Leave No Ambition Behind: Why These 21 Targets Could Save the SDGs
Photo by IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis
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Twenty-one SDG targets have a 2020 deadline, which the world is unlikely to meet.

Clear and coherent action from Member States is needed on what we do next, especially with regard to the 12 expiring targets that focus on biodiversity.

2019 is a milestone year for the SDGs. It includes the first comprehensive review of progress on the entire 2030 Agenda since implementation began in 2016. This review will be held as the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) kicks off in September 2019.

One aspect of the 2030 Agenda that needs urgent attention is the quickly approaching deadline for 21 of the SDGs’ 169 targets. These targets will mature in 2020, and with 12 of them focused on biodiversity, they are essential for the success of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate change. We have a critical window of opportunity for clear and coherent action by Member States to address the future of these targets.

Unique Importance of the 2020 Targets

These 12 biodiversity targets have a 2020 end point because they were originally agreed under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), as part of the set of Aichi Biodiversity Targets. The Aichi agreement is set to end in 2020. Taken on as part of the 2030 Agenda, the targets are found under five separate SDGs: SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG 14 (life below water) and SDG 15 (life on land).

The targets cover the need for action on natural resources that provide food, water, timber and plants, as well as agricultural and cultural services that we depend on to survive. For example, the blue economy (SDG target 14.2) generates at least USD 2.5 trillion a year, and it is estimated that over 3 billion people rely on oceans for their livelihoods.

Current global assessments show that, for nine of these 12 targets, it is unlikely we will be able to meet them by 2020. What we do with these maturing targets beyond their 2020 deadline will determine whether we maintain the ambition of the transformational agenda or compromise our vision for a sustainable and secure world. In the words of UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, 2019 must be the “year of transformative solutions” needed to halt the unprecedented effects on our natural environment that will affect our survival and well-being.

Finally, the 2020 targets are a crucial test of the SDGs as an accountability mechanism. If targets are allowed to mature without any action to review or extend them, the 2030 Agenda could lose its political credibility and its ability to hold all actors accountable for their commitments.

The Need for a Clear and Coherent Plan

A plan of action is needed to transition the maturing targets beyond the 2020 deadline in order to maintain the possibility of achieving the SDGs by 2030. This plan of action should outline a clear decision-making process and timeline for this transition. The plan should build on the innovations of the 2030 Agenda by continuing to ensure coherence across various international agreements. In the case of the 12 biodiversity targets, these agreements will include the newly agreed global biodiversity framework to be negotiated at the 2020 Convention on Biological Diversity’s 15th session of the Conference of the Parties in China.

Let us also avoid repeating a recent misstep by a global environmental body. The fourth UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA), the world’s highest-level decision-making body on environmental issues, convened in March 2019 to discuss global progress on environmental action. In the meeting, they did not discuss the maturing targets and therefore missed an opportunity to initiate political momentum. The international community now has a shorter and even more crucial window in which to step up and craft a clear and coherent plan.

Options and Scenarios for the 2020 Targets

In April 2019, WWF issued an options paper that proposes three feasible scenarios for ensuring a future for the maturing targets, as well as two possible processes by which the UNGA could make its decision.

First, the three feasible scenarios are for the UNGA to decide to:

  1. Extend the delivery date of the maturing targets;
  2. Agree on content for extended and updated targets; and
  3. Agree on a process to extend and update the targets.

Two scenarios that we argue are “non-options” are to do nothing, and to reopen the SDG framework for negotiation.

In order to select one of the feasible scenarios and fill out the details of the agreement, we propose that UNGA could follow one of two decision-making processes:

  1. Centralize the decision in UNGA only, with optional input from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), or
  2. Take the decision in UNGA based on a meaningful consultation in the HLPF session in July, with optional input from the CBD.

A Call to Action

The late 2018 IPCC report and WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report highlight the alarming trajectories of global warming and declining wildlife populations. To accelerate progress on achieving global goals set by world leaders in these areas, we need a New Deal for Nature and People, to set new ambitious targets and implementation mechanisms and forge an integrated approach to climate, nature and sustainable development.

In the lead-up to UNGA 74, we urge Member States to agree on a process by which the SDG targets maturing in 2020 will be aligned with the overarching ambitions and deadlines of the 2030 Agenda and the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

The author, Marco Lambertini, is Director General of WWF International.


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