Life on Land: Sustainable Development Goal 15

Friday, February 24, 2023

In 2015, the United Nations Member States, including the United States, unanimously approved 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. Among them is SDG 15 – Life on Land. In the February issue of ELR — The Environmental Law Reporter, William J. Snape and Elena Gartner propose recommendations for advancing this goal in the U.S. Given the country’s lush biodiversity and vast landscape, Goal 15 is particularly critical to its sustainability. And despite recent political tumult, we could be on our way toward achieving it at least in part.

Fawn in forest

Goal 15 is broad, laying out 12 targets to be met by 2020 or 2030. Among these include ecosystem protection and sustainable land management; endangered species protection; invasive species control; public expenditure and resource spending; and integration of these and other targets into government planning.

In furtherance of the SDG 15 targets, Snape and Gartner recommend that U.S. public lands law incorporate a better sustainability framework that would integrate biodiversity and climate impacts and threats, ramp down fossil fuel extraction and other industrial-scale harm, and actively serve a diversity of human long-term enjoyment. For private lands, they recommend that conservation easements and other incentives be promoted in a cost-effective manner to complement regulatory protections under the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act. And at the international level, they recommend the U.S. become more aggressive in combatting trade in wild animals and invasive species, and invest much more heavily in clean renewable energy, as well as habitat protection and restoration, as long-term national security objectives.

As the authors explain, our food, water, and homes are all dependent upon land management. How we transport ourselves, develop energy sources, and find personal enjoyment are integrally linked with the land. As such, Goal 15 provides a useful indicator to help direct U.S. land and biological diversity efforts.

The Article is adapted from Chapter 15 of Governing for Sustainability (John C. Dernbach & Scott E. Schang eds., ELI Press, forthcoming 2023), in which leading legal scholars examine each of the SDGs and recommend a suite of government, private-sector, and civil society actions to help the United States achieve these goals. Contact if you’d like to be notified upon the book’s release.

ELI is making this featured ELR article available free for download. To access all that ELR has to offer, including the full content of ELR—The Environmental Law Reporter and its archive, you must have a subscription.

To learn more, visit