The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed as a blueprint for a more sutainable and better future for all. Biodiversity and ecosystems are placed at the center of the SDGs and associated targets, particularly as both contribute directly to human well-being and development.

A recent paper by Zeng et al. (2020) found that progress in environment-related SDG indicators has little to do with actual biodiversity conservation, but better represents socioeconomic development. The scientists assessed countries’ performances on a prescribed set of environment-related SDG indicators and compared these to a suit of external measures (e.g. Human Footprint, Living Planet Index, Terrestrial Threats, Intact Forests, Marine Wilderness, Human Development Index and many more!). Only ~7% of the correlations were significantly postive between SDG indicators and external indicators of biodiviersity and environmental protection. Instead, a higher percentage of SDGs environmental indicators and external indicators of socioeconomic development were positively correlated (+41%).

Besides others, the authors suggest that these results could reflect a lack of integration of environmental priorities into the development plans of countries as well as the inability to capture important interlinkages of issues adequately owing to the use of simpler indicators in cases where funds are missing to monitore and measure complex target processes.

The authors make following suggestions to deal with their findings:

  • focus on data collection and quantification or development of more reliable composite indicators within the existing framework
  • increase of funding and incentives in countries and administrative regions to aid collection of data for applications at finer spatial scales
  • Incorporation of indicators that measure the actuale state of and threats to global biodiversity

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Zeng, Y., Maxwell, S., Runting, R.K. et al. Environmental destruction not avoided with the Sustainable Development Goals. Nat Sustain (2020).