Sustainable Development Goals

Covid-19 has pushed us ‘further off course’ from our global SDGs, so how can we get back on the right track?

As many of you will already know, the global community is rapidly running out of time to achieve the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

During an Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) coordination meeting last month, Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the UN, pointed out that the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution is worsening.

What’s more, these challenges are compounded by the fact that the world now has less than nine years to achieve its SDGs. As Amina observed: “We are far from where we should be – and the pandemic has pushed us even further off course.”

There is no escaping that our situation is grave.

The biggest challenges of our time

Even before the pandemic hit, the challenges involved in realising the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were significant. But since Covid-19 has caused us to take a step back – or, indeed, several – in real terms, it is looking less likely than ever that we will achieve the 17 SDGs set out by UN Member States within the current decade.

And make no mistake, we are not talking about trivial matters here. The SDGs cover pressing issues ranging from poverty, hunger, health and education to clean water, clean energy, economic growth and infrastructure.

These are among the biggest challenges of our time and, right now, our global trajectory would indicate we are going to fail to deliver on our promises.

Even so, if there is one thing the coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it’s that obstacles which may appear impossible to overcome can be surmounted if only we work together.

Turning problems into opportunities

Since coronavirus began to spread in late-2019, the international community has developed numerous vaccines, implemented a wide range of preventative measures, and achieved advances in treatment of the virus – all within a timescale that few would have dreamt possible.

What’s more, while Covid-19 may have proved detrimental to SDG-related progress (as it has to so many facets of society), that does not mean we have to start from scratch.

On the contrary, to date UN Member States have set 169 targets, hosted 3,120 events, released 1,318 publications, and have undertaken 5,503 measurable actions in pursuit of SDGs. There may be a great deal more to do but let us not lose sight of how much has already been done.

So, what steps can we take – as a global community – to ensure we get back on the right track and achieve all 17 SDGs?

Positive action

As Amina points out, there are several actions that the UN intends to take in a bid to improve our situation. These include using the organisation’s Common Agenda blueprint to chart the path forward; and strengthening our global financing architecture to boost debt relief, redirect foreign exchange assets, and increase the resources available to multilateral development banks.

There are also a number of steps organisations can take to improve our situation, such as working to provide healthy workplaces for their employees; reviewing supply chains and implementing more sustainable practices; and investing in renewable energy.

The good news is that we can also make a difference as individuals by contributing to projects that support SDGs; adopting a ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ approach to waste; and supporting education, both locally and globally.

There is no denying that the global challenges we face are significant. However, if we can set aside our differences and work together, there is nothing we cannot achieve.

And in conclusion, once again in the words of Amina: “We are neither hopeless nor helpless.”