In 2015, the 2030 Agenda was adopted and with it the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 17 goals—with its 169 targets—that are aimed at improving people's living conditions and protecting the environment.
However, on top of the many challenges these goals are trying to face, we have had to add the consequences of a global pandemic on sustainable development.
The emergence and rapid spread of COVID-19 has caused us to face a global health, economic and humanitarian crisis like no other. Coming out of the climate crisis and the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, means going through a Green Recovery, which continues to factor in the Sustainable Development Goals. However, data on sustainable development for the last few months is not exactly optimistic. But, above all, it suggests that we will have to work even harder to achieve the goals in the 2030 Agenda.
Increased inequality due to the COVID-19 pandemic
The pandemic has caused efforts to create more equitable societies to be reversed. According to the UN, inequality worsened between the rich and poor during the COVID-19 crisis and poverty levels increased, for the first time in decades.
In addition, targets such as SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation), which are directly involved in fighting the virus, have been affected. Interruptions to water supplies and water shortages in some areas make it difficult to access clean hand-washing facilities, which is one of the most important preventive measures. The importance of cleanliness in the fight against the virus highlights the need to use water sustainably.
Women and children are disproportionately affected by inequality
COVID-19 has affected women in three different ways: health, domestic violence and caring for others. "Women are the most affected by the COVID-19 crisis, as they are more likely to lose their source of income and less likely to be covered by social welfare measures", said Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
These numbers revealed that the poverty rate among women increased by more than 9 % — which is equivalent to around 47 million women. This data shows a setback in decades of progress towards the eradication of extreme poverty and in terms of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.
The pandemic has also caused child poverty to shoot up to 15 %, according to UNICEF data, and is threatening the health, education and nutrition of millions of children. At least 24 million children are at risk of dropping out of school.
In addition, this year the education of millions of children around the world has been interrupted. Schools are doing everything they can to cope with repeated closures and re-openings and to transition, if possible, to online teaching. The most disadvantaged children have been the most affected by emergency measures.
Economic crisis due to the pandemic: How can we change a bleak future to a green one?
With millions of people forced to work from home, with offices and shops closed as part of lockdown measures, and with travel restricted across the globe, it was inevitable that the economy would suffer.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) stated that millions of people would lose their jobs or be underemployed as a result of the pandemic. "This is no longer just a global health crisis, it is also a major economic and job market crisis that has a great impact on people", said the Director-General of the ILO, Guy Ryder.
Although, as a small positive note, the COVID-19 crisis forced many companies to engage in honest discussions about the balance between work and personal life and to come up with innovative solutions to meet their employees' needs.
Fighting the post-COVID-19 crisis requires a common roadmap. Governments will invest more than USD 10 trillion to revive their economies over the coming years. These investment packages provide a unique opportunity to achieve a fair and resilient economic recovery that prevents uncontrolled climate change and collapses in ecosystems. In this regard, as we mentioned at the beginning, we advocate a Green Recovery that prepares our economies for the future.
The conclusions reached by studies such as that published by the International Renewable Energy Agency, are clear. The green recovery can achieve economic and climate targets while simultaneously raising employment levels. According to the report, investing in renewable energy would generate global GDP gains of USD 98 trillion, quadrupling the number of jobs in the sector to 42 million over the next 30 years, and it would significantly improve overall health and welfare indicators. Not to mention that it would reduce the energy industry's carbon dioxide emissions by 70 % by 2050 by replacing fossil fuels.
The only thing COVID-19 has not affected is climate change
Of all the aspects that have been impacted by the pandemic, there is one that it has not even touched. Global warming continues its progress. Despite a brief decrease in pollution in all countries battling COVID-19, global carbon dioxide levels reached a record high again in 2020. In this regard, the pandemic has also meant we are further from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in terms of the fight against climate change.
However, the sharp reduction in harmful emissions that occurred briefly during the pandemic is clear evidence that there are sustainable alternatives. And it is now widely accepted that governments have an important role to play in ensuring a green, sustainable and inclusive recovery. Furthermore, more and more people are demanding that the new normal is ecological.
That is why, now more than ever, the recovery after COVID-19 must be the opportunity to change the course of the Earth towards a greener future and to increase efforts to achieve the goals set in the 2030 Agenda.
We have hit a major bump on the road to sustainability but if we work together towards a common goal, we will manage to create the sustainable planet we want to inhabit.