The world has seven years left to adequately protect its freshwater resources and available data show that what is being done is not enough, according to a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) study released on Friday, 17 March.
“Seven years: that’s all the time we have to transform our world by protecting and expanding our water resources, ensuring clean water and sanitation, healthy aquatic ecosystems and the other development goals,” said Jian Liu, director of UNEP’s Early Warning and Assessment Division.
The report, “Measuring progress: water-related ecosystems and the Sustainable Development Goals” analyses available environment-related data on 92 indicators for these SDGs, set as their agenda towards 2030 by the United Nations.
Its main conclusion is that the world is not on track to achieve these SDGs designed to improve human existence and other forms of life on the planet, and in this case the situation of aquatic systems.
However, progress is being made towards their achievement and the data available for analysis has doubled, improving the ability of countries to monitor progress.
The report indicates that 38% of the 92 indicators – the most environmentally related of the 231 that measure progress on the SDGs – point to environmental improvement, up from just 28% in 2020.
At the same time, 21% of the indicators registered negative or no change, and for 41% there is insufficient data.
To fill the data gap, UNEP urges governments to strengthen their statistical capacity on the environment, and to promote the use of non-traditional sources of information, such as big data and so-called citizen science.
“Countries must increase investment in data availability, so that decisions are not made in the dark and policy-making is not left to chance,” Jian stressed.
Global data availability increased from 34% in 2018 and 42% in 2020, to 59% in 2022. However, “it is important to note that these positive trends are far from sufficient to meet the 2030 targets,” the UNEP chief insisted.
The paper comes a week before the Water 2023 Conference and ahead of September’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit in New York, which marks the halfway point in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda agreed in 2015.
The Conference will request bold commitments to accelerate progress on SDG6, “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, and other water-related SDGs.
Included in the requirement will be greater access to data and information, and greater use of economic and environmental accounting to advance the financing and protection of wetlands and other water bodies.
This will require the inclusion of these items in financial accounts and in general in all national accounts of each country.
The report calls for a cross-sectoral approach, insisting that water is central to the achievement of all the SDGs, such as eradicating hunger and poverty, health and wellbeing, affordable and clean energy, and sustainable cities and communities.
He recommends comprehensive water policies, linking water to nature, with priority given to managing water in silos.
“This would provide adequate water infrastructure in urban areas, mitigate air, water and soil pollution, protect biodiversity and food security, as well as the raw materials that fuel economic growth,” the report said.