Despite progress in key environmental areas such as clean water, sanitation, clean energy, forest management and waste, countries are still living unsustainably and are on course to miss the environmental dimensions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, according to the Measuring Progress: Environment and the SDGs report issued by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to coincide with the International Day for Biological Diversity.
The report found that some environmental areas – such as 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. “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 2030 Agenda emanates from the 2015 UN Resolution that sets clear targets for a sustainable future, with internationally agreed goals in 17 areas such as poverty, hunger, health, climate action, clean energy and responsible consumption, among others. The Measuring Progress report calls for improved data and indicators to understand how to ensure development progresses within planetary boundaries.
The report reviews data and information about the environmental aspects of each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their progress around the world. The publication is based on global and regional performances as assessed through the SDG indicators that have a direct relation with environmental issues.
The report flagged an increase of available data, but with the newly available data, an increase in downward trends among more indicators when compared with a previous progress report in 2019. Environmental data published in the first Measuring Progress report showed that out of the 32 per cent of indicators with data (30 indicators), 74 per cent (22 indicators) followed a positive trend, and 26 per cent (8 indicators) indicated little change or a negative trend. In this 2021 report, out of the 42 per cent of indicators with data (39 indicators), 67 per cent (26 indicators) followed a positive trend and 33 per cent (13 indicators) showed little change or a negative trend.
The interlinked nature of the SDGs means that achieving one goal or target may contribute to achieving other goals or targets, or the pursuit of one objective may conflict with the achievement of another. The report uses an analytical approach, driven by data, to test the relationship between SDG indicators. The analysis revealed examples where correlations are significant and are consistent with intuition or published evidence. For example, the report found that Domestic Material Consumption (DMC) related to biomass extraction is negatively correlated with species at risk of extinction.
On the other hand, with regard to biodiversity loss, the increasing extent of protected areas and other protective measures have not led to reductions in the number of species under threat of extinction. Without exception, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets – a 10-year global strategy designed to conserve biodiversity by 2020 – have been missed, according to the 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook.
The report identified a gap in the diversity and use of environmental data and statistics to inform government policy and decision-making, particularly big environmental data produced by remote sensing, in situ sensors and artificial intelligence technologies, as well as data collated through environmental–economic accounting activities. Many existing data products, statistics and indicators seem to be under-utilized, and governments have failed to place an emphasis on that data when crafting policy.
“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 on it 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.”
Strengthening environmental data capacities is needed if policymakers are to improve their understanding of the priority actions required to ‘bend the curve’ of continuing environmental deterioration and advance the chances of meeting the environmental SDGs. Capacity-building is required in three areas: for collection of data using international-standard methodologies to ensure data comparability; for data management to ensure open access to data, for data analysis where data are used to better understand what happened, why it happened, what may happen next and how to respond, according to the report.