The Impact of COVID-19 on the UN SDGs: How SDGs Can Create a Fairer Post-Pandemic Future

2020 was heralded as a fresh start, the dawn of a new and exciting decade. Numerous major events were scheduled to take place this year, such as the Climate Conference of the Parties (COP). Progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ratified in 2015, was being made. However, everything suddenly changed in March, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. Economic activity was disrupted as workplaces and schools closed, forcing people to stay within the confines of their homes. Many lost their jobs, and with them, their sources of income and livelihood. Progress toward the SDGs was at risk of being halted or reversed altogether.

For instance, poverty is slated to rise for the first time after three decades of steady decline. More than 500 million people are at risk of falling back into poverty. The number of people experiencing acute hunger could double to 265 million by the end of 2020. School closures have resulted in children learning from home, or in them stopping learning altogether due to the lack of infrastructure. Those with children who are fortunate enough to still retain employment now face a compounded challenge of adapting to working from home and helping their little ones study, and research has shown that the burden predominantly falls on mothers, once again exacerbating gender inequality. All this begs the question, “How can we recover from the pandemic and get back on track to achieving the SDGs by 2030?” The SDGs themselves can serve as a framework for recovery, because of the following three reasons:

Why Sustainable Development Goals are the Key to a Better Future

SDGs provide a common vision for humanity

The SDGs were approved by a total of 193 countries who have agreed to band together to achieve a common outcome. Despite disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, the SDGs serve a framework to which countries can return. For instance, once workplaces reopen, working parents could be given the option to work from home a few days a week to help them balance their professional and parental duties. This would be more sustainable and help achieve SDG 4, which is concerned with gender equality. Similarly, weaknesses in the food supply chain and healthcare system that were made apparent by the pandemic should be addressed, so that in case another pandemic hits, it can be contained more effectively and equitably. Overall, the SDGs provide a useful and structured way of thinking and learning from the pandemic.

SDGs encourage global cooperation

From conception, the SDGs were meant to be tackled collectively by the global citizens of the world. Within the individual targets are clauses that specify international collaboration. For example, in SDG 12, target 1 asks developed countries to lead the pursuit of sustainable consumption and production while considering the needs of their developing counterparts. In fact, SDG 17 “Partnerships for the Goals” was included to foster global partnerships and cooperation. One of its targets mentions international resource support to developing countries. The collaboration aspect of SDGs is especially attractive in the face of a global pandemic that has devastated many countries around the world, albeit to different extents. The SDGs allow the tackling of a common issue with a common framework to achieve the common goal of a more sustainable future.

SDGs are focused on eliminating inequalities

The SDGs were built upon the premise of “leaving no one behind”. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected some countries more severely than others, exposing inherent inequalities, such as in healthcare systems and political institutions. Therefore, with every country involved, turning to the SDGs as guidance for recovery from the pandemic would help to build a more equal world from the ground up. Social equality will help to reduce the risks of upheaval, creating a more peaceful world where everyone has equal access to opportunities.

Familiarize yourself with the UN SDGs by participating in The Global Citizen’s programs and events, such as Model United Nations, and be part of a brighter future!

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