Wanted: clear targets to save the global commons

Science-based targets for the Earth are the missing piece of the sustainability puzzle

Lou Dematteis/REUTERS

It is inspiring to see the world mobilise around the global vision of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty and hunger, ensure sustainable water access for all, fight inequalities, tackle climate change, and more. Local governments, companies, and civil society are developing plans for how they can contribute to achieving them. But a key piece is missing – clear targets for maintaining Earth’s life-support systems, the global commons.

Four of the goals focus directly on Earth’s life-support systems – on water, climate, oceans, and land – but only one of them has a clear target based on scientific research. SDG 13, which seeks to “combat climate change and its impacts” has adopted the same target that 197 nations agreed to in the Paris agreement – to keep global average temperature rise to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels.

This target may not be perfect, but it has been vital for advancing progress in addressing the climate crisis. It works because it is grounded in science and is quantifiable, simple to communicate, and within the realms of political reality. Many businesses have now adopted climate goals that translate it into targets that work for them, most prominently through the “science-based targets” developed by World Resources Institute, CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), World Wildlife Fund, We Mean Business, and other groups.

We do not yet have science-based targets for the other vital components of Earth’s life-support systems, like water, oceans, and land. Most of the SDG targets focused on Earth systems are vague and not actionable. They include, for example, calls to “minimise and address the impact of ocean acidification,” or to “restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally”.

Read the full article in The Guardian