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COVID-19 and the SDGs — May 13th Update

By Brady Press

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every corner of the world and has diverted essential progress toward achieving the SDGs by 2030. Over the past few months, our team has been researching the impact of the pandemic on the Global Goals. To see more of our coverage, visit our Medium page.

Source:, @UNECOSOC

This article serves as a roundup of some of the key discussions that took place in the past week around COVID-19 and the SDGs.

The Global Agenda and Building Back Better

On Monday, the UN gathered for a policy discussion on COVID-19 response, at which ECOSOC President Mona Juul acknowledged that the pandemic is having large scale effects on the SDGs. To name a few examples, she noted an increase in global poverty (SDG 1) for the first time since 1998, rising malaria death rates and a possible uptick in AIDS-related deaths on top of COVID-19 (SDG 3), and growing violence against women and girls (SDG 5).

However, echoing conversations with issue experts and UN officials that have been happening for months, Juul sees the pandemic as an opportunity to “build back better” and to re-affirm commitments to “leave no one behind” in COVID-19 response and beyond. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) Chief emphasized the need to use lessons learned from the pandemic to inform the Decade of Action toward achieving the Global Goals.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Environment and Trade Hub also championed the need to “build back better,” encouraging governments, the UN, and businesses to incorporate green trade in any stimulus packages and fiscal reforms issued in response to COVID-19. The agencies released a policy brief detailing the pandemic’s impact on trade and the environment, which warned that any emissions reductions seen by current limited travel will need to be sustained in order to have a positive impact on the environment. And just as trade is disrupted at this time, progress toward green trade and green energy is being threatened.

See COVID-19 Implications for Trade and Environment.

A Rise in Hate Speech and Xenophobia

A few days before, in reaction to the flood of hate speech surrounding COVID-19 issues that has overwhelmed the media, UN Chief António Guterres urged political leaders, social media companies, and civil society to “stand up against hate, treat each other with dignity and take every opportunity to spread kindness.” At a time when the world needs solidarity and a focus on the world’s most vulnerable, we are seeing mounting prejudice: statements faulting migrants and refugees for the virus, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, attacks against Muslims and scrutiny of journalists.

Continued Violence in Syria

Further, violence and human rights abuses are still rampant in some countries and regions, such as northeastern Syria, despite a call for global ceasefire by the UN Chief in late March. Last week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called again for warring parties to stop violence and expressed concern that those involved in the fighting, including the terrorist organization ISIL, are using COVID-19 as an opportunity to regain control.

Climate Action

In positive SDG news, in 2016, well before COVID-19, Hawaii implemented a plan to transition to 100% sustainable energy (SDG 7) by 2045. Despite the pandemic, and skepticism from other US state governors, these plans are still underway, demonstrating the possibility of solar power. Typically, solar power costs less than oil-generated power.

Additionally, a coalition of four Asian cities are piloting a project to reduce ocean plastic waste (SDG 14) and drive the region toward a more circular economy. The project includes a digital tool to help governments monitor plastic waste, training for policymakers, and government frameworks to commit to decreasing marine plastic waste.

Although COVID-19 has presented additional setbacks to progress on the SDGs, commitment toward achieving the Goals remains a priority. Leaders across sectors are continuing with efforts to advance the Global Agenda and are looking at how to build a more sustainable post-COVID-19 world.

Brady Press is an Associate Director at Changing Our World, where she specializes in building strategic corporate citizenship programs. She is a consultant to SDGCounting and StartingUpGood, and is currently researching how COVID-19 is affecting the Sustainable Development Goals.



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Keeping track of progress on trying to count and measure the success of the Sustainable Development Goals.