The UNEP Global Environment Outlook 5 Published today (June 6th). It represents an effort by the United Nations Environment Programme to summarise global efforts towards sustainable development and report back in a way that we can all understand. How are we doing? Are we heading in the right direction? Are our efforts working? Are we doing the things that we have already agreed to do, never mind agreeing to do more.
The news is not particularly good. In fact is is pretty bad. The one-line scorecard from the teacher would read: Not Good Enough! Must Try harder!
The report is published in a number of formats and languages, as well as summarised for policymakers, so there is no excuse for not finding the time to read it. It sets out a series of global Key Performance Indicators and scores against them. Page 3 of this publication has the scorecard. Out of 34 major issues, only three are assessed as having made significant progress. Another eleven have made some progress. The remaining twenty have made no progress, or become worse (five), or there isn’t sufficient data to assess progress or decline.
One major issue that the report highlights is while over 500 pieces of legislation have been enacted since the UNEP was formed in 1972, many of them have not led to concrete action. Those that had measurable goals have often resulted in progress, such as legislation on ozone depletion and access to drinking water, but those that were aspirational, such as initiatives on climate change, have not.
You cannot manage what you don’t measure.
It is sobering to think that even in a situation where we have already reached sufficient agreement to enact international treaties or legislation, these are not strong enough to have the effect that they were expected to have. We need to learn from this report and ensure that policymakers understand the simple fact that without setting targets there can be no progress. High ideals are not enough.