Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Andrew Burger headshot

Study Reveals Failure to Achieve U.N. Environmental Sustainability Goal

By Andrew Burger
The measurable targets in Goal #7

A recently released report from the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD) highlights the fundamental and inextricable links between healthy, diverse ecosystems and socioeconomic health and development.

Producing a statistical, point-by-point review and analysis of the global effort to achieve number 7 of the eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – environmental sustainability – IISD found the strongest link to be the relationship between socioeconomic development and reducing maternal mortality and improving sanitation. IISD produced the report with the support of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP).

“Protecting the integrity of forests, maintaining the health of fish stocks and keeping the ozone layer intact are of fundamental, not tangential, importance for human well-being,” IISD states in a news release. “This is particularly the case for the poorest and most vulnerable populations, who are the most likely to directly depend on the provisions of these aspects of the environment for their well-being and often survival. Efforts to reduce extreme poverty are inseparable from efforts to keep ecosystems and environmental conditions healthy and robust.”


UN MDG-7: Environmental sustainability: Progress and prospects

In its report, entitled “Global Goals and the Environment: Progress and Prospects,” IISD presents statistical evidence gathered from U.N. member nations worldwide. In its analysis, the Toronto-based non-profit research organization pinpoints which MDG-7 goals and targets “have been met, by when and where, and in what areas progress has been inadequate compared to national baselines.”

Establishing strong goals to enhance and maintain ecosystems and living conditions, and following through on them, “are a must for meeting some of the key human development objectives,” IISD highlights. Data from sub-Saharan Africa collected by IISD, for instance, reveal that the link between improved access to clean water and sanitation and improved maternal health is particularly strong.

Overall, global progress to achieve environmental sustainability as per four constituent goals and targets set out in MDG-7 “was uneven for most targets, and the indicators in this report confirm earlier observations that no target can be expected to be achieved everywhere.”
UN MDG-7: Biodiversity, GHG emissions and Forests

Efforts to maintain biodiversity, for example, have failed. In fact biodiversity loss has continued to increase. That, scientists have warned, puts us in what may be the midst of a sixth great extinction – the first mass extinction event caused by human activities.

Similarly, efforts to halt the global rise in human-caused greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions – the main driver of global climate warming – has failed. The global level of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels increased significantly between 1990 and 2010, IISD points out in its report, rising from 21,550 to 31,387 million metric tons per year as of a 2013 U.N. report.

Reducing and stemming the global rate of deforestation is one of five key indicators for the MDG-7's main constituent sub-goal: integrating sustainable development into country policies and programs in order to reverse the loss of fundamental ecosystem/natural resources. IISD found that forested land area did not decrease significantly from the global perspective.

Significant differences in regional and national rates of deforestation and afforestation were apparent, however. Vietnam and Spain showed significant increases in forested land, for example.

IISD goes on to highlight the need for more and better data gathering and reporting in many U.N. member countries. According to IISD: “[C]onsistent reporting is constrained by persistent data limitations in many of the countries covered. In some cases, lack of reliable data represents a major constraint for reporting.

“Without a major effort to improve statistical data collection and observation systems, these problems will continue to persist and undermine the ability of countries to visualize their progress toward new goals.”

Providing the strategic development goals and a blueprint for all U.N. member nations the MDG initiative was launched with much fanfare at the beginning of the new millennium. Coverage of the environment, IISD points out, was “little more than symbolic and many key dimensions were not represented.”

With the MDGs expiring this year – many of them only partially realized – the U.N. is preparing for anticipated adoption of their successor, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), during its General Assembly plenary session at U.N. headquarters in New York City this September.

*Image credits: 1) U.N.; 2), 3) IISD

Andrew Burger headshot

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

Read more stories by Andrew Burger