To track progress toward reaching MDG-7 on environmental sustainability, the MDG framework establishes three global targets and eight global indicators. Unfortunately, these targets and indicators fail to capture the aspects of the environment that exert the most powerful impacts on the lives of the poor or that show the most promise for ending extreme poverty.
Target 9, the first of the three MDG environmental targets, calls for countries to “integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs and reverse the loss of environmental resources.” Accompanying this rather vague, general statement are five quantitative indicators. (See “Table 2: MDG-7 (Millennium Development Goal #7): Global targets and indicators”.) One of these (Indicator 29: Proportion of population using solid fuels) is directly relevant to how the poor use the environment. But the other Target 9 indicators fail to shed much light on aspects of environmental sustainability that matter most to the poor. Instead, some of the current indicators track issues of global environmental concern, such as per capita carbon dioxide emissions and consumption of ozone-depleting chemicals. Others touch on issues of importance to the poor, such as land area covered by forests and land area set aside to protect biodiversity, but do not measure directly the ability of the poor to access key ecosystems as a source of environmental income and sustainable livelihoods or to protect the ecosystems on which they depend from depredation and damage by outside interests and powerful elites.
Targets 10 and 11, the second and third MDG environmental targets, commit nations to “halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation” and to “have achieved by 2020 a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.” These targets and their accompanying indicators are more directly propoor, but they too fall short when it comes to establishing broad markers for progress based on an explicit recognition of ecosystem integrity as the touchstone for sustainability. For instance, under Target 10, countries should focus not just on the numbers of people hooked up to water and sanitation services, but also on the need for integrated water resource planning and policies that take account of a wide range of other considerations. These include water demand, water supply, and water quality issues, as well as water-project impacts on other community objectives and on environmental management goals. Other suitable indicators could focus on governance issues that relate to the poor