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Environmental destruction not avoided with the Sustainable Development Goals


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were designed to reconcile environmental protection with socioeconomic development. Here, we compare SDG indicators to a suite of external measures, showing that while most countries are progressing well towards environmental SDGs, this has little relationship with actual biodiversity conservation, and instead better represents socioeconomic development. If this continues, the SDGs will likely serve as a smokescreen for further environmental destruction throughout the decade.

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Fig. 1: Many SDG indicators do not adequately reflect changes in external indicators of successful biodiversity conservation.
Fig. 2: Evaluation of the efficacy of environment-related SDG indicators, based on 17 external indicators of the current state of biodiversity and socioeconomic development.

Data availability

All data generated or analysed during this study are included in Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2, and raw data can be provided from the corresponding authors upon request.

Code availability

All R scripts used to process the data are available from the corresponding authors upon request.


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We thank S. Z. Z. Rahim and D. C. J. Yeo for their contributions towards improving this paper. Y.Z. and L.R.C. acknowledge support from the National Research Foundation (NRF) Singapore under its Commonwealth Research Fellowship grant NRF-CSC-ICFC2017-05.

Author information




Y.Z. and L.R.C. conceived the study. Y.Z. carried out the analyses. Y.Z., S.M., R.K.R., O.V., J.E.M.W. and L.R.C. contributed discussions and modelling insights. Y.Z., S.M., R.K.R., O.V., J.E.M.W. and L.R.C. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Yiwen Zeng or L. Roman Carrasco.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–3 and Tables 1 and 2.

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Zeng, Y., Maxwell, S., Runting, R.K. et al. Environmental destruction not avoided with the Sustainable Development Goals. Nat Sustain 3, 795–798 (2020).

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