UN Annual Report: Pandemic Threatens Achievement of Sustainable Development Goals

Photo: UN in Zimbabwe

The coronavirus pandemic has wiped out years, perhaps even decades, of progress in human development, according to the UN. Liu Zhenmin, deputy secretary-general for economic and social affairs, said this on Tuesday as he presented the annual report on the Sustainable Development Goals to the international community.

The publication of the report coincides with the high-level forum on the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by world leaders in 2015. The landmark document covers all areas of life, including people, the environment and combating climate change, and aims to improve living conditions on Earth. The pandemic, according to the study, has made these tasks much more difficult.

"The world is at a critical juncture in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development," said the UN deputy head. "Global poverty has increased for the first time since 1998. In 2020, more than 100 million people are back in extreme poverty and chronic hunger. 8.8 percent of total working hours were lost, the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs. Disruptions in basic health services have jeopardized years of progress in areas such as improving maternal and child health, expanding immunization coverage, and reducing infectious and non-communicable diseases."

According to Liu Zhenmin, the poorest and most vulnerable populations are at the greatest risk of contracting the virus, and it is they who have borne the brunt of the economic impact of the pandemic. There is glaring inequity in vaccine distribution. As of June 17, there were about 68 vaccinations for every 100 people in Europe and North America, and fewer than two in sub-Saharan Africa. Millions of children around the world risk never returning to school.

"Despite the slowdown in economic growth associated with the pandemic," said the UN Under-Secretary General, "the climate crisis is largely ongoing. Temporary reductions in industrial activity have reduced emissions, but in 2020, greenhouse gas concentrations continued to rise and even reached new record highs."

The 2021 report, Liu Zhenmin noted, paints an alarming picture of the Sustainable Development Goals. Structural changes are needed to address the "pain points" identified by the pandemic. In particular, social protection systems should be significantly strengthened, investment in science, technology and innovation should be increased, the financial situation of developing countries should be improved, investment in green energy and industry should be increased, and women's participation in important decision-making should be increased;

"We are at a critical juncture in human history," the UN deputy head emphasized. "The decisions we make now and the actions we take now will have fateful consequences for future generations. The lessons learned from the pandemic will help humanity meet current and future challenges. Let us seize the moment to make this decade a time of action, transformation and universal renewal".