26 May 2021
UNEP Publications Assess Status of Environmental Targets
Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin Nature Reserve, Guadeloupe / Photo by J-S Romeo
story highlights

A publication by the UN Environment Programme assesses 92 indicators to provide “global scorecard on the environmental dimension of the SDGs,” along with scorecards for each world region.

The 2020 'Protected Planet Report' from the UNEP-WCMC and IUCN announces the expected achievement of the Aichi target on protected or conserved land, corresponding to SDG target 15.1.

A publication by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) assesses 92 environmental indicators of the SDG framework, finding that 67% “follow a positive trend” while 33% show little change or are trending negatively. On a more positive note, another assessment, the 2020 ‘Protected Planet Report,’ announces the expected achievement of a 2020 global target on protected or conserved land, corresponding to SDG target 15.1.

Released on 22 May 2021, the report titled, ‘Measuring Progress: Environment and the SDGs,’ examines the 92 indicators UNEP has classified as the most relevant to the environmental dimension of the SDGs. Progress on each indicator is assessed using data from the UN’s SDG Global Indicator Database. The publication provides a “global scorecard on the environmental dimension of the SDGs.” Scorecards are also provided for each of the five regions.

The authors report that an increasing number of environmental indicators have sufficient data to be assessed. Unfortunately, they note, the additional data “reveal a less promising picture in terms of progress” towards meeting the environmental aspects of the SDGs.

Indicators experiencing positive trends include those on safe drinking water and investment in water and sanitation, clean fuels, research and investment in clean energy and energy efficiency, energy intensity, protection of mountainous and other biodiversity areas, forest area, preventing invasive alien species, and investment in biodiversity and ecosystems.

Among the indicators experiencing negative trends, the report highlights indicators on use of handwashing facilities with soap and water, water stress levels, consumption of materials, hazardous waste generation, fish stock levels, and the Red List Index.

The report also notes that limited capacities to “collect, disseminate and effectively use” environmental data hinder the world’s comprehension of the environment’s effect on socio-economic factors. The authors call for pairing big data and new data science techniques with traditional data compilation, to enable policymakers to develop more robust responses to environmental challenges.

UNEP also recently released the 2020 edition of the Protected Planet report, produced by UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The report of 19 May 2021 is the final “report card” on Aichi Target 11, which covered the years 2011-2020 and called to protect “at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water, and 10% of coastal and marine areas.” This relates to SDG targets 14.5 (coastal and marine areas) and 15.1 (conserve and restore terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems), which also had a 2020 deadline. 

The 2020 report reveals “great progress” since 2010 in the amount of protected or conserved land and ocean. The amounts protected as of 2020 are:

  • For terrestrial and inland water, 16.64% out of the targeted 17%; and
  • For coastal and marine areas, 7.74% out of the targeted 10%.

The authors explain that many protected and conserved areas are unreported, thus when all data are made available, coverage on land will considerably exceed the 17% target. 

Beyond meeting or exceeding the global targets in the Aichi framework and the SDGs, the report emphasizes that it will be critical to improve in a few ways:

  • A third of critical biodiversity sites lack any coverage, pointing to the need for designating new areas for protection/conservation;
  • Protected/conserved areas should be connected to each other, to enable species to move, but currently only about half of protected land area is also connected; and
  • The way protected and conserved areas are managed matters for equity and ensuring that local people can enjoy their benefits and not only bear their costs.

With the Aichi targets and associated SDG targets having expired at the end of 2020, governments are expected to adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework when they meet for the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 15) in October 2021. The head of IUCN is calling on CBD Parties to “set an ambitious target that will ensure protected area coverage of 30% of land, freshwater and ocean by 2030 – and these areas must be placed optimally to protect the diversity of life on Earth and be effectively managed and equitably governed.”

The 2020 targets of the SDG framework will also be the subject of discussion at the July 2021 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The programme includes a session on the status of the 21 SDG targets originally set to be achieved in 2020, and how to continue reviewing them and maintaining ambition. 

The outcome of the 2021 HLPF session is expected to refer to the 2020 targets and the need to update them with an appropriate level of ambition for 2030, accounting for other intergovernmental processes. [Publication: Measuring Progress: Environment and the SDGs] [Publication: Protected Planet Report 2020]


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