Agenda 2030: A bumpy road ahead?
The article has been authored by Ashwajit Singh, founder & managing director, IPE Global
What was only a matter of suspicion until a few months ago has been officially confirmed as an unfortunate reality. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Report 2022 has finally revealed the severity of the social, economic and environmental setbacks endured by the world during the two-years spanning the Covid-19 pandemic.
The numbers are said to have been intensified by a multitude of crises in the past two years, be it the global collapse of health infrastructures and supply chains, the unfolding geopolitical tensions in Ukraine and elsewhere or the accompanying challenges along the economic front. With only eight years remaining in the Decade of Action, Agenda 2030 commitments will have to be strengthened across the world to repair existing damages and enable nations to meet their SDG targets on time.
Globally, over 15 million excess deaths have been reported by the end of 2021, 93 million individuals pushed into extreme poverty, while over 100 million forcibly displaced from their homes in 2022 alone. The highest-ever 6% increase in global carbon emission rates in 2021 seems to have derailed progress on net-zero commitments of nations under the Paris Agreement.
A slowed world economy in tandem with high rates of inflation and unemployment may have increased the risks of stagflation in middle and low-income countries. This unfortunate setback to the developing countries has completely obliterated their prior leads in SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), which were higher than even their richer counterparts in pre-pandemic times. Women and the youth seem to be facing the brunt in the domains of education and employment across the world.
The widening global SDG financing gap from $2.5 trillion in 2020 to $4.2 trillion in 2021, according to Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has further exacerbated the situation. Even the 2022 Financing for Sustainable Development Report documented the rising rates of indebtedness in over 60% least developed countries, highlighting the need to reduce international borrowing costs and mobilise global funds to address development concerns.
With India’s position on the Global Index of SDGs slipping three times in a row, to 121 (from 120 in 2021 and 117 in 2020), there are challenges ahead, especially in achieving SDG-1 (No Poverty), SDG-7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), and SDG-10 (Reduced Inequalities).
The problem is expected to be compounded by the rising population. As per the World Population Prospect 2022 the country’s population will surpass China’s by the end of 2022 and touch 8.5 billion people by 2030, which will add pressures to the existing resource-table and a gradually degrading environment. These indicators emphasise India’s need to couple industrial growth with improvements in key socio-economic areas in pursuit of its Agenda 2030 obligations.
Despite all challenges, post-pandemic recovery promises hope. Nations are rising to the need for stronger social protections for their people. Some major successes have been observed by nations in reducing maternal and neonatal mortality, improving access to clean drinking water and strengthening domestic legislations to conserve biodiversity. While they may be limited to certain regions, these positive indicators can help stimulate global triumphs on crucial SDG frontiers.
The developing nations have also shown strong potential for infrastructural development and digital expansion. Countries, like India and Bangladesh, which traditionally lacked access, have made slow but steady strides in transitioning to cleaner energy methods. In fact, India with its advantage of the largest youth population in the world has the opportunity to make a quicker comeback.
The world will need to pacify the ongoing global conflicts to not only bring down casualties but also undo economic losses. Strategies will have to be redesigned, sector-specific investments bolstered and existing gains on the SDG front multiplied to enhance resilience against future hardships. Public and private investments, from both domestic and international sources, in priority SDG areas, including education and social protection, health care, climate change and universal digitisation, will have to increase substantially to catalyse progress, especially in the Global South.
With more than half the 193 UN member-States lacking clear datasets in terms of geographical coverage, timeliness and level of disaggregation, SDG monitoring will have to be improved across regions, sectors and groups of people. A strong data-backed and transparent system of checks and balances will cement a sturdier ground to confront the existing slew of challenges. But, what will remain key is a continued focus on SDG 17 to forge global partnerships for success on sustainable development.
(The article has been authored by Ashwajit Singh, founder & managing director, IPE Global.)