Human life depends intrinsically on the Earth land surface, which is becoming increasingly vulnerable as a result of unprecedented land degradation, deforestation and biodiversity loss due to land use change, agricultural intensification and climate change. SDG-15 aims at conserving and restoring the use of terrestrial ecosystems, both for the benefit of humankind and for the purpose of achieving a sustainable planet.
At the Copernicus Institute we try to understand how environmental change and changing land use affect not only the functioning of the terrestrial ecosystem but also its services to humans. In addition, we evaluate and design governance arrangements so as to mitigate adverse effects and to restore ecosystems. For example, we examine the effectiveness of policies that promote ‘nature-inclusive’ farming, the control and management of invasive alien species, and the influence of changing biogeochemical cycles on biodiversity and ecosystem processes in grasslands, forests and wetlands. Moreover, we explore how biofuel production can exist alongside food production and biodiversity conservation, and we aim to find pathways for the transition towards sustainable agriculture and a community-based management of natural resources. We identify, analyse and quantify ecosystem services in primary and secondary forests and agroforestry systems, we examine how land use can be adapted to cope with climate change, and we try to predict the risk of desertification and fires in drylands and tropical regions.