The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed progress in addressing the 17 sustainable development goals defined by the United Nations.
According to the 2020 Sustainable Development Goals Report, before the COVID-19 pandemic, progress remained uneven. But now, the world is far off track from meeting the goals by 2030. meet the Goals by 2030. In particular, the number of people suffering from food insecurity has increase, the natural environment is continuing to deteriorate, and economic inequality persisted worldwide.
“Everything we do during and after this crisis [COVID-19] must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face,” said António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations.
Gutteres noted that the root causes and uneven impacts of COVID-19 demonstrate precisely why the world needs the UN’s 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and underscore the urgency of their implementation. “I have therefore consistently called for a coordinated and comprehensive international response and recovery effort, based on sound data and science and guided by the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.
The secretary general called for the world to put continue to prioritize the SDGs. “I call for renewed ambition, mobilization, leadership and collective action, not just to beat COVID-19 but to recover better, together,” said Gutteres.
Nations across the world are following a United Nations blueprint to build a more sustainable future – but a new study shows that blueprint leads less to a castle in the sky, and more to a house that needs constant remodeling.
Sustainability scientists have developed systematic and comprehensive assessment methods and performed a first assessment of a country’s progress in achieving all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) not just as a nation, but also at the regional levels, and not just as a snapshot – but over time.
In “Assessing progress towards sustainable development over space and time” in this week’s Nature, scientists from Michigan State University (MSU) and in China show that indeed all sustainability, like politics, is local. Even as a country can overall claim movement toward a sustainable future, areas within the country reflect the gains and losses in the struggle with poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation and for prosperity, and peace and justice. Most striking, the study found, is the disparities between developed regions and ones that are developing.
“We have learned that sustainability’s progress is dynamic, and that sometimes gains in one important area can come at costs to another area, tradeoffs that can be difficult to understand but can ultimately hobble progress,” said Jianguo “Jack” Liu, MSU Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability and senior author. “Whether it’s protecting precious natural resources, making positive economic change or reducing inequality – it isn’t a static score. We must carefully take a holistic view to be sure progress in one area isn’t compromised by setbacks in other areas.”
The group assessed China with methods that can be applied to other countries. China’s vast size and sweeping socioeconomic changes at national and provincial levels showed how progress in sustainability can shift. Between 2000 and 2015, China has improved its aggregated SDG score.
At the provincial level, however, there is disparity between the country’s developed and developing regions. East China – which is home to the country’s economic boom — had a higher SDG Index score than the more rural west China in the 2000s. In 2015, south China had a higher SDG Index score than the industrialized and agricultural-intensive north China.
Zhenci Xu, a recent PhD graduate from MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (MSU-CSIS) who led the study, notes that countries are tasked with urgent goal of achieving sustainability even as populations grow, economies develop unevenly, natural resources like water and energy become scarce, land degrades, and income and gender inequities intensify.
Developed provinces had higher (and thus better) SDG Index scores than developing provinces throughout the study period of 2000-2015. But the average SDG Index scores in developing provinces were increasing faster compared to developed provinces.
“China’s eastern region began developing during the reform and opening-up policy in the late 70s to spur economic development along the coasts, which was accompanied by better social services,” Xu said. “In 1999, China started to address the rural western parts which had lagged in progress. That saw improvements both in infrastructure and ecological conservation, which seems to have boosted their sustainable development. The eastern parts have begun to struggle with the consequences of rapid economic growth – such as pollution and inequities.”
The authors note that overall sustainability is advancing thanks to better education, healthcare and environmental conservation policies. The study points out that even amidst progress, it is important to scrutinize what is happening at regional levels to know where to direct resources and attention.
In addition to Liu and Xu, the article was authored by Sophia Chau, Yingjie Li, Thomas Dietz, Julie Winkler, Shuxin Li, Anna Herzberger and Ying Tang from MSU and Jian Zhang, Jinyan Wang, Xiuzhi Chen, Fan Fan, Baorong Huang, Shaohua Wu, Dequ Hong and Yunkai Li from Chinese universities and academies. Xu currently is a research intern at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability.
The work was funded by the National Science Foundation, MSU, Michigan AgBioResearch, and China Scholarship Council.
Sue Nichols is Assistant Director, Strategic Communication at the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. This guest post, which originally appeared on the Michigan State University website, was re-published here with permission.
Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, was originally scheduled to open on October 20, 2020. But due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the world expo has been postponed to 2021, and the rescheduled new dates calls for an opening on October 1, 2021.
Membership Growing in Sustainable Development Group
More than 2,000 organizations have joined the Federation of Sustainable Development Organizations (FOSDO), which is focused on sustainable development. Membership in the Federation is open to any group with a focus on projects related to one or more of the 17 SDGs that are part of the United Nations sustainable development goals. The Federation of Sustainable Development Organizations is part of The ThinkGlobal Institute, a non-profit organization based in the USA.
The Federation of Sustainable Development Organizations Member Directory can be searched and sorted by type of organization, sustainable development goals and/or country. Most organizations can be contacted directly via a website link or by using the “Email Entry” link, which will enable you to send a secure email. The directory is a free tool for identifying resources and potential partners around the world.
Recent posts on The ThinkGlobal Institute blog will keep you up-to-date on the latest sustainable development news. The blog features daily updates from the United Nations, as well as analysis and guest posts related to sustainable development.
The Sustainability Resource Center includes links to everything from sustainable development goals and partnership opportunities to guides for business action and RSS feeds dedicated to sustainability. The online resource center was created by the ThinkGlobal Institute, a nonprofit think tank dedicated to sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. The Institute’s mission includes outreach, research, education, information, and analysis
The United Nations has released a new report on private sector efforts to support the Global Compact and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The report, “Uniting Business in the Decade of Action,” coincides with the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Global Compact, and the fifth anniversary of the UN SDGs. Participation in the Global Compact has grown from 44 business participants to more than 10,000 companies. The initiative also includes 3,000 non-business signatories and 68 Local Networks.
Today, with a global pandemic sweeping the world, the challenges are greater than ever before. “The COVID-19 pandemic, with its twin health and socio-economic crises, has swiftly and dramatically upended lives and livelihoods in nearly every corner of the globe,” says UN Secretary General António Guterres. “It has exposed global fragilities and laid bare the rampant inequalities that were already making life difficult for the most vulnerable.”
Gutteres says that the pandemic has made it more urgent that businesses and world leaders work toward meeting the goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “The UN system is fully mobilized to save lives and ease suffering,” the secretary general says. “Moreover, we know that recovery must not aim to simply go back to old ways and business-as-usual.”
One of the key takeaways from the new report is that the business community needs to move from policy commitments to action that can lead to actual performance improvements. While 84% of businesses participating in the Global Compact take some form of action on the SDGs, only 39% are setting goals that are sufficiently ambitious, science based and aligned with societal needs, and only 46% have aligned sustainable development goals with their core business strategy.
“To truly succeed in driving sustainability outcomes, organizations need to focus on making sustainability sustainable,” the report notes. “To lead a transformation of this scale and nature requires a high degree of legitimacy, personal impact and authenticity that all stems from the personal commitment to making the world a better place.”
Progress toward meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals continues even as the world grapples with the COVID-19 crisis.
“We are living in difficult times,” said EU Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni during an update on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “Perhaps this crisis has showed us more than ever the importance of interdependence and the need to link our economic, social and environmental efforts.”
Gentiloni said that progress is being made on plans to integrate the SDGs into the EU economic policy coordination framework, the European Semester. “We are fully aware of the necessity to implement these goals in their entirety,” he said.
In addition to discussing the larger policy picture, Gentiloni said the EU’s 2020 status report on the SDGs includes a chapter on environmental sustainability and an annex tracking each member state’s progress toward meeting the goals.
While it is based on pre-pandemic data, the 2020 report shows that the EU made progress on the SDGs between 2015 to 2019. For example, said Gentiloni:“Since 2013, the EU has managed to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by 12.5 million. In particular, fewer people faced problems related to their living conditions, such as overcrowding or lack of sanitary facilities.”
Moreover, the report notes, real GDP per capita in the EU has increased considerably over the past five years. While the employment rate increased from 68% to 73%, the long-term unemployment rate decreased from 5.5% to 2.8%.
And agricultural production in the EU has become more sustainable, with organic farming gaining its share of total agricultural area — from 5.9% in 2013 to 8% in 2018.
“These positive developments over the past five years are of course strongly challenged now,” said Gentiloni. “We will collectively need more sustainable and resilient societies. This is a lesson of the past months. The progress achieved so far is important, but only a starting point.”
More details on the EU’s progress toward meeting the UN SDGs is available in the 2020 report.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the fragile balance between life and death.
In remarks to the World Health Assembly, UN Secretary General António Guterres noted that “despite the enormous scientific and technological advances of recent decades, a microscopic virus has brought us to our knees.”
Guterres noted that COVID-19 has impacted all areas of life around the world. “The fragility of coordinated global efforts is highlighted by our failed response to the climate crisis,” he said. “The fragility of our nuclear disarmament regime is shown by the ever-increasing risk of proliferation. The fragility of our web protocols is laid bare by constant breaches in cybersecurity, as cyber warfare is also already happening – in a lawless international environment.”
COVID-19 must be a wake-up call, said the secretary-general. “Deadly global threats require a new unity and solidarity,” he said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the United Nations has advocated for a three-point response. First, Guterres said, a large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive health response, guided by the World Health Organization, is needed. Second, more proactive public policies are needed to address the devastating social and economic dimensions of the crisis. Third, recovery from the COVID-19 crisis must lead to more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are stronger and more resilient.
“Both our response and our recovery must put human rights considerations at the center, “Guterres said. “Instead of going back to systems that were unsustainable, we need to make a leap into a future of clean energy, inclusivity and equality, and stronger social safety nets, including universal health coverage.”
Earth Day is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The first Earth Day in the United States was held in 1970. On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets to demand better environmental stewardship for planet Earth.
Today, Earth Day is part of a worldwide effort to support clean air, clean water, and protection for endangered species. In 2016, theUnited Nations chose Earth Day as the day to sign the Paris climate agreement into force.
On this Earth Day, says UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “all eyes are on the COVID-19 pandemic — the biggest test the world has faced since the Second World War. We must work together to save lives, ease suffering and lessen the shattering economic and social consequences.”
Guterres noted that the coronavirus has exacerbated the planet’s unfolding environmental crisis. “Biodiversity is in steep decline,” he noted. “Climate disruption is approaching a point of no return.”
It is imperative that policymakers act decisively to protect the planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption. “The current crisis is an unprecedented wake-up call,” the secretary general said. “We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future.”
The Federation of Sustainable Development Organizations Member Directory is now live online. The directory can be searched and sorted by type of organization, sustainable development goals and/or country.
Most organizations can be contacted via a website link or by using the “Email Entry” link, which will enable you to send a secure email.
Organizations that are interesteed in joining the nearly 1,000 members of the Federation of Sustainable Development Organizations, can use this Registration Form. Membership is free to all qualifying organizations, which includes NGOs, universities, government agencies and private sector countries that are supporting the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Organizations that already have listing and would like to make a change or update should use the Contact Us form on the website.
The coronavirus pandemic presents an opportunity for the world to act in solidarity and turn this crisis into an impetus to achieve the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
“The United Nations – and our global network of country offices — will support all governments to ensure that the global economy and the people we serve emerge stronger from this crisis,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his recent statement, expressing his firm determination to prevent the crisis from derailing sustainable development efforts while laying out a vision for the affected to build back better.
“As the world fights the deadly COVID-19 pandemic – the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War – we are also seeing another epidemic — a dangerous epidemic of misinformation,” Gutteres said.
In an effort to provide useful information, Gutteres announced the launch of a new United Nations Communications Response initiative “to flood the Internet with facts and science while countering the growing scourge of misinformation — a poison that is putting even more lives at risk.”
Learn more about the United Nations response to the COVID-19 pandemic.