SDG 15 Life on land

Sustainable Development Goal 15 – “Life on land” – is centered on the protection and restoration of land ecosystems. The goal specifically addresses forest management, desertification, land degradation and biodiversity. To this end, SDG 15 includes 12 targets, each with indicators for measuring progress. The first nine, targets 15.1–15.9, address areas of environmental protection, while the last three, 15.A–15.C, address funding and support for programs.1

From the Millenium Development Goals to SDG 15

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emerged in large part as a successor to and expansion of the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs were a set of eight goals designed to serve as a guide for policy and a measuring stick for development, focusing on areas such as poverty, disease and gender inequality. Each area had specific targets and all were designed to be achieved by 2015.

In 2013, as the MDG timeframe drew to a close, the UN created the SDGs to guide a new phase in international development cooperation.2 Because the SDGs emerged from the MDGs, it is important to understand how the MDGs serve as context for current work on the SDGs.

With regards to SDG 15, the relevant MDG was Goal 7, “Ensure Environmental Sustainability.” More specifically, the carryovers are Targets 7.A and 7.B, which focus on environmentally sustainable development policy and the reversal of biodiversity loss.3 As part of the MDG framework, the Lao PDR began to implement policies directed at these targets. Areas covering more than one-fifth of the country were designated as national, provincial or district protected areas.4 

The government also began work on reforestation, primarily through working with local communities and providing funding for sustainable forestry management programs.5

 Forest cover in the Lao PDR had fallen from 71.8 percent in 1940 to 40.3 percent in 2010.6 However, there are indications that in recent years forest cover has been increasing.7 The Lao government will have to increase material and legislative support in order to meet targets for the SDGs. The government has already begun some of this work. For example, it has stated its goal of reaching 70 percent forest cover within the country by 2020.8 

Achieving SDG 15 is especially important in the Lao context, given the role environmental resources have in the Lao economy. It is estimated that more than 85 percent of employment and two-thirds of GDP are dependent on biodiversity and ecological protection.9 Nearly a third of all economic growth in Laos over the past decade was in the environmental and natural resource sectors.10 Thus, working towards the SDG goals of biodiversity, land and forestry protection and restoration are key to the Lao PDR’s economic future.

For the Lao PDR, the indicators and targets that comprise SDG 15 are broken down into three key outcome areas:

  • The first is to make “significant progress in conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services,” and includes targets 15.1–15.5 and 15.a.
  • The second is “progress in biodiversity protection,” which includes targets 15.7 and 15.9.
  • The third is “progress in the control of invasive alien species in land and water ecosystems,” which includes target 15.8.11 

The Lao government has also adopted the Aichi biodiversity targets.12 These goals reinforce and expand on targets 15.7 and 15.9 by providing additional targets and measures to be taken by 2020.13 

In terms of planning, the localization of SDG 15 has been done in large part through the National Socio-economic Development Plan (NSEDP), which is released every five years. The SDGs were included first on the most recent NSEDP, which covers 2016 to 2020. The plan addressed to a limited extent how to include these goals in policy, and encouraged the creation of a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework for the SDGs.14 

Implementation of SDG 15 in Laos

Though broad planning for SDG 15 has taken place at the NSEDP level, implementation of tangible measures has been at the project or sector level. Achievement of SDG 15 is addressed, directly or indirectly, in documents and project reports. One example is the National Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, which outlined plans to increase protected areas and provided for environmental preservation projects.15 Another example is the Lao Road Sector Project 2, which primarily focused on infrastructure but made careful provisions regarding environmental impact, demonstrating consideration of SDG 15 goals outside of directly environmental projects.16 These projects have been varied in their approaches and scope.

Examples of implementation projects include:

  • Many provinces have passed provincial-level biodiversity protection plans that provide for a broad range of projects. Xieng Khouang Province, for instance, has established a plan through to 2020. This plan includes forestry-based job creation programs for locals, pilot programs for district-level planning, forest fire policy preparation, and the creation of a provincial botanical garden for the preservation of endangered species.17 
  • The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment has implemented and expanded Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) projects in the country, specifically looking at readiness in the Luang Prabang province. REDD+ programs provide financial incentive to organizations engaged in forestry to work in a sustainable manner.18
  • Just over 14 percent of the country has been designated as national protected areas, which rises to 20.2 percent with the inclusion of provincial and district protected areas. This puts Lao PDR ahead of some other countries in this regard.19 Though these areas suffer from limited management capacity and wavering financial commitments, their establishment indicates a step forward in environmental protection.20

Chart by: Open Development Laos. Source: World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), data.


Monitoring SDG 15 in Laos

In conjunction with the United Nations in Laos, the national government agreed on a series of indicators that would be integrated into the NSEDP, which serves as the primary mechanism for localizing the SDGs. However, a good portion of the indicators discussed were Tier II or Tier III indicators. Tier II indicators lack regular government data that can be monitored, and in Laos includes indicators for 15.4, 15.7, and 15.c.  Tier III indicators lack a standard metric to compare against, globally defined to include the indicators for 15.2, 15.3, 15.6, 15.8, and 15.9.21 

This being said, some indicators can be measured against currently available open data or government data. Both indicators for 15.1 can be measured. Forest cover as a percentage of total land, which is indicator 15.1.1, can be measured using data provided through REDD+.22 Released government data can be used to monitor 15.1.2, the proportion of protected area.23 Indicator 15.5.1 is the Red List Index of the country, which monitors number of species threatened with extinction.24 The Red List Index is publicly available, so this metric can be monitored. Indicators 15.a.1 and 15.b.1 can be tracked to some extent, as they monitor public expenditure and development assistance, but these numbers are inconsistent and not readily available.25 As a result, the Lao government will need to invest in M&E capabilities in conjunction with programs focused on achieving the targets.


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