2020 was supposed to be an important milestone for international cooperation, with major global conferences on biodiversity, climate change, gender equality and more set to take place. Yet a year full of expectations and updates was ultimately cancelled due to the global pandemic. While COP26 managed to take place in 2021, many other major summits continue to be delayed or hosted virtually – which comes with its own dangers – making it more difficult in finding a path forward. This is why the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 – or more simply, SDGs – are more important than ever. SDGs can help us recover more quickly from COVID-19, but it isn’t a one-off occurrence. It’s one connection in a larger chain of climate inactivity, habitat destruction, disrupting public health systems, widening revenue, and the gender gap that we’re all paying for.
What Are the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030?
The Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals, are universal goals designed to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that everyone can enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030 in each United Nations member state. They are centred around six themes: dignity, people, the environment, partnerships, justice, and prosperity.
These goals go beyond economic development to encourage social development. The SDGs aim to promote and tackle other major global issues including climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace, and equity, culminating in 17 goals, 169 specific aims, and 232 targets.
Is This a Race We Can Win?
We have witnessed some great accomplishments over the last decade. Global school attendance has increased by 89%, while child mortality and extreme poverty rates have dropped. Many other targets are showing slow but steady development, but no victory has been secured. The world is not on schedule to meet the SDGs by 2030, as the SDGs 2020 Report demonstrates. We still have a way to go to the finish line in 2030, and the COVID-19 crisis has already threatened to slow us down.
Prior to the global pandemic, research showed that 135 million people were suffering from hunger and food insecurity at crisis levels. The pandemic’s aftershocks have pushed an additional 130 million people to the brink of hunger. Almost 2.7 billion workers or nearly 81% of the global workforce were affected by lockdown measures, many of whom were not covered by social protection measures. School closures affected 91% of the world’s students, many of whom are in underdeveloped nations where technology cannot assist their education. Many healthcare workers, carers, and informal workers working the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 are women, yet they face increased incidences of domestic violence, in addition to the persistent threat to their health and well-being.
The number of protected areas is growing and forest cover loss is slowing down. However, habitat destruction continues, along with biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse. According to experts, a new infectious disease will arise in humans every four months, and roughly 75% of all new diseases can be traced back to animals, with COVID-19 being the most recent. If we keep going in this direction, we will fall short of many of the 2030 Agenda goals. The old business model was no longer viable. However, it is not too late to make changes.
This is where the UN SDGs come in and why they’re more important now than ever. Investing in a proper response to one SDG goal can help us achieve many more others – in fact, all 17 SDGs are deeply interconnected. If handled in an inclusive and climate-sensitive manner, recovery from this worldwide epidemic and economic slump might provide a significant opportunity for the betterment of the environment, public health, poverty reduction, and job creation.
Achieving SDGs is A Matter of Protecting Nature
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call for citizens of Earth. The health of our planet and its ecosystems is directly related to our own health and the health of the economy. Protecting and restoring forests, mangroves, marine and coastal habitats help us achieve many goals, from tackling climate change to assisting millions of people in escaping poverty. As we rebuild from this global pandemic, it is critical now that we reassess our relationship with nature.
Achieving SGDs is a matter of listening to science. We live in an age of distrust of evidence, facts, and science. It only takes one click to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories. It is the work of the scientists, academics and experts who will guide us out of this pandemic and propel us towards the future where all the SGDs are realised. Evidence-based policymaking is crucial. Climate experts have warned that unless we cut emissions by 7.6% per year over the next decade, we will not be able to keep global temperature rises below the 1.5C limit. Ecological crises will exacerbate food shortages, extreme weather events, natural disasters, as well as increase the risk of public health crises, much like the current epidemic.
At the national, corporate and individual levels, achieving SGDs is a matter of making wise decisions. Companies must take advantage of the opportunity to prioritise a greener economy, abolish fossil fuel subsidies, and assist in the creation of ‘green employment’ that gives out quality jobs while protecting society. On an individual level, the responsibility lies with each of us to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle and lower our overall carbon footprint.
Achieving SGDs requires cooperation. SGDs serve as a reminder that without shared responsibility and cooperation, nothing is possible. We risk leaving a large number of people behind if we don’t share the blame. We must stand with those who have suffered the most – women, children, low-income communities, people with disabilities, refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced people. We must be informed and hold those in power accountable for all of this to happen. The best thing we can do for future generations is to keep the wheel turning, keep the conversation going, and motivate each other to do better for the planet.
Featured image by: SDG Action Campaign (CC BY 2.0)