UN Report: next 18 months crucial for achieving global goals

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major disruption to people’s lives and livelihoods around the world in 2020, pushing back into poverty an additional 119-124 million people, says a new United Nations report. An equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs were lost, and the number of people suffering from hunger, which was already climbing before the pandemic, may have increased by 83-132 million.

The annual report reviews progress of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, using the latest available data and estimates to track the global progress of the 17 Goals with in-depth analysis of selected indicators for each Goal. It highlights the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on the SDGs and specifies areas that require urgent and coordinated action.

The report points out that the decisions and actions taken during the next 18 months will determine whether pandemic recovery plans will put the world on a course to reach the globally agreed-upon goals that aim to boost economic growth and social well-being while protecting the environment.

The pandemic has exposed and intensified inequalities within and among countries. As of June 17, 2021, around 68 vaccines were administered for every 100 people in Europe and Northern America compared with fewer than 2 in sub-Saharan Africa. Up to 10 million more girls will be at risk of child marriage as a result of the pandemic over the next decade. The collapse of international tourism disproportionally affects Small Island Developing States.

The economic slowdown in 2020 had done little to slow the climate crisis. Concentrations of major greenhouse gases continued to increase, while the global average temperature was about 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels, dangerously close to the 1.5°C limit established in the Paris Agreement.

Global flows of foreign direct investment fell by 40% in 2020 compared to 2019. The pandemic has brought immense financial challenges, especially for developing countries – with a significant rise in debt distress.

The 2030 Agenda, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Goals, to improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth.

According to the Report, to get the SDGs back on track, governments, cities, business and industries have to use the recovery to adopt low-carbon, resilient and inclusive development pathways that will reduce carbon emissions, conserve natural resources, create better jobs, advance gender equality and tackle growing inequities.

“We are at a critical juncture in human history. The decisions and actions we take today will have momentous consequences for future generations. “Lessons learned from the pandemic will help us rise to current and future challenges. Let us seize the moment together to make this a decade of action, transformation and restoration to achieve the SDGs and make good on the Paris Climate Agreement,” said UN Under-Secretary-General Mr. Liu Zhenmin.

Efforts to confront the pandemic have also shown immense community resilience, decisive action from governments, a rapid expansion of social protection, an acceleration of digital transformation; and a unique collaboration to develop life-saving vaccines and treatments in record time. According to the Report, these are solid foundations to build on to accelerate progress on the SDGs.

The report provides some valuable additional key facts and figures: The global extreme poverty rate rose for the first time since 1998, from 8.4% in 2019 to 9.5% in 2020. Between February 1 and December 31, 2020, Governments around the world announced more than 1,600 social protection measures, mostly short-term, in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Pandemic-related shocks are likely to trigger a rise in stunting, which already affects more than one in five children. The pandemic has halted or reversed progress in health and poses major threats beyond the disease itself. About 90% of countries are still reporting one or more disruptions to essential health services.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schooling is a ‘generational catastrophe’. An additional 101 million children and youth fell below the minimum reading proficiency level, wiping out the education gains achieved over the last two decades.

The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected progress towards gender equality: violence against women and girls has intensified; child marriage is expected to increase, and women have suffered a disproportionate share of job losses and increased care work at home. About 759 million people remained without electricity and one-third of the global population lacked clean cooking fuels and technologies in 2019.

An economic recovery is underway, led by China and the United States, but for many other countries, economic growth is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels before 2022 or 2023. The world fell short on 2020 targets to halt biodiversity loss and 10 million hectares of forest being lost each year between 2015-2020.

While net official development assistance increased in 2020 to a total of $161 billion, this still falls well short of what is needed to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and to meet the long-established target of 0.7% of GNI. In 2020, 132 countries and territories reported that they were implementing a national statistical plan, with 84 having plans that were fully funded. Only 4 out of the 46 LDCs reported having fully funded national statistical plans.

The Report stresses that the recovery effort will also depend on the availability of data to inform policymaking. Ensuring sufficient funding is available for data collection, both through the mobilization of international and domestic resources, will be critical to these efforts.

The report was prepared by the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), a division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) in collaboration with more than 50 international and regional organizations.

(Santa Banerjee/Photo credit: UNICEF Ethiopia/Tewodros Tadesse)

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