The world is not on track to achieve internationally agreed environmental targets, such as those outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement. To get back on track, transformative changes are required that go beyond what can be achieved by environmental policies alone. Moreover, it will require integrated policy approaches aimed at systems, such as food and energy, rather than individual issues. These are some of the main messages in the sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) published by UN Environment, today.
World not on track to achieve internationally agreed environmental targets
Despite progress in some areas and countries, the overall condition of the global environment continues to deteriorate. Consumption and production of food, energy and water play key roles in environmental degradation around the world. The demands of a growing and wealthier global population are projected to increase further, in the coming decades, placing additional strain on already stressed environmental systems.
Indicators related to human development, including hunger and access to clean water and energy, are likely to improve, but not sufficiently to meet related targets. At the same time, trends in environmental degradation, including climate change, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, excess nutrient run-off, land degradation and ocean acidification, are expected to continue to worsen at a rapid rate.
Targets still achievable through wide-ranging innovations
The report assesses alternative scenarios (or pathways) that aim to achieve the agreed environmental targets.
The analysis showed that this would require wide-ranging innovations in production and consumption, including cleaner production processes, resource efficiency and corporate responsibility, on the one hand, and changes in lifestyle, consumption preferences and consumer behaviour, on the other. The scale of such innovations would need to go beyond those achieved in the past and cannot be realised by environmental policies alone. The innovations include the adoption of a low-meat diet and reduced food waste, more sustainable and efficient food systems, further improvements in agricultural yields, huge increases in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and a shift to a circular economy.
Integrative policy approaches are required
There are many synergies, but also conflicts between achieving the various targets.
For example, reduced agricultural demand (including reduced food waste and the adoption of low-meat diets) decreases the pressure on food systems, including on land and water resources, creating synergies with achieving targets on biodiversity and health. Land-based climate change mitigation and agricultural intensification are key measures for achieving the respective climate and food targets, but could have significant detrimental effects on achieving other environmental targets if not managed carefully.
This calls for integrative policy approaches with policy interventions that address entire systems (e.g. energy and food) rather than individual issues (e.g. water and air pollution) and environmental considerations integrated into non-environmental policies, including in social and economic policies.