New Report: The Sustainable Development Goals and COVID-19

Ian MatthewsNews

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, it is clear that the pandemic will have severe impacts on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This unprecedented crisis has implications not only for public health, but for economics, social stability, and national and global politics, and it has wide-ranging effects on the SDGs. The Sustainable Development Report 2020 (SDR) looks at COVID-19 from the perspective of the SDGs, highlighting priorities for governments for responding to COVID-19 in a way that aligns with the SDGs.

“The Sustainable Development Goals are needed more than ever. Their bedrock principles of social inclusion, universal access to public services, and global cooperation are the guideposts for fighting COVID-19 as well as for the investment-led recovery the world should adopt to overcome the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. This year’s report focuses on the short-term fight to stop COVID-19 – emphasizing the importance of public health strategies – and on the long-term transformations to guide the recovery phase. As the report shows, there was clear progress on the SDGs before this year’s pandemic. With sound policies and strong global cooperation, we can restore that progress in the coming decade,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and first author of the report.

COVID-19 has shed light on the vulnerability of health systems, including in high-income countries like the United States, who were thought to be the best prepared to face the pandemic. The report shows that in general, countries that have made the most progress toward the SDGs have also responded most effectively to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The SDR states that the short-term priority for governments should be containing and suppressing the pandemic, since there can be no economic or social recovery while the pandemic is raging. This crisis is expected to result in growing inequalities, which further undermines progress towards the SDGs. This highlights the need for countries to focus on strengthening their health systems, particularly vulnerable and fragile states, where certain groups are disproportionately affected by the consequences of COVID-19. 

Despite the negative impact that COVID-19 has had on the achievement of most SDGs, the crisis has brought about some temporary environmental benefits. Emissions of CO2 dropped significantly due to the lockdown procedures in place around the world. The SDR reports that the short-term impact on environmental and biodiversity goals remains unclear, and emphasizes the importance of restoring economic activity without restoring old patterns of environmental degradation.

The report further highlights that governments should play a more central role in the economy through public investments. It is predicted that government spending will have to increase dramatically in the next few years to mitigate the consequences of both the health and economic crises of COVID-19. National governments will need to share revenues with state and local governments as countries rebuild after the pandemic. Additionally, governments can support their economic recovery with a focus on infrastructure investments that boost jobs and allow for a transition to a low-carbon economy. 

The authors reinforced that the world does have a roadmap for recovery in the SDGs.  The Six Transformations framework is presented as a useful guide for recovering from COVID-19 and building back in a way that is more resilient and aligned with the SDGs:

The SDR further highlights an urgent need for international cooperation and partnerships. Most countries want multilateralism and cooperation; however, many are paralyzed by their own crises, budget deficits, and divisions of local politics. International cooperation and partnerships with the private sector could provide a favorable and rapid resolution to the pandemic, particularly when it comes to increasing data availability and reducing time lags in official statistics. 

The report identifies five key measures that should be targets for multilateralism and cooperation, which will be necessary for a favorable and rapid resolution to the pandemic:

  1. Disseminating best practices rapidly
  2. Strengthening financing mechanisms for developing countries
  3. Addressing hunger hotspots
  4. Ensuring social protection
  5. Promoting new drugs and vaccines

Through international cooperation, partnerships and by aligning rebuilding efforts with the SDGs, countries will be able to recover in a more resilient way after the pandemic is contained.

Ian MatthewsNew Report: The Sustainable Development Goals and COVID-19