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The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by United Nations (UN)

The United Nations adopted the “Agenda 2030” with a total of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015 to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all by 2030.

Sustainable Development Report 2020 has been published in July 2020. This report tracks country performance on the 17 SDGs, as agreed by the international community in 2015 with equal weight to all 17 goals. The score signifies a country’s position between the worst (0) and the best or target (100) outcomes. As per the SDG report 2020, India’s global rank is 117th with a 61.9 score. Sweden topped with global rank 1st. This is a matter of concern for India that we slipped two ranks below from last year and moving on track in only 4 SDGs (no poverty, clean water & sanitation, economic growth, climate action) out of 17 SDGs.

COVID‑19 will Have Severe Negative Impacts on Most SDGs
The world is facing the worst public health and economic crisis in a century. As of July 22nd, 2020, around 15,123,892 people infected and 620,314 people had died from COVID‑19 across the world. The necessary measures taken to respond to the immediate threat of COVID‑19, including the shutdown of many economic activities for months, have led to a global economic crisis with massive job losses and major impacts, especially on vulnerable groups. This is a significant setback for the world’s ambition to achieve the SDGs, in particular for poor countries. United Nations World Food Programme has warned that an estimated 265 million people could face acute food insecurity by the end of 2020 due to COVID‑19. The highly negative impact of COVID-19 will be on SDGs: no poverty (SDG 1), zero hunger (SDG 2), good health and well-being (SDG 3), decent work, and economic growth (SDG 8), and reduced inequalities (SDG 10).

Mitigate Negative Impacts on the SDGs
The highest priority of every government must remain the suppression of the pandemic. There can be no economic recovery while the pandemic is raging. Yet governments need to plan for the post-COVID-19 economy. Unemployment will remain very high. Jobs lost in many sectors – retail, office support, construction, tourism, personal services, fossil-fuel energy – will not return, or at least not rapidly and robustly. Budget deficits and financial imbalances will persist. Many enterprises will go out of business. Non-government aggregate demand, including private consumption and investment, will most likely remain depressed. In the rebuilding phase, governments should support their economic recovery with a strong focus on infrastructure investments that boost jobs and underpin the transition to a low-carbon economy, in line with the Paris Agreement.

Source: Sustainable Development Report 2020

An SDG framework to map out possible short-term and longer-term responses to COVID‑19 are as follows:

Government Response

  • The increased role of government in key-sectors (economy, health, food, social security)
  • Rethink global supply chains and dependence for strategic equipment and materials
  • Strengthen government capacities to anticipate and manage unforeseen disruptive events
  • Strengthen international platforms, exchanges, and transparency among scientists/ researchers (open science)

Transformation in Education, Gender, and Inequality

  • Expand and strengthen public social security systems best suited to address the consequences of disruptive events
  • Further investments in education, digital skills, equity, and lifelong learning
  • Further streamline basic health prevention measures in the school programs (e.g., hand-washing) and provide adequate supplies for good hygiene
  • Place women’s needs and leadership at the heart of the response to the health and economic crises

Transformation in Health, Well-Being, and Demography

  • Strengthen the role of public health and disease prevention and surveillance (for both communicable and chronic diseases)
  • Increase the role of public authorities in the research for treatment and vaccines, and in providing access to treatment and vaccines
  • Accelerate efforts to achieve universal healthcare
  • Strengthen public-health emergency preparedness (including building stocks of essential equipment and increasing flexibility to mobilize staff to respond to emergencies)
  • Reduce dependence on other countries for key health supplies and equipment
  • Expand digital health solutions (e.g., telehealth) to reduce the burden on hospitals and increase access to care
  • Increase the quality and timeliness of health statistics
  • Increase the resilience of health systems to respond to shocks/ crises (e.g., increase capacity to build hospitals and other infrastructure in record time)

Transformation in Energy Decarbonization and Sustainable Industry

  • Use the Paris Climate Agreement as the vision for long-term change and to inform investment plans and bailouts
  • Build on positive short-term prospects due to plummeting industrial output and further the roll-out of digital services and e-commerce to accelerate the transition to climate neutrality
  • Reduce international dependence for key industries and sectors in case of major disruptive events (e.g. protective masks, food supply)
  • Pursue efforts to enforce environmental treaties and national regulations despite the lockdown and economic turmoil

Transformation in Sustainable Food, Land, Water, and Oceans

  • Strengthen food security and hygiene, including the reduction of risks of zoonotic diseases
  • Emphasize the resilience and sustainability of food systems
  • Accelerate efforts to provide universal access to water and sanitation, and increase focus on hygiene and handwashing to help curb transmission of oral-fecal diseases
  • Pursue efforts to reduce negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems to prevent future pandemics

Transformation in Sustainable Cities and Communities

  • Address immediate threats to vulnerable groups in urban settlements (homeless, refugees) to avoid a deep worsening of their living conditions and to make confinement measures more effective
  • Strengthen the territorial distribution of doctors and availability of care, including in rural areas
  • Further integrate vulnerable groups in urban settlements, including homeless people, refugees, and migrants
  • Adapt public transportation systems to the need for physical distancing and hygiene, and to changing patterns in working and commuting habits
  • Develop integrated territorial strategies to address the impact of travel restrictions on business, exports, and tourism activities

Transformation in Harnessing the Digital Revolution for Sustainable Development

  • Further expand digital health solutions to reduce the burden on hospitals and increase access
  • Develop and use online education tools
  • Further development of other digital government services and e-commerce
  • Further investments in digital skills, equity, and lifelong learning
  • Accelerate the adoption of measures that support a fair transition for workers affected by the digital and technological revolution

This is a matter of concern for India that we slipped two ranks below on Global SDG Rank from last year and moving on track in only 4 SDGs (no poverty, clean water & sanitation, economic growth, climate action) among 17 SDGs. It will be important to put the SDGs at the heart of our policy-making.

COVID‑19 does not resolve the climate and biodiversity crises, and it is gravely amplifying income inequalities and food insecurity. It is estimated that nearly 265 million people could face acute food insecurity globally by the end of 2020 due to COVID‑19. We believe that without agro-chemicals – food will not survive, and without food, people will not survive. It has also shown us that we will not be able to protect ourselves from global pandemics unless our health systems are strengthened.

The SDG framework suggested in this article may guide the immediate post-crisis recovery and frame long-term strategies towards more resilient and sustainable societies.

About the Author
Dr. Mritunjay Chaubey is currently working as Global Vice President – Environment, Sustainability & Green Cell with UPL Limited. He is a sustainability, environmental, and water & wastewater treatment expert of international repute. He has done a Ph.D. in environmental engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi. He has nearly 24 years of professional working experience in renowned MNCs like Pentair, Shell, Unilever, and UPL.

He has made a unique position for himself in the corporate world by embedding sustainability and reducing the environmental footprint of such big corporates. Currently, more than 100 environmental protection sustainable technologies designed by him are successfully working in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, and South America. He is an Editorial Board Member of the renowned international journal “Research Journal of Chemistry and Environment” as well as “Arab Water World”. He is also a member of the Bureau of Indian Standards for making BIS Standards for Water & Wastewater Treatment and Environmental Protection. He has published 50 more than technical papers in renowned international journals and conferences. Recently, he was awarded the “Most Influential Sustainability Leader Award” and “CSO of the Year Award”.

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