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Sustainability Facts & Statistics

Sustainability is a concept based on the idea that humans can meet our needs adequately without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. This article brings you 39 sustainability facts that show how far the world has come in its quest for sustainability.

Sustainability stands on three pillars; the social, economic, and environmental pillars. Besides improved human capacity, sustainability concerns protecting the ecosystem, climate change, and conservation of biodiversity.

Human and social sustainability facts

Photo by Devaiah Mallangada Kalaiah on Unsplash

#1 - 4 billion people did not benefit from any form of social protection in 20161

Humans are the most critical variable on the planet when it comes to sustainability, as we manage other resources. Robust social protection systems are essential for mitigating the effects and preventing many people from falling into poverty. Sustainability begins when people, regardless of where they are, can access opportunity, knowledge, and skills to improve their living standards.

Social protection refers to policies and programs set up to increase the capacity of people to protect themselves against social and economic hazards. Some common types of social protection include social insurance, social assistance, and labor market interventions. Social protection goes beyond social development; it has a direct impact on economic transformation.

Food security

#2 - In 2019, moderate or severe food insecurity affected 25.9% of the population1

People affected by moderate food insecurity cannot eat a healthy, balanced diet regularly because of income or other constraints. Before the pandemic, food insecurity was rising due to factors like climate change, conflicts, and difficult pests situations.

Recent facts show that the pandemic has only hastened the downhill slide of quality food supply to millions. Sub-saharan Africa, central and southern Asia, and Latin America were hit the hardest. Even in developed countries like the United States, 10.5% of households experienced food insecurity in 2019. In every region, they found women to experience food insecurity more than men.

Social protection can improve food security by providing easy access to adequate and quality supplies. Its ability to increase human capacity will increase the purchasing power of affected persons and enable small-scale farmers to operate more productive businesses. They will have the tools and knowledge for efficient water use and waste reduction during cultivation, harvest, and supply chains.

#3 - 21.3% of children under five experience stunted growth1

#4 - Wasting currently affects 6.9% of children under 51

Children who suffer from stunting or chronic undernutrition are at a greater risk of dying from common infections. They are also prone to poor cognitive development. The percentage of children under five years of age suffering from stunting went down from 32% in 2000 to 21% in 2019. Currently, three-quarters of the children under age five still affected live in just two regions: Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2019, 47 million children under the age of 5 suffered from acute undernutrition, otherwise known as wasting. We find over half of the affected children in central and southern Asia. 2019 figures from the northern part of the United States show 2.6% and 0.6% of children under the age of five suffered from stunting and wasting, respectively.

The 2020 UN report predicts that food scarcity will cause an increased malnutrition rate in children being raised in affected regions. This is primarily due to the recession induced by the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic reduced the purchasing power of many and caused limited access to nutritious diets. The year 2020 may have seen up to 132 million additional people, including children, suffer from malnutrition.

Related: 33 food Waste Facts and Statistics


#5 - School closures kept 90% of all students out of school, thereby reversing years of progress on education1

#6 - Remote learning remains out of reach for at least 500 million students1

The coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close in an attempt to curb its spread. Out of every five closed schools, four have access to remote learning solutions. However, in places without adequate internet infrastructure accessible to the average citizen, educational development has suffered retardation. 

Students in disadvantaged communities face a risk of being left far behind by their peers globally. And some students may even experience academic backwardness. One consequence of such educational disruption is the negative social and behavioral development of the students.

Facts about access to water, sanitation & electricity

#7 - As of 2017, 2.2 billion people still lacked safely managed drinking water1

#8 - As of 2017, 4.2 billion people still lacked safely managed sanitation1

#9 - As of 2018, 789 million people still lacked electricity1

Facts on economic sustainability

#10 - The world currently faces the worst economic recession since the Great Depression1

#11 - There were $23.6 billion direct economic losses due to natural disasters in 20181

#12 - We expected GDP per capita to decline by 4.2% in 2020 due to the pandemic1

Global economic growth was on a declining path before the pandemic. Data show a 0.5% decline in GDP per capita between 2018 and 2019. And we expect it to drop even further. Some of the most severely affected sectors of the economy include aviation, education, agriculture, and tourism.

By May 2020, air travel demand had dropped to near zero because of public health concerns. Government orders grounded 90% of fleets, and passenger numbers had fallen by 51.1% strict travel compared with the same period in 2019. Estimates from the International Civil Aviation Organization, as of June 5, 2020, state that the pandemic may result in losses of between $302 billion and $400 billion in gross operating revenues for airlines. 

Travel bans and border closures have made tourism one of the economic sectors most affected by the pandemic. Countries with the highest number of reported coronavirus cases account for about 55% of global inbound and 68% of global outbound tourism expenditure. 

Globally the manufacturing industry output declined by 6.0% in the first three months of  2020 due to economic lockdown measures. China, the world’s largest manufacturer, registered a drop of 14.1% in manufacturing output. The global decline in manufacturing has had severe impacts on the global economy.

Employment and Poverty

#13 - Reports estimate that COVID-19 may cause about 400 million job losses in the second quarter of 20201

Global unemployment may be at its highest since world war II thanks to the pandemic. Informal employment, which is more prevalent in the agricultural sector, may experience the most hardship. About 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy, which amounts to half of the global workforce, may have lost their jobs or suffered an extreme pay cut. 

#14 -  COVID-19 was responsible for the first increase in global poverty in decades1

The pandemic’s impact on the manufacturing and transport industries has caused disruptions in global value chains. Globally, experts estimate the income of informal workers to have dropped by 60% in the first month of the crisis and up to 81% in some regions. 

#15 - Over 71 million individuals were pushed into extreme poverty in 20201

#16 - 40%–85% of all food producers in developing regions face a crisis as a result of the pandemic1

#17 - Due to ocean fisheries, mismanagement caused a waste of an estimated $80 billion to occur each year2

Facts on environmental sustainability

Photo: "Pandemics & Climate Crisis" Extinction Rebellion in London. Credit: Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Biodiversity and nature’s eco-systems

#18 - 60 to 70% of the world’s ecosystems are degrading faster than they can recover2

#19 - One million animal and plant species, out of a total estimate of 8 million, risk extinction2

#20 - 75% of the world’s top 115 food crops depend on animal pollination2

The ecosystem comprises air, water, soil, and all the elements present in them. One advantage of a healthy ecosystem is that it can protect against extreme weather events and climate change.

Alarmingly, these vital natural resources are being compromised by exploitation, neglect, energy use, and pollution. Natural resources can replenish themselves, but they cannot keep up with the rate of degradation. The world has continued to source and use natural resources unsustainably, and this will cause environmental and economic losses.

We need urgent and decisive global action to reduce pressure on raw materials, solid waste in landfills and increase recycling. Doing so will further help reduce carbon dioxide across global supply chains.

Related: 28 Facts About Biodiversity

Sustainability & Waste

#21 - Electronic waste grew by 38% during the pandemic1

#22 - We recycle less than 20% of electronic waste1

The short lifespan of electronic gadgets, amongst other factors, is why electronic waste is rapidly taking up landfill space. In 2012, the facts show that the United States generated more e-waste than any other nation. Dumping e-waste in landfills is dangerous as toxins leach out materials used to make them. Regardless of this, the e-waste recycling rate is still low.

Recycling electronics use less energy in production and conserve resources like copper and aluminum.

Sustainability facts and climate change

#23 - 2019 was the second warmest year on record1

The year 2019 brought massive wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, floods, and other climate disasters worldwide. By the end of this century, global temperatures would have risen by about 3.2°C. The situation is not being helped by oil subsidies to feed our energy use demands, promoting activities that produce large amounts of greenhouse gas.

Despite a 6% drop in emissions during the coronavirus crisis, it did not meet the target for reduced emissions for 2020. And we expect the level of emissions to increase as the economic activities pick up and the global population grows.

The Paris Agreement calls for limiting global warming to 1.5°C to forestall catastrophic climate change. To meet this target, greenhouse gas emissions on our planet must fall swiftly by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030. 

#24 - While the coronavirus pandemic may result in a 6% drop in greenhouse gas emissions for 2020, it is still short of the 7.6% annual reduction required to limit global warming to 1.5°C1

#25 - More than 39 million people in 2018 were affected by natural disasters resulting from climate change1

Related: 35 Climate Change Facts & Statistics


#26 - 10 million hectares of forest are destroyed each year1

#27 - Two billion hectares of land on Earth are degraded, affecting some 3.2 billion people1

Related: 33 Deforestation Facts & Statistics


#28 - Air pollution is now the fourth leading risk factor for premature death, contributing to 1 in 10 of all deaths worldwide2

In 2016, more than half the world’s urban population was exposed to air pollution levels at least 2.5 times above the World Health Organization air quality guidelines value for particulate matter (PM2.5). In that year, ambient air pollution caused about 4.2 million premature deaths. 

Post-pandemic efforts to counter economic recession will probably cause air pollution to worsen. This puts lives at risk as air pollution is already the fourth major contributor to premature deaths.

#29 - One-third of the world’s 100 largest cities draw their tap water supply from protected areas.2


Sustainability measures 

#30 - 79 countries and the European Union reported at least one policy to promote Sustainable Consumption and Production1

#31 - 97 countries signed the Agreement on Port State Measures, the first binding international agreement on illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing1

#32 - In Brazil, the Bank worked with partners to support the creation, expansion, and strengthening of around 60 million hectares of protected areas in the Amazon rainforest2

#33 - With the Sahel and West Africa Program, about 406,000 hectares of the degraded environment have been sustainably managed into green and productive land in Ethiopia2

Governments and organizations must intensify efforts to manage natural resources sustainably. We should plant trees in degraded forest areas as part of the much-needed climate action.

Further taking simple steps to save electricity such as the use of energy-efficient lightbulbs, insulation, and reducing consumption will prove important to achieve our sustainability aims.

#34 - With the Sahel and West Africa Program, about 3.2 million people in Ethiopia will benefit from better water access, greater food security, higher yields, and diversified sources of income resulting in more resilient livelihoods2

#35 - In the past two decades, the World Bank has worked with China to phase out the equivalent of annual carbon emissions from more than 186 million passenger vehicles contributing to climate change2

Sustainability future projections

#36 - Water scarcity could displace 700 million individuals by 20301

#37 - The interruption in childhood Immunization Programmes in around 70 countries is expected to cause a 100% increase in malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa1

#38 - Experts project global temperatures will rise by up to 3.2°C by 21001

#39 - A 100–150% rise in ocean acidity is projected by 2100, affecting half of all marine life1

No doubt, the world will face more challenges than it did before the pandemic. However, if each person found a way to contribute to the challenge is not insurmountable. Starting with green and clean energy use, efficient water use.

To recycling, replacing plastic beverage bottles and plastic grocery bags, reduced CO2 emissions, and adopting systems that favor the environment. Whereas government plays a vital role, individual actions such as the use of water efficient fixtures can help protect vital resources and prefer up a more sustainable future.

Every small step taken by businesses and organizations towards sustainable energy and water use will have far-reaching effects.

Photo by Tobias Weinhold on Unsplash
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