The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was launched in 2015 to end poverty and set the world on a path of peace, prosperity and opportunity for all on a healthy planet. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) demand nothing short of a transformation of the financial, economic and political systems that govern our societies today to guarantee the human rights of all.
They require immense political will and ambitious action by all stakeholders. But, as Member States recognized at the SDGs Summit held last September, global efforts to date have been insufficient to deliver the change we need, jeopardizing the Agenda’s promise to current and future generations.
The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020 brings together the latest data to show us that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, progress remained uneven and we were not on track to meet the Goals by 2030. Some gains were visible: the share of children and youth out of school had fallen; the incidence of many communicable diseases was in decline; access to safely managed drinking water had improved; and women’s representation in leadership roles was increasing. At the same time, the number of people suffering from food insecurity was on the rise, the natural environment continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate, and dramatic levels of inequality persisted in all regions. Change was still not happening at the speed or scale required.
Now, due to COVID-19, an unprecedented health, economic and social crisis is threatening lives and livelihoods, making the achievement of Goals even more challenging. As of the beginning of June, the death toll had surpassed 400,000 and was continuing to climb, with almost no country spared. Health systems in many countries have been driven to the brink of collapse. The livelihood of half the global workforce has been severely affected. More than 1.6 billion students are out of school and tens of millions of people are being pushed back into extreme poverty and hunger, erasing the modest progress made in recent years.
Although the Novel Coronavirus affects every person and community, it does not do so equally. Instead, it has exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities and injustices. In advanced economies, fatality rates have been highest among marginalized groups. In developing countries, the most vulnerable – including those employed in the informal economy, older people, children, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, migrants and refugees – risk being hit even harder. Across the globe, young people are being disproportionately affected, particularly in the world of work. Women and girls are facing new barriers and new threats, ranging from a shadow pandemic of violence to additional burdens of unpaid care work.
Far from undermining the case for the SDGs, the root causes and uneven impacts of COVID-19 demonstrate precisely why we need the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and underscore the urgency of their implementation. I have therefore consistently called for a coordinated and comprehensive international response and recovery effort, based on sound data and science and guided by the Sustainable Development Goals.
Health systems must be urgently strengthened in countries that are at greatest risk, with increased capacity for testing, tracing and treatment. Universal access to treatments and vaccines, when they become available, is essential. A large-scale multilateral response is needed to ensure that developing countries have the resources they need to protect households and businesses. Recovery packages must facilitate the shift to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy and support universal access to quality public services. And leadership and support are needed to ensure statistical organizations have the tools and resources to facilitate timely and smart decision-making. To guide and support these actions, the United Nations system has mobilized at all levels, leveraging the recent reforms of the United Nations development system.
At the start of this Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs, I call for renewed ambition, mobilization, leadership and collective action, not just to beat COVID-19 but to recover better, together – winning the race against climate change, decisively tackling poverty and inequality, truly empowering all women and girls and creating more inclusive and equitable societies everywhere.
Everything we do during and after this crisis [COVID-19] must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face.
Finding transformative pathways in turbulent times
This year marks the start of the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. It is a critical period to advance a shared vision and accelerate responses to the world's gravest challenges – from eliminating poverty and hunger to reversing climate change. Yet, in only a brief period of time, the precipitous spread of the novel coronavirus turned a public health emergency into one of the worst international crises of our lifetimes, changing the world as we know it. The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020 presents an overview of progress towards the SDGs before the pandemic started, but it also looks at some of the devastating initial impacts of COVID-19 on specific Goals and targets. The report was prepared by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs in collaboration with over 200 experts from more than 40 international agencies, using the latest available data and estimates.