The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 global goals designed to be a roadmap to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They’re a call to action for countries, businesses and individuals to address some of the greatest challenges of our century. Launched in 2015, the SDGs aim to end poverty, reduce inequality and preserve the planet by 2030. The question is, what impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had on achieving the SDGs? The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2021 report has recently been released and makes for some woeful reading. Here are five key takeaways from the report.
The UN’s Global Sustainable Development Goals (source: United Nations)
1. Climate Change Has Not Slowed Down
Although emissions were temporarily reduced in 2020 as a result of reduced human activities due to global lockdowns imposed as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, greenhouse gas emissions continue to be on the rise. In fact, 2020 was one of the warmest years on record. We are significantly off track in limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels within this century, and reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 as prescribed by the Paris Agreement. Offering a glimmer of hope, however, is the Race to Zero Campaign launched in June 2020, bringing together businesses, cities and investors to participate in net-zero initiatives – two thirds of the world’s GDP is now being generated in places with actual or intended targets to achieve net-zero by 2050.
2. Poverty is on the Rise
Despite governments worldwide implementing short-term social protection measures in response to the pandemic, an estimated 119 – 124 million people were pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020. Bringing people back out of poverty will take time with urgent action and risk strategies required by governments. The UN estimates the global poverty rate to be 7% in 2030, missing the goal of completely eradicating poverty.
3. Women Bear the Brunt of the Pandemic
The gender equality SDG aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030. Sadly, domestic violence against women persists at horrifically high levels which was intensified during lockdown periods with women being at home with their abusers, so much so, that this issue was raised many times by our President during “family meetings”.
4. Billions of People Still Lack Access to Clean Drinking Water and Sanitation
One of the key aspects to Covid recovery is access to clean, safe drinking water and maintaining good hygiene practices. With two billion people around the world still lacking access to safe drinking water and 3.6 billion people without sanitation facilities, 129 countries are not on track to have sustainably managed water resources by 2030. The rate of progress in this regard will need to double to ensure availability of water and sanitation for all by the 2030 deadline.
5. Unemployment is at Critical Levels
The pandemic resulted in the loss of an estimated 255 million full-time jobs, about four times the number of jobs lost during the global financial crisis between 2007 and 2009. Economies worldwide have slowed significantly particularly due to the impact of global lockdowns on the international tourism industry which have had disastrous knock-on effects. With many countries slowly returning to “business as usual”, economic growth is expected to return for many regions to pre-pandemic levels in 2022 or 2023.
It goes without saying that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on economies and people worldwide with many countries trying to pick up the pieces following what was a horrendous and unprecedented disaster. However, the pandemic has demonstrated that we are capable of rapid innovation and meaningful collaboration. We can only hope that we can use these almost newly-found attributes to make swift progress in attaining the SDGs by 2030.