Water JPI AQUATAP-ES network publish paper on UN Sustainable Development Goal dedicated to SDG6

Article by Prof Mary Kelly Quinn UCD Ireland

Ecosystem Services Approach and Natures Contributions to People (NCP) Help Achieve SDG6

This paper is published in a volume of the Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals dedicated to SDG6 “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” The authors explore how the ecosystem services approach and that of Natures Contributions to People (NCP)  can help support achievement of this aim and more specifically the six targets set by this goal.  The concept of ecosystem services is now fairly widely understood as the contributions of nature to human well-being. NCP extends the concept of ecosystem services, by classifying NCP into material, regulating and nonmaterial services, as well as explicitly recognizing the knowledge of local-indigenous communities. 

Given that the SDGs also aim to enhance human well-being, the authors postulated that there are synergies between policies targeted to enhance ecosystems and their services and policies aimed at achieving the SDG goals. In Figure 2 in the paper, they illustrate the multiple links between various ecosystem services (as defined by CICES) and the six SDG targets.  For example, central to all of the SDG targets are the provisioning services of “water for drinking” and “non-drinking purposes” by surface and groundwater resources. Capitalising on water purification services (“bioremediation by microorganisms, plants and animals,” “dilution, filtration, storage,” “control of erosion rates,” “smell reduction”)  influences the quality of freshwater sources and therefore helps minimize costs associated with treatment and provision of potable supplies of clean water (SDG 6.1), also of relevance to SDG 6.3. They linked “regulation of baseline flows and extreme events” to sustaining the yield of water for human uses (drinking water SDG 6.1, sanitation SDG 6.2, reducing water scarcity SDG 6.4) and protection of water-related ecosystems (SDG 6.6). They note that cultural services, although not directly affecting water quality or quantity, can influence how people perceive water and water-related issues, and therefore can be influential in integrated management of water resources (SDG 6.5), including protection and restoration of water-related ecosystems (SDG 6.6). Human development activities have degraded many water-based ecosystems and consequently reduced their ability to deliver ES/NCP that could contribute to the SDG goals. The authors highlight how consideration of ecosystem services/NCP can help restoration of degraded ecosystem through the use of nature-based solutions.

In their conclusions, the authors highlight that water in fact represents one of the key interdependencies or nexus among the 17 SDG goals and that sustainable water supply (ecosystems) is in fact a prerequisites for achievement of SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 3 (Good Health & Well-Being), SDG 4 (Education), SDG 5 (Gender Equality), SDG 7 (Affordable & Clean Energy), SDG 8 (Productivity), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities & Communities), SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 14 (Life Below Water), and SDG 15 (Life on Land) because it directly influences the achievement of those goals through services they provide or cannot provide in the case of ecosystem breakdown. Thus, unless water-related ecosystem services are managed to meet the growing demand for clean reliable water supplies and protection of aquatic biodiversity, achievement of SDG 6 and other SDGs will be curtailed.


Ecosystem Services Approach and Natures Contributions to People (NCP) Help Achieve SDG6
Kelly-Quinn M., Christie M., Bodoque J.M., Schoenrock K. (2021) Ecosystem Services Approach and Natures Contributions to People (NCP) Help Achieve SDG6. In: Leal Filho W., Azul A.M., Brandli L., Lange Salvia A., Wall T. (eds) Clean Water and Sanitation. Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Springer, Cham.