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Environmental Sustainability: MDG 7


  • Sanitation: since 1990, some 1.7 billion people have gained access to safe drinking water. Still, roughly 884 million suffer from unsafe drinking water and 2.6 billion lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines.
  • Biodiversity: on current trends, the loss of species will continue throughout the 21st century.
  • Urban slums: though the share of the urban population living in slums is declining, the absolute number of slum dwellers continues to rise, with some 828 million people living in slums today.

If current trends continue, by 2015 an estimated 86 per cent of the population in developing regions will have access to safer sources of drinking water, up from 71 per cent in 1990. (Among those still without access, 8 out of 10 live in rural areas.). On the biodiversity front, nearly 17,000 species of plants and animals are currently at risk of extinction, with the number of species threatened growing by the day. More encouragingly, over the last ten years, over 200 million slum dwellers gained access to improved water, sanitation and housing, greatly enhancing their prospects of escaping poverty, disease and illiteracy.

The United Nations is organizing the UN Conference on Sustainable Development - Rio+20, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012. This event is a historic opportunity bringing together governments, international institutions and major groups to agree on a range of smart measures that can reduce poverty while promoting decent jobs, clean energy and a more sustainable and fair use of resources.


In 2008, the Council held its Annual Ministerial Review on the theme of sustainable development. Ministers from 8 countries ― Belgium, Chile, Finland, Kazakhstan, Lao, Luxembourg, Tanzania and the United Kingdom ― delivered “National Voluntary Presentations”, which detailed their countries’ recent efforts to improve environmental sustainability, while offering case studies on successful initiatives. Countries also adopted a strong “Ministerial Declaration”, highlighting key policies to promote cleaner, greener societies.

UN System

  • The UN Development Programme (UNDP) led an initiative in Tanzania which provided solar energy systems to some 8,400 households in the northern region of Mwanza, collectively reducing carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 0.93 metric tons per year (by close of 2009).
  • The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) helps governments and partners implement community-based water quality surveillance systems to screen for contaminants like human feces, arsenic, fluoride and nitrates. UNICEF also promotes a range of low-cost sanitation, water and hand-washing facilities and helps improve sanitation and promote hygiene (hand washing, etc.) in schools.
  • The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) was tasked by the Ministerial Water Council of the League of Arab States to lead the establishment of a regional mechanism for monitoring the water supply and sanitation targets and other related indicators in Arab countries.
  • The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has supported the Russian Federation in the development of Regional Biomass Action Plans to help the private sector and regional governments integrate the biomass sector with the forestry, woodworking, agricultural, electricity, municipal heating, waste and recycling sectors.
  • The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is helping developing countries turn “trash into cash”. Launched in Bangladesh, the aim of the region-wide project is to enable cities across Asia and the Pacific to develop and implement solid waste management strategies that are decentralized, pro-poor, low carbon and self-financing through the sale of carbon credits.

Further reading…