1.0 Without new policies, existing goals will not be achieved

Although the 1992 Rio Conference resulted in many activities aimed at sustainable development, trends have not been reversed in key areas and will probably continue without additional action.

The world has seen improvements in welfare, a reduction in absolute poverty, as well as in local environmental problems. However, in important spheres – including food, land and biodiversity and energy and climate – policies have not led to a reversal of historical, unsustainable trends. Up to 2050, it is expected that without a major policy shift the access to food and modern energy will increase, but not enough to provide full access for all. Furthermore, biodiversity loss will continue, greenhouse gas emissions will increase and air pollution levels will remain high.

1.1 Tracking progress since 1992

Progress towards realisation of the intentions and agreements of the Rio declaration has been mixed.

Since 1992, poverty levels have fallen significantly. Still, many countries are not on track to achieve the many Millennium Development Goals. Furthermore, progress with respect to pollution and environmental degradation has not moved in the right direction. Greenhouse gas emissions have clearly continued to increase. Air pollutants decreased in developed countries, but increased significantly in emerging economies. Finally, biodiversity levels has continued to decline.

1.2 Development and environmental goals

Quantitative long-term goals can help to formulate a long-term vision. The sustainable development goals analysed in this study were derived from existing international agreements, related to the principles of the Rio declaration, in particular Principle 5 (eradicate poverty) and Principle 6 (conserve the Earth's ecosystem).

The selection of goals is mostly based on existing aspirations formulated in international agreements on environmental and development topics. In some cases, these are directly formulated as quantified goals. In other cases, only more qualitative formulations are available. In those cases, we used quantitative interpretations of these goals. Clearly, in interpreting some of the existing agreements in terms of the targets used for our analysis, some normative choices had to be made.

Goals for food, land and biodiversity loss:

  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger; halve this again by 2030, and fully eradicate hunger by 2050

  • Halve the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2020, and maintain biodiversity at the 2020/2030 level by 2050 (depending on region)

Goals for energy, air pollution and climate:

  • Achieve universal access to electricity and modern cooking fuels by 2030

  • Avoid temperature increases above 2 °C, and keep atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations below 450 ppm CO2 equivalent

  • Keep annual PM2.5 concentrations below 35 µg/m3 by 2030

1.3 Drivers of change

Increasing demand for food and energy is primarily driven by a larger and wealthier global population.

The global population is projected to grow with 2.2 billion people, between 2010 and 2050, predominantly in urban areas. The global economy is projected to continue to grow along historical rates, with the highest growth rates in developing countries. As a result, both global agricultural production and energy production have to increase by about 60-70% , leading to increasing agricultural land use and greenhouse gas emissions.

1.4 Trends in biodiversity loss

Future biodiversity loss will be the result of various human induced pressures, with a large role for agricultural land use, encroachment and climate change.

Given the further expansion of agricultural areas, climate change and trends in other environmental pressures, such as nitrogen deposition, without a major policy shift global biodiversity is projected to decline further at a rate similar to the historical rate. As a result, global biodiversity value is expected to decline from 68% in 2010 to 60% by 2050, with a large role for agricultural land use, encroachment and climate change.

1.5 Trends in greenhouse gas emissions

The energy system, in particular fossil-fuel combustion, plays a key role in anthropogenic climate change and air pollution.

For the 2010–2050 period, greenhouse gas emissions are projected to increase by about 60% if current trends continue. Although most of this increase would take place in low-income countries, per-capita emissions remain highest in the OECD countries. As a result, global temperature is expected to increase to around 4 oC above pre-industrial levels by 2100, most likely passing the 2 °C target before 2050.

1.6 Achievement of the sustainable development goals

The trends in main drivers imply that, without new policies, sustainable development goals will not be achieved.

Access to food and modern energy sources are projected to increase, significantly, but not by enough to achieve the sustainable development goals. For biodiversity, the loss since 2010 is projected to be twice as high as the allowed level for still reaching the target. Finally, to reach the 2 oC target with a high probability, a 40-60% global emission reduction by 2050, compared to 1990 levels, would be necessary. However, emissions are projected to increase by a similar magnitude.

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