As the globe reels under the onslaught of Covid-19, the major contentions floating around are about the global economic slump and uncertainties in the global political and economic orders.
The pandemic, by itself, and also through various economic, social and political avenues, will affect global developmental objectives at a much broader scale.
The impacts will be observed more prominently in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
As lockdowns ease in countries across Asia and the Pacific in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is clear — a return to business as usual is unimaginable in a region that was already off track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The virtual High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development recently convened governments and stakeholders to focus on the imperative to build back better while keeping an eye on the global goals.
In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
193 member countries, including India, got committed to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that require efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change while ensuring that no one was left behind.
India played a significant role in making the declaration and its progress in achieving these goals are crucial for the world as it is home to about 17% of the world population.
The SDG India index, released by the NITI Aayog and the United Nations, shows that the nation has a score of 58, a little beyond halfway mark in meeting the target set for 2030.
SDGs developmental goals have been affected by COVID-19 situation:
Asia was the first to be hit by COVID-19 and feel its devastating social and economic impacts.
Efforts to respond to the pandemic have revealed how many people in our societies live precariously close to poverty and hunger.
Many countries are taking bold actions to minimise the loss of life and economic costs.
As attention shifts from the immediate health and human effects of the pandemic to addressing its social and economic effects, governments and societies face unprecedented policy, regulatory and fiscal choices.
The SDGs, a commitment to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development, globally, by 2030 — can serve as a beacon in these turbulent times.
- A large part of the services sector in the developing world remains unorganised and does not feature in the digital space – neither it will be easy to place them there as almost all of it requires physical presence.
- This inability of being accommodated in digital spaces will lead to more poverty, hunger, and inequalities thereby hampering achievements of SDGs 1, 2, and 10.
- These are the challenges to the equity dimension of holistic development that is being posed by the pandemic severely affecting SDG3 (good health and well-being).
- On the other hand, reduced economic activity in the physical space of the planet will be good for the natural environment: SDG13 (climate action), SDG 14 (life below water) and SDG 15 (life on land) may get augmented.
- The revival of dolphins and pangolins in spaces where land-use change has altered forest lands to urban agglomerations is a case in point.
- However, sustainable development is not devoid of humans: it talks of the coexistence of biodiversity conservation, and development of the human society by meeting with the various equity needs.
- Here one of the most crucial goals gets affected: SDG 16, which talks of peace, justice and strong institutions.
- Large parts of the developing and underdeveloped world view this pandemic as one imported by the privileged class through international travels and free mixing in the occidental ways of life.
Grounds for optimism from the pandemic:
- The pandemic has exposed fragility and systemic gaps in many key systems.
- However, there are many workable strategies that countries have used to accelerate progress related to development goals and strengthen resilience.
- Countries have taken steps to extend universal health care systems and strengthen social protection systems, including cash transfer and food distribution systems for vulnerable households.
- Accurate and regular data have been key to such efforts. Innovating to help the most disadvantaged access financing and small and medium-sized enterprise credits have also been vital.
- Several countries have taken comprehensive approaches to various forms of discrimination, particularly related to gender and gender-based violence.
- Partnerships, including with the private sector and financing institutions, have played a critical role in fostering creative solutions. These experiences provide grounds for optimism.
- Responses to the COVID-19 crisis must be centred on the well-being of people, empowering them and advancing equality.
- Driving change in the people-environment nexus to protect the health of people and natural resources is key to a future that does not repeat the crisis we are in today.
Examples that need to be adopted by all countries:
- Several countries in Asia and the Pacific are developing ambitious new strategies for green recovery and inclusive approaches to development.
- South Korea recently announced a New Deal based on two central pillars: digitisation and decarbonisation.
- Many countries in the Pacific are focusing on “blue recovery,” seizing the opportunity to promote more sustainable approaches to fisheries management.
- India recently announced operating the largest solar power plant in the region. China is creating more jobs in the renewable energy sector than in fossil fuel industries.
- Clean Fuel: India introduces BS-VI petrol and diesel
- Delhi will be the first city to leapfrog from BS-IV to BS-VI. 13 major cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, etc. will make the shift from 1st Jan 2019. The rest of the country also shifted from April 2020.
- Climate Change: To reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 level.
- To achieve about 40 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030, with the help of transfer of technology and low-cost international finance, including from Green Climate Fund.
- To create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.
Conclusion: A revolution needed:
We need a revolution in policy mindset and practice.
Inclusive and accountable governance systems, adaptive institutions with resilience to future shocks, universal social protection and health insurance, and stronger digital infrastructure are part of the transformations needed.
Institutions such as the United Nations and Asian Development Bank have mobilised to support a shared response to the crisis.
Now it is vital that we enable countries to secure the support they need to go beyond, to achieve the SDGs.