign.  The proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will replace the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from 1 January 2016.
ESPA’s research agenda was a response to the challenges outlined in the MDGs (2000/2001) and the subsequent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005).  Looking forward, it is the SDGs that will help to frame the way that the results derived from ESPA’s research is used to transform the world.  
Many of ESPA’s research projects are currently working with partners to implement activities to enhance the development impact of their work.  The new UN publication is essential reading to support and guide this work.  The document very clearly documents the importance of ecosystems across a number of the 17 Goals and associated targets.  It’s not just the Goals related to terrestrial and (Goal 15) or the oceans, seas and marine resources (Goal 14) but also many others including (but not restricted to) achieving food security (Goal 2), sustainable management of water (Goal 6), promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth (Goal 8), building resilient infrastructure (Goal 9), making cities sustainable (Goal 11) and combating climate change and its impact (Goal 13).  
As I read the UN’s document, I see that the importance of sustainable management and equitable utilisation of ecosystems and their services are central to achieving almost every Goal, but note that the term “ecosystem service” does not appear anywhere.  This does not mean that ecosystem services don’t matter to the SDGs, just that language used by policy makers has evolved and that programmes like ESPA need to consider how best to communicate the relevance of our research to the new agenda for global development.  
ESPA’s research can make a very significant global contribution to the implementation of the SDGs to help transform our world by 2030.  Our challenge is to communicate how this can happen and to create examples that demonstrate the benefits of ecosystem-based approaches for sustainable development.  We then need to find partners who share the belief captured in the UN’s statements that “we reaffirm that planet Earth and its ecosystems are our common home” and “we recognise that social and economic development depends on the sustainable management of our planet’s natural resources.”
ESPA’s research is starting to show how ecosystems will be central to the SDGs.  There are examples in every one of our monthly newsletters.  This month, we have the new paper from the ESPA ASSETs project describing the links between animal biodiversity and crop yields in Malawi.  This paper concludes that “Bees, birds and insects always improved crop yield, whereas monkeys, rodents and large herbivores always result in losses.”, the paper also notes that “three out of four villages [in the study] experienced a net benefit to crop yield from the animal biodiversity present.”.  
This is the latest example of ESPA’s research generating evidence that will be required to implement the SDGs. ESPA has already produced over 160 academic publications and our evidence around 100 times every month (and growing).  ESPA is also generating evidence of development impact which I will highlight in next month’s newsletter when we publish ESPA’s Annual Report for the period up to the end of March 2015.  
My vision for ESPA is that ESPA’s research will make a significant and sustainable contribution to Transforming our World by 2030.   I also very strongly believe that those benefits must and will be seen much earlier than 15 years from now.  As I meet ESPA’s researchers and partners around the world, I know that this is a belief and commitment that is widely shared.  ESPA’s Funders and my team in the ESPA Directorate are determined to make this vision come true.