Goals are set to bring us to a desired result or future. People involved in the goal-setting collectively commit to working towards the achievement of these goals. This was what happened in September 2015 when the United Nations brought world leaders together to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals.
Reeling from the success of the eight Millenium Development Goals in 2000, they set their goals higher in an effort to make the world a better place to live in. Just a recap, the Sustainable Development Goals are 17 specific goals with 169 targets, from ending poverty and hunger, to ensuring good health, gender equality, accessibility of quality education, housing, water and sanitation, promoting industrialisation, use of sustainable energy, and combating climate change. These goals can be captured in ‘5 Ps’ – people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership.
Indeed, what a wonderful world it would be if all these can be achieved by 2030. Say what? 2030? That’s only 10 years from now. So, how are we doing?
Since the SDGs are goals, we need to measure them with key performance indicators to determine where we’re at in a specific time. Educational researcher Barry Zimmerman said, “Feedback ensures that action can be taken if necessary. It allows us to reflect upon our ability. When feedback is delayed, there could be a potential reduction in the rate of progress.” Let’s take this moment to reflect on how we’re doing concerning the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals five years after its signing. The United Nations provides an annual report to its member countries for evidence-based feedback and monitoring so let’s take a look at the findings.
The world we live in
Let’s backtrack a bit. The SDG 2019 Progress Report stated that progress and favorable trends were noted in some critical areas – we saw the decrease in the under-five mortality rate by almost 50%, majority of the global population now have access to electricity, millions of lives were saved thanks to immunisations, countries are more intentional in fighting climate change, and there are more marine protected areas in different parts of the world. Nations are also creating policies to address the rapid growth of urbanisation and the need for sustainable food consumption and production. Meanwhile, we are largely off-track in meeting targets on food and agriculture and the rise in figures on global hunger is alarming.
We should take stock of the successes no matter how small they may seem in the grand scheme of things and learn from our shortcomings. “This report highlights areas that can drive progress across all 17 SDGs: financing; resilience; sustainable and inclusive economies; more effective institutions; local action; better use of data; and harnessing science, technology and innovation with a greater focus on digital transformation,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Nations must work hand in hand so that no one will be left behind.
COVID-19 and the SDGs
Now, we’re approaching the fourth quarter of the year 2020 and the world is grappling with the effects of an unforeseen pandemic. The devastation brought about by COVID-19 can be felt across global human development standards and figures are expected to fall for the first time since the UN began measuring these indicators. Nothing can compare and has prepared us for this pandemic, prompting United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Achim Steiner to say, “The world has seen many crises over the past 30 years, including the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-09. Each has hit human development hard but, overall, development gains accrued globally year-on-year. COVID-19, with its triple hit to health, education, and income may change this trend.”
The SDG Progress Report 2020 was recently released and indeed, the figures were bleak:
- 71 million people under extreme poverty;
- half of the global workforce experience unemployment and underemployment resulting in a decrease in their income by as much as 60%;
- more than one billion slum dwellers, together with women and children, are the most vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus;
- maternal and under-five deaths are expected to rise;
- 1.57 billion students were affected by school closures;
- almost 50% of the global population does not have access to the internet making it harder for students to participate in distance learning; and
- child labor, child trafficking, and child marriage are expected to rise.
The UN report emphasised that “COVID-19 is reversing decades of progress on poverty, healthcare, and education.” At the same time, the world is also suffering from the undeniable impact of climate change. 2019 was the second warmest year on record and the previous decade was the hottest ever. There are also growing concerns regarding ocean acidification, land degradation, extinction, and global hunger brought about by unsustainable food production and consumption.
Taking a look at the peace situation, almost 71 million have been displaced as of 2018 due to political turmoil, economic meltdown, and armed conflict. This is the highest on record since World War II. In terms of international partnerships, immediate funds are needed for humanitarian programs especially in response to COVID-19. Trade, remittances, and foreign investments are expected to fall by 40% by the end of 2020.
These are just some of the most glaring figures across the 5 Ps of the SDGs. Needless to say, this pandemic along with other global issues we’re facing has set us back further in the attainment of the SDGs come 2030.
Time for a New World Order
The progress report tells us that we’re off track but that doesn’t mean we should lose hope. It just means that world leaders should come together again and set new, more attainable goals in light of recent events.
“The coronavirus pandemic has shown us a new world; one where the status quo no longer exists.”
The targets previously set are no longer applicable and it would be futile to keep on measuring the success of the SDGs against their indicators. But the pathway to a better future has already been established by the SDGs. As UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin said:
“The principles on which the SDGs were established are key to building back better in the post-COVID-19 recovery.”
These are inclusion, equity, and sustainability. We all need to work collectively to raise each other up. It’s no longer about one nation alone. It’s about nations working together to overcome the effects of the pandemic, climate change, and other crises to come because no one should be left behind. The Sustainable Development Goals have been grand and ambitious and the new goals will definitely be steeper but who said there’s a limit for dreaming for a better future for humankind and the planet we live in? In the end, it’s our collective action that will bring us closer to the attainment of our sustainable development goals.
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Cover image of scenes from the municipal market in Tucuru, Guatemala by UN Women/Ryan Brown.