In an op-ed published today, Future Earth Executive Director Amy Luers addresses the "missing piece" of global sustainability initiatives: clear targets based on sound science for achieving the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Writing in Guardian Labs, Luers argues that the research community, along with partners from across society, need to develop quantifiable benchmarks for a range of sustainability goals. They include protecting biodiversity on land and in the oceans. While developing such science-based targets would be a "bold and ambitious effort," she writes that there is already a good test case for doing just that – the international effort, as captured in the Paris Agreement on climate change, to limit the global rise in temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius.
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.
In meeting the demand for clearer targets, Luers notes that the research community should follow three principles:
1. The initiative must draw from the best science from all regions of the world.
2. While the targets must be science-based, they must also be shaped through dialogue between scientists and policymakers – with strong engagement from both the global north and south – if they are to be operational.
3. They must be quantifiable and applicable at multiple scales.
To learn more about our efforts around implementing international sustainability targets, check out the Sustainable Development Goals Knowledge-Action Network.