SEATTLE, Washington — The impacts of COVID-19 are projected to influence almost every aspect of the Sustainable Development Goals and the plans for its implementation. Now more than ever, it has become apparent how interdependent world issues and processes are and how important it is for global goals to be maintained to support current and future sustainability.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
In 2015, the United Nations introduced the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be adopted by all of the U.N.’s member countries. These goals range widely and include ambitious efforts such as zero poverty and hunger, improved education, better sanitation and healthcare, sustainable development in cities and climate action. The goals follow a long history of policies and strategies, most recently the Millenium Development Goals from 2000 to 2015, and are vital in creating an overall more safe and sustainable world.
However, the onset of COVID-19 has threatened the execution of these goals and experts are predicting a need for radical reevaluation of the timeline in which it can be achieved. While the impact of COVID-19 on goals such as No Poverty (Goal 1), Good Health and Wellbeing (Goal 3) and Decent Work and Economic Growth (Goal 8) are commonly covered in the media, the pandemic is estimated to affect almost all 17 goals in some way but specifically Goal 2, 4, 5 and 13.
Specifically Affected SDGs
Goal 2 – Zero Hunger: Supply chains are experiencing disruptions, food prices are inflated and farmers are facing difficulties selling their crops. Food insecure populations are increasingly at risk and many who previously had access to food are now struggling. The Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that food insecurity could double to 265 million people worldwide due to COVID-19.
Goal 4 – Quality Education: An estimated 1.25 billion students have had their education affected by COVID-19 as of mid-March. Remote education is not accessible to all students, such as those without computers, Wi-Fi or other technical supplies.
Goal 5 – Gender Equality: Women in many countries are bearing the weight of the pandemic, with the majority of frontline workers in hospitals being women. Social workers, maternal care workers and other essential roles are disproportionately women. Often these roles are less well-paid than male roles and in some countries, these roles come with no pay at all.
Goal 13 – Climate Action: The progression of climate change and resulting global warming is associated with increased risk of pandemics, rising sea levels, storms, droughts and increased economic expenses due to damages. Global temperatures are projected to increase by 3.2 degrees if additional environmental commitments are not implemented. During COVID-19 shutdowns, emissions were lower than average but there was also lower involvement in climate action due to the focus on global health.
UN Responses and Solutions
The World Bank is prioritizing programs to aid in these difficulties. Working toward the goal to combat hunger, in Kenya, it is improving digital technology for farming. In Liberia, the World Bank is protecting food supply chains and has made plans for Tajikistan to receive cash transfers for nutrition in households with children under 2 years old.
Additionally, as of March 2020, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) began working to assist governments with education by providing remote learning opportunities, information support and scientific cooperation.
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (U.N. Women) introduced a checklist that includes 10 asks for governments. Governments are asked to respond to increased domestic violence towards women by ensuring access to resources, hotlines and shelters. The checklist also asks for governments to provide equal pay, benefits, healthcare and maternal care for women. Additionally, it asks governments to assist women with strategies to mitigate financial dependence on men. These ongoing concerns of inequality for women are exacerbated during the pandemic.
Solutions for climate change are a focus as well. Experts say that while communities are rebuilding economies, there are opportunities to move to renewable energy, green technology and sustainable new sectors. The U.N. is committed to promoting environmental, economic and social support, through policymaking, investing and financing for sustainable development and decarbonization. This is especially important in order to maintain the current parameters of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement.
Prioritizing SDGs During a Pandemic
None of these goals stand alone; they are all interconnected and influence each other on a global scale. Policymakers and governments must be cognisant about creating sustainable development not only now in response to coronavirus complications but in the long-term. No country is exempt from experiencing the effects of COVID-19 and the Sustainable Development Goals must be prioritized as a whole in order to reduce the effects of the pandemic on all people, the economy and the environment.
– Sydney Bazilian