The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations, supposed to reconcile environmental protection with socioeconomic development, are actually failing to protect biodiversity, according to a new study, which argued that the SDG is a smokescreen for further environmental destruction.
Approved in 2015 by the UN, the SDG is a framework of broad-based and independent 17 goals, 169 targets, and 247 indicators that replaced the expired Millennium Development Goals. They were designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.
However, a study by researchers from UQ, National University of Singapore, the University of Melbourne and University of Northern British Colombia found a significant mismatch between the SDGs and real progress towards biodiversity conservation.
“The SDGs were established as a blueprint for a more sustainable future for all, yet there are fundamental inadequacies in their ability to protect biodiversity,” co-author James Watson said in a statement. “If these errors are not corrected, the SDGs could unknowingly promote environmental destruction in the name of sustainable development.”
The study looked at the performances of countries on a group of indicators, comparing them against other independent and well-established measures of environmental protection. Overall, only 7% of the connections between SDG and external indicators of biodiversity and environmental protection were significantly positive.
Meanwhile, 14% of the associations were found to be negative and the majority (78%) were non-significant. This suggests that many of the SDG don’t sufficiently reflect progress towards environmental conservation goals, the researchers argued. That’s the case, for example, of SDG 9.1, which focuses on the development of quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure.
“This SDG cuts across all three pillars of development, but its associated indicators prioritize social and economic issues by focusing on rural population accessibility and passenger or freight volumes without accounting for the harmful environmental impacts of such infrastructure development,” said Watson.
The authors noted that globally, threats to nature have accelerated over the past 50 years, resulting in changes to more than 75% of the Earth’s surface and population declines in over one million species. They called for a reformulation of the SDG that can be more applicable to a post-2030 agenda, developing more reliable indicators.
Governments should adopt a stronger global framework to protect the biodiversity, and then work through the UN to revise and update the SDGs and indicators accordingly, the authors said. This year the Convention of Biological Diversity was supposed to adopt a new framework, but the decision was pushed due to the pandemic.
The lead author of the paper Zeng Yiwen from the National University of Singapore said that “while the SDGs sparked a resurgence in the need to balance economic and social development with the protection of Earth’s natural resources and biodiversity, the data collected by countries would not reflect this balance.”
This study was published in Nature Sustainability.