UN’s 2030 SDG agenda threatened as pandemic reverses gains

By Victor Uzoho

While the impact of the COVID-19 on the global economy cannot be overemphasized, some sectors like the technology and e-Commerce witnessed substantial growth, even as the pandemic is posing a threat to the 2030 Agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to the 2021 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Report of the United Nations (UN), released last week, apart from the four million deaths caused by COVID-19, about 124 million people have been pushed back into poverty and chronic hunger.

Also, about 255 million full-time employees have so far lost their jobs, while disruptions to essential health services threaten years of progress in improving maternal and child health, increasing immunization coverage, and reducing communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Speaking on the report during the annual High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), in New York, the UN Under-Secretary-General, Liu Zhenmin, said: “the pandemic has halted, or reversed years, or even decades of development progress, noting that global extreme poverty rose for the first time since 1998.”

Also, Zhenmin noted that around 90 per cent of countries are still reporting one or more significant disruptions to essential health services.

According to him, the report showed that the pandemic exposed and intensified inequalities within and between countries, adding that as of June 17; about 68 vaccine shots have been administered to every 100 people in Europe and Northern America, compared with fewer than two, in sub-Saharan Africa.

Zhenmin noted that the “poorest and most vulnerable continue to be at greater risk of becoming infected by the virus,” and have felt the burden of the economic fallout.

Meanwhile, analysis shows that millions of children risk never returning to school; while a great number of them have been forced into child marriage and child labour.

Also, trillions of dollars were lost in the tourism sector during the pandemic shutdowns, given to the collapse of international tourism, which has disproportionately impacted struggling Small Island Developing States.

We are at a critical juncture in human history. The decisions and actions we take today will have momentous consequences for future generations. Lessons learned from the pandemic will help us rise to current and future challenges

 Although an economic recovery is underway, led by China and the United States, economic growth in many countries is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2022 or 2023.

The report revealed that the economic slowdown in 2020 did little to slow the climate crisis, which continues largely unabated.

 Also, concentrations of major greenhouse gases (GHG) continued to increase, while the global average temperature was about 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels, dangerously close to the 1.5°C thresholds established in the Paris Agreement.

The world fell short as well on 2020 targets to halt biodiversity loss and a reversal of the 10 million hectares of forest which were lost yearly between 2015 to 2020.

Furthermore, COVID-19 also adversely affected progress towards gender equality, as Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) has intensified, while child marriage is expected to increase.

Similarly, women suffered a disproportionate share of job losses and increased care responsibilities at home.

Meanwhile, data from the report revealed that global flows of foreign direct investment fell by 40 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, as the pandemic brought immense financial challenges, especially for developing countries, evident in the significant rise in debt distress.

Noting that the next 18 months are critical to attaining a sustainable recovery, Zhenmin is optimistic that a brighter future is still possible, as there are signs that countries are taking steps under their recovery plans that could improve the SDG action.

“This report paints a worrying picture regarding the state of the SDGs. Yet, it also highlights stories of resilience, adaptability and innovation during the crisis, which indicates that a brighter future is possible.

“We are at a critical juncture in human history. The decisions and actions we take today will have momentous consequences for future generations. Lessons learned from the pandemic will help us rise to current and future challenges,” he said.

Notwithstanding the lost gains, the report advised that to get the SDGs back on track, governments, cities, businesses and industries have to use the recovery to adopt low-carbon, resilient and inclusive development pathways that will reduce carbon emissions, conserve natural resources, create better jobs, advance gender equality and tackle growing inequities.

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