The Sustainable Development Goals were adopted in September 2015 by the United Nations with a renewed vigor of establishing coordinated development and international cooperation. It included 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets which were further culminated with the subsequent adoption of the 2030 Agenda at the UN Sustainable Development Summit. It is the fifth year of the SDGs but the overall progress of implementing these goals has regressed. Though countries like Finland and China have incorporated these goals into their national plan it is not so with all nations who pledged to adhere to these goals. The increasing uncertainties across the globe starting from climate change to widening the wealth gap to unprecedented social repercussions followed by the current health pandemic has registered a huge gap hampering the efforts of countries to implement these SDG goals and incorporate the aims of the Agenda 2030.
Upfront Disputations in Achieving the 2030 Agenda
The rising global vulnerabilities have continued to traverse borders by affecting all sectors and imposing overarching challenge to the implementation of Agenda 2030. The novel coronavirus has engulfed the world creating havoc in terms of loss of human lives, scarcity of resources, worrisome economy, and chain of uncertainties concerning social, political, and cultural progression that has put overarching constraints for the fulfillment of sustainable development goals. The pandemic has revealed the fundamental fissures of our global system and hinted at how the prevalence of poverty, lack of health infrastructure, and failure of global coordination among nations has hampered the progress of building a resilient and sustainable community. The article, therefore, aims to trace the reasonable reasons followed by the impact of COVID-19 that has hindered the already slow progress of SDG goals which again enables us to question, whether we can afford to overlook the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals in the wake of a pandemic?
The recent global health crisis that has engulfed almost the entire world with plausible precautions through social and physical distancing followed by a continuous period of confinements have inflicted reverse progress on good health and scaled up chances of unemployment violating SDG 8. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that around 25 million people will become unemployed and countries will be facing severe financial setbacks following which the developing countries will have to bear declining rates in investments and production. This altogether will disrupt the order of international cooperation and peace, threatening the credibility of the global institutions opposing SDG16 and increasing the geopolitical leverages of countries worldwide.
With the onset of the year 2020, the 51 countries who pledged to implement the SDG goals, were supposed to deliver their 2030 pledge of mobilizing civil society, government organizations and encourage more people to people contacts to fulfill the demands of achieving the goals. But due to the outbreak of COVID, the conduct of the Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) which were signed by the countries initially to assess their progress made in achieving the 17 goals, has now come to a complete halt.
Even before the pandemic hit the nations, there were mounting concerns regarding the slow progress of the SDGs, following which United Nations sent a clarion call for action, asking the countries to proactively deliver their actions to fulfill the target of the 2030 Agenda. But this uncertain health crisis has threatened to devastate employment, food security, and quality education. According to the reports of World Bank, the constant spread of COVID pandemic will result into a serious obstacle as poverty (SDG 1) will rise, access to water and sanitation (SDG 6) will suffer a setback with the rise in inequalities with lack of sustainable channelization of resources further challenging (SDG10) along with scintillating concerns of health and well-being (SDG 3). This has eventually turned to be the biggest challenge in contemporary times as we see how countries like China, the USA, Italy, and the South Asia region at large were unprepared to deal with COVID-19. The inequities in the health system ranging from lack of essential medicines to poor health infrastructure to procedures for the COVID test being conducted to detect the virus has revealed the major gaps in achieving the sustainable development indicators by nations.
For fighting against the deadly virus, countries have resorted to various multipronged approaches by resetting and reallocating resources which altogether has enabled them to delink from fulfilling the 2030 Agenda. Following the reports of the International Monetary Fund within three months from the imposition of lockdown phases backed by border blockades, the global economic growth has been projected to a fall of 3 percent. Even in East Asia and the Pacific alone, there has been a sharp decline in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rate. This further raises the concern that financing sustainable development goals has become one of the biggest risks for the countries which has already drained their domestic resources in tackling the pandemic hit areas. Therefore, financing the SDGs has become another massive challenge with the lack of integrated sustainable finance. Accelerating the 2030 Agenda implementation, countries, therefore, require channelization of funds to increase financial flows for fulfilling the agendas owing to the economic slowdown that has been registered by a dip in the GDP and lowering household income due to constant layoffs by the service sector to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic.
Even countries do not have adequate data compilation methods and the national data systems are poorly funded especially among the developing countries which hinder progress. Without reliable data and institutional capacities mapping the development made by nations in achieving the SDG targets will be futile and given the ongoing crisis due to lack of manpower and infrastructural deficits amounting to low use of technology will serve as another challenge to the Agenda 2030. For instance, in Uganda, the data regarding the progress in achieving the SDG goals are highly outdated and insufficient that makes it difficult for policymakers to trace the operating efforts and commitments made for the advancement of the SDG goals.
Another rising obstruction in fulfilling the 2030 Agenda is the lack of stipulated framework at the local administration levels especially in countries like India, the Union Government laid down norms to align SDGs with its National Development Agenda where the mapping of these schemes have been carried out by Ministries and Departments in Union and the selected State governments as per SDG goals. However, the procedure to monitor SDGs and its associated targets in terms of localization of the SDG goals failed as the process of policy and budget making and implementation and monitoring strategy has not been upgraded into the National policies. Therefore monitoring the rational outcomes has been one of the major challenges under the Agenda 2030 implementation due to lack of preparation of development indicators at the State, district, and block levels.
The Road Ahead
As the year 2020 marks the “decade of action”, the threatening risks from the COVID pandemic have successfully derailed the progress of the SDGs. Re-focusing on the initiatives to fulfill the 2030 Agenda has become a huge challenge following which countries need to pursue new sources in the form of financial instruments such as cohesive policies focusing on including productive schemes and stimulus packages for workers to encourage employment; sustainable bonds will help to finance social projects like the Korea East-West Power Corporation raised around $500 million to finance their resource development that will again strengthen SDG 6 aiming for clean water and sanitation which is crucial for developing countries for sustainable management. The need for infrastructural bonds is another way to finance the goals like Kenya has been using one since 2009 to fund various transport and agricultural projects. These will, therefore, enable countries to support global developmental visions and reap potential benefits which in turn will help to fulfill the implementation of the SDG goals.
Overcoming the challenges from tradeoffs and inappropriate governance, a multipronged cross-sectoral approach through dialogue mechanisms and screening procedures to ensure the development parity of nations can help to restore prosperity especially in the post COVID scenario and enhance the outreach of the goals. Increase in advocacy campaigns through social media platforms and partnerships through collaborations can enable nations to maintain the vitality of the SDG goals which often lose their importance in the national interest propaganda of nations across the globe which in turn deter the global manifestation of power maximization.
Therefore, to ensure the credibility of the Agenda 2030, there is a need for a more accountable and transparent engagement among the countries to track the progress of SDG goals and also look out for the loopholes further making the governments and the civil society cater to the fulfillment of these goals. The international community hence needs to focus on the SDG goals implementation by equalizing efforts along with their respective national objectives and further call for SDG oriented strategies to instill more cooperation and recognize the importance of human security since these Sustainable Development Goals followed by the Agenda 2030 is fundamental in shaping a comprehensive society and resilient community addressing social economic and political exclusions besides reaping potential benefits for countries in the international sphere.