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Sustainable Development Goals and COVID-19. Sustainable Development Report 2020

Sachs, J., Schmidt-Traub, G., Kroll, C., Lafortune, G., Fuller, G., Woelm, F. 2020. The Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The 2020 SDG report draws on the latest available data on the indicators contained in the global SDG indicator framework as of April 2020. This report also highlights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on each SDG around the globe. It finds the continued, but not even, progress of the SDGs so far, and identifies areas where significant improvement is required. Areas of progress until the end of 2019 included declining global poverty, falling rates of maternal and child mortality, access to electricity for more people, and the development of more national sustainable development policies and signing of international agreements for environmental protection. The report also provides a progress summary for SDG targets with a 2020 deadline.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • The world was not on track to meet the SDGs even before the pandemic erupted. The report highlights how the COVID-19 crisis is disrupting implementation efforts across the SDGs, undoing years and even decades of progress in some cases, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa.

  • The SDGs that have seen the most rapid progress include SDG 1 -No Poverty, SDG 9-Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), and SDG 11-Sustainable Cities and Communities).

  • The overall percentage of people living in extreme poverty globally in 2018 had decreased by 1.4 percentage points from the adoption of the SDGs: from 10% in 2015 to 8.6% in 2018 (United Nations, 2019). Following the historic trends, this figure was projected to reach 6% by 2030, unfortunately Covid-19 now threatens to increase the rate of extreme poverty in many countries.

  • The report emphasizes the need to accelerate the spread of technologies and innovation globally and to strengthen capacities and skills because the current pace of progress may not be sufficient to achieve these SDGs by 2030 - including ending extreme poverty.

  • Before the Covid-19 outbreak, OECD countries were not on track to achieve the SDGs. Due to the outbreak of the pandemic OECD countries face persistent challenges related to sustainable agriculture and diets, inequalities in incomes, and the gender gap.

  • East and South Asia is the region that has most progressed on the SDG Index since the adoption of the goals in 2015. It states that their best performance is obtained on SDG 1-No Poverty, SDG 4-Quality Education, and SDG 7-Affordable and Clean Energy.

  • Compared to other regions that are still facing major challenges (SDG13 - Climate Action), Sub Saharan African has gone a long way in attaining climate change problems. Yet, all sub-Saharan African countries continue to face major challenges in achieving the SDGs and Covid-19 threatens to undo much of the progress made in recent years. Tied to the level of poverty in the region, performance on socioeconomic goals and access to basic services and infrastructure (SDGs 1 to 9) in Sub-saharan Africa are poor compared to other world regions.

  • The report states that the Covid-19 outbreak and the disruption of international supply chains, including the food supply chain, are likely to have very negative impacts on SDG performance in many sub-Saharan countries.

The effect of Covid-19 on SDGs

The report highlights that the most vulnerable people and countries continue to suffer the most and the global response has not been ambitious enough to solve the global pandemic. For instance, extreme poverty has reached the lowest point since its tracking began. And yet, at the current pace, we are still not on track to end poverty by 2030. Similarly, many countries are taking actions to protect the environment, but the health of the earth is still deteriorating at an alarming rate.

The report estimates that 71 million people are expected to be pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020, the first rise in global poverty since 1998.

The more than one billion slum dwellers worldwide are acutely at risk from the effects of COVID-19, suffering from a lack of adequate housing, no running water at home, shared toilets, little or no waste management systems, overcrowded public transport and limited access to formal health care facilities. Underemployment and unemployment due to the crisis mean that some 1.6 billion already vulnerable workers in the informal economy – half of the global workforce – may be significantly affected, with their incomes estimated to have fallen by 60 per cent in the first month of the crisis.

Disruption to health and vaccination services and limited access to diet and nutrition services have the potential to cause hundreds of thousands of additional under-5 deaths and tens of thousands of additional maternal deaths in 2020. Many countries have seen a surge in reports of domestic violence against women and children.  About 70 countries reported moderate to severe disruptions or a total suspension of childhood vaccination services during March and April of 2020. 

School closures have kept 90 per cent of students worldwide (1.57 billion) out of school and caused over 370 million children to miss out on school meals they depend on. Lack of access to computers and the internet at home means remote learning is out of reach of many. In fact, the global gains in reducing child labour are likely to be reversed for the first time in 20 years.

For more information and details about each country, region and SDG, read the report here:

As mentioned in the report, there is a “need to accelerate the spread of technologies and innovation globally and to strengthen capacities and skills” in order to increase the progress of the SDGs. It reinforces the Pears Program’s mission and vision emphasising the transformative power of technology to improve people’s lives.

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