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MDG 7: Ensure environmental sustainability


It is critical that the natural resources base and ecosystems are managed sustainably to ensure that people’s food requirements and other social, economic, and environmental needs are sufficiently met. Climate change, conflicts over access to resources, and increased water scarcity all pose a threat to not only environmental sustainability, but also food security.

As such, millennium development goal 7 has 4 targets:

  1. To integrate the principles of sustainable development into every nation’s policies and programmes, and also reverse the depletion of environmental resources
  2. To reduce biodiversity loss and achieve a substantial reduction in the rate of loss by 2010
  3. To halve the proportion of the universal population without sustainable access to clean and safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.
  4. To achieve substantial improvement in the lives of a minimum of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

An estimated 30 percent of total land area on the planet is forested. An estimated 1.6 billion people depend on forests directly for their livelihoods, plus they provide other benefits enjoyed by all, including clean air and water. Forests also provide a habitat for millions of plants and animals, as well as catchment for 75 percent of the world’s fresh water. They help in the adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, though they are under threat from deforestation.

Hunger and poverty tend to compel the disadvantaged to over-exploit resources on which their livelihoods depend. Policies, institutions, and strategies for protecting, conserving, and enhancing natural resources should be strengthened to deliver an enabling environment, and be based on the specific resource challenged faced in a given location.

Some of the achievements of MDG 7 include:

  • The virtual elimination of ozone-depleting substances since 1990. Consequently, the ozone layer is expected to recover by around the middle of the century
  • Substantial increase in marine and terrestrial protected areas in many areas since 1990. In Caribbean and Latin America, coverage of terrestrial protected areas increased from 8.8 percent in 1990 to 23.4 percent in 2014.
  • The number of people using improved drinking water sources has increased from 76 percent in 1990 to 91 percent in 2015.
  • 2.6 billion people have gained access to better drinking water since 1990. Of these, 1.9 billion have access to piped drinking water on premises, with 58 percent of the global population enjoying this level of service in 2015.
  • 147 nations in the world have fulfilled the drinking water target; 95 nations have achieved the sanitation target; and 77 nations have met both.
  • 2.1 billion people in the universe have gained access to improved sanitation. At the same time, the proportion of people practising open defecation has reduced by nearly 50 percent since 1990.
  • A reduction in the proportion of urban population in developing nations living in slums from 39.4 to 29.7 percent in the period between 2000 and 2014.

Target #1: Integrating the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes

First, the net loss of forest cover has slowed in recent years, due to a slight decrease in deforestation, increase in afforestation, and the natural expansion of forests in some nations. Net loss in forest cover reduced from 8.3 million hectares annually in 1990 to 5.2 million hectares annually each year between 2000 and 2010.

MDG 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

Still, deforestation remains high in many regions. South America, Africa, and Oceania have reported significant net losses of forest area, due to severe drought and forest fires in Oceania. Asia, however, registered a net gain of 2.2 million hectares annually from 2000 to 2010.

Second, there are rising global greenhouse emissions. Between 1990 and 2012, CO2 global emissions increased by over 50 percent, mostly due to the growth in developing regions. This rise is projected to further warm the planet, resulting in long-lasting changes in the climate system, and possibly severe and irreversible consequences for people and ecosystems, like food shortages and longer lasting weather extremes.

Third, the ozone layer is on path to recovery. Under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer agreed in 1987, 197 parties have phased out 98 percent of all primary ozone-depleting substances, resulting in projected recovery of the ozone layer by 2050. This move is also expected to prevent up to 2 million cases of skin cancer annually by 2030.

Fourth, increased exploitation of marine fisheries is threatening livelihoods, food security, economies, and ecosystems. Between 1974 and 2011, the number of marine fish stocks within safe biological limits dropped by 19 percent, from 90 percent to 71 percent. As a result, fish stocks in 2015 are below the level at which they can maximise sustainable yields. That said, some areas in Europe, Oceania, and North America have successfully rebuilt some of their over-fished stocks.

Fifth, water scarcity seems to be on the rise. While only 9 percent of renewable fresh water resources are withdrawn globally by municipalities, industries, and agriculture, which is well below the 25 percent withdrawal threshold that marks the start of physical water stress, 41 countries experienced water stress in 2011; an increase from 36 countries in 1998. Worse still, 10 countries from Northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Central Asia withdrew more than 100 percent of renewable fresh water, which means they are depleting their renewable groundwater resources.

Ensure environmental sustainability

Final note

Many regions have increased their terrestrial protected areas significantly since 1990, especially in Latin America where it rose from 8.8 to 23.4 percent between 1990 and 2014, and Western Asia where it more than quadrupled from 3.7 to 14.4 percent in the same period.

Between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of the world population using improved drinking water source and using improved sanitation facility has increased significantly, surpassing the MDG target in 2010.

The lives of slum dwellers have also improved considerably since 2000 to 2015, with more than 320 million people gaining access to improved water, durable housing, improved sanitation, or less crowded housing conditions. This means that the MDG7 target was surpassed.

Although MDG7 targets have been largely achieved, environmental sustainability is still a core pillar of the post-2015 agenda, as healthy, diverse, and well-managed ecosystems can play a critical role in improving livelihoods and mitigating future environmental challenges.

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