SDGs: Greater urgency needed to meet environmental goals, improved data likely key

22 May 2021

Countries are on track to miss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) relating to environmental protection, two UN entities warn in new report issued on Saturday to coincide with the International Day for Biological Diversity

Despite making progress in areas such as clean water, sanitation, clean energy and forest management, the world is still living unsustainably and biodiversity loss and climate change have continued to deteriorate. 

“We have still not embraced the rate of change necessary to come in line with the 2030 Agenda”, said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which produced the study together with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). 

Going backwards 

“The report makes it clear that we are falling short, and, in some cases, actually receding. The world cannot sustain our rate of use and abuse forever, and it is imperative that we accept the changes in lifestyles and livelihoods necessary to achieve the 2030 goals.” 

The SDGS are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which outlines internationally agreed targets in areas such as poverty, hunger, health, climate action, clean energy and responsible consumption. 

The Measuring Progress report reviews data and information about the environmental aspects of each of the 17 goals, and how countries are making headway based on assessment through respective SDG indicators. 

The authors found there has been an increase in downward trends among more indicators when compared with the previous progress report published in 2019.  

As the SDGs are interlinked, achieving one goal or target could contribute to realizing other goals or targets, while the pursuit of one objective may conflict with the achievement of another. 

Researchers tested the relationship between the SDG indicators, using an analytical approach driven by data.  Among the links they found was that Domestic Material Consumption (DMC) related to biomass extraction is “negatively correlated” with species at risk of extinction. 

On the other hand, increasing protected areas and other measures to safeguard biodiversity have not led to reductions in the number of species at risk of disappearing, meaning a decade-long global strategy to conserve biodiversity by 2020 has been missed. 

Better data for a greener planet 

The report calls for improved data, and indicators, to understand how to ensure development progresses in a practical way.  

Gaps were identified in the diversity and use of environmental data and statistics to inform government policies, particularly “big environmental data” produced through technologies such as remote sensing and artificial intelligence. 

Furthermore, many existing data products, statistics and indicators appear to be under-utilized, while governments also have failed to put emphasis on that data in policy formation or decision-making. 

“Our comprehension of the environmental dimension of the SDGs is lagging”, said Jian Liu, Director of the Science Division at UNEP.  

“Our limited capacities to collect, disseminate and effectively use environmental data have hindered our holistic understanding of the environment and the effect of socio-economic factors – we hope this report will support countries as they strengthen action on the environmental dimensions with a view to meeting the 2030 Agenda.” 

 

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