The global community is at a critical moment in its pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). More than a year into the global pandemic, millions of lives have been lost, the human and economic toll has been unprecedented, and recovery efforts so far have been uneven, inequitable and insufficiently geared towards achieving sustainable development. The current crisis is threatening decades of development gains, further delaying the urgent transition to greener, more inclusive economies, and throwing progress on the SDGs even further off track.
Had the paradigm shift envisioned by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development been fully embraced over the past six years, the world would have been better prepared to face this crisis – with stronger health systems, expanded social protection coverage, the resilience that comes from more equal societies, and a healthier natural environment. Regrettably, the SDGs were already off track even before COVID-19 emerged. Progress had been made in poverty reduction, maternal and child health, access to electricity, and gender equality, but not enough to achieve the Goals by 2030. In other vital areas, including reducing inequality, lowering carbon emissions and tackling hunger, progress had either stalled or reversed.
As the pandemic continues to unfold, The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021 outlines some significant impacts in many areas that are already apparent. The global extreme poverty rate rose for the first time in over 20 years, and 119 to 124 million people were pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020. There is a risk of a generational catastrophe regarding schooling, where an additional 101 million children have fallen below the minimum reading proficiency level, potentially wiping out two decades of education gains. Women have faced increased domestic violence, child marriage is projected to rise after a decline in recent years, and unpaid and underpaid care work is increasingly and disproportionately falling on the shoulders of women and girls, impacting educational and income opportunities and health. Notwithstanding the global economic slowdown, concentrations of major greenhouse gases continue to increase. With the global average temperature reaching about 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels, the climate crisis has well and truly arrived, and its impacts are being felt across the world. The pandemic has also brought immense financial challenges, especially for developing countries – with a significant rise in debt distress and dramatic decreases in foreign direct investment and trade.