The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) define the world we want. They apply to all nations and mean, quite simply, to ensure that no one is left behind. … The 17 Sustainable Development Goals ARE the 2030 Agenda, the map of the world we seek.
Rethinking Strategies to Achieve the SDGs
We currently find ourselves a third of the way through the Sustainable Development Goals timeline. Recently, ‘The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020’ painted a disturbing picture of the stagnant progress towards achieving the SDGs by their 2030 deadline. The report also highlighted the damaging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on SDGs progress. The strides towards sustainable and inclusive economic growth, energy provision, and infrastructure development were all falling short before COVID-19 even existed. Now, in the wake of a global pandemic, insufficient progress in achieving the SDGs has been amplified.
Across the globe, 190 countries and territories have planned, introduced, or adapted social protection measures in response to COVID-19. The reactionary measures are in place to address the pandemic’s socioeconomic impacts; however, it has created a unique opportunity to reinforce attempts to build a more sustainable and fair system and achieve the SDGs commitments. Each country will attempt bespoke solutions to overcome the social, economic, and environmental impacts of the pandemic, where local-level recovery efforts will need to be reinforced and supported. Meanwhile, the collective responses must equate to coordinated action that matches the global scale of COVID-19 to counter the universal risk of falling short on the SDGs.
These are the specific priorities that must be addressed to enable the world to build back sustainably and in a unified manner, with the multilateral system being crucial to supporting their implementation.
(1) Maintaining past progress made towards eradicating basic deprivations
Regressing on the existing progress towards the SDGs not only endangers the opportunity to eradicate basic deprivations; it also reduces the ability to respond to future shocks, especially for the most vulnerable global populations. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to ensure that the progress that has already been achieved continues by supporting those at immediate risk of poverty, hunger, or disease while facilitating their safe return to work or education and access to health care.
(2) Accelerating the universal provision of quality essential services
Ensuring universal access to services such as quality healthcare, education, and basic income security, coupled with access to clean water and sanitation, clean energy and the internet must become core to strategies of recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Meanwhile, guaranteeing the delivery of such core services and continuing the support to marginalized groups including women will create an environment that promotes the economic empowerment of women and ensure that COVID-19 response intentionally, strongly, and permanently redresses the long-standing inequalities.
(3) Strengthening official development assistance
The International Development (Official Development Assistance ODA) is still a core component of the financial responsibility to achieve the SDGs. The leaders in the donor community must maintain their efforts to encourage other nations to fulfill and strengthen their ODA commitments.
(4) Encouraging private investment
Incentivizing the private sector to achieve SDG progress, support job creation, increase incomes into developing nations and those with fragile state systems should be considered a priority. Therefore, a nation should only select the investments that will contribute towards the progression of the Goals.
(5) Empowering and building the capacity of civil society organisations
Civil society organisations have a major role in accelerating the progress toward the SDGs, by communicating and implementing the goals and holding governments to account.
Governments should work alongside civil society organisations (CSOs) and the global community to help toward SDG progression and to create the opportunity for universal cooperation ensuring that no one is left behind.
A focus on civil society funding mechanisms is needed to ensure that civil society organisation particularly small ones in the Global South have the needed knowledge and skills to align their initiatives with the SDGs.
(6) Encouraging private sector involvement
Governments and civil society organisations should take on a leading role to communicate the SDGs to a wide private sector audience. 2030 agenda is relevant to all businesses, from large cooperations to SMEs, and there is still a long way to go to get all companies engaged. Governments should encourage the private sector to incorporate the goals into their strategic business plans and their usual practices.
We need an impact-focused model involving all stakeholders. Impact-based business models can be developed, where the delivery of positive impacts is a driver of business success. This model can play a major role in bridging the financing gap for the SGDs, while their digital components can help reduce costs.
(7) Domestic implementation of the SDGs
There must be a strategic and comprehensive policy approach and commitment to ensure proper implementation of the SDGs. Governments must ensure that all their departments engage with the SDGs and fully understand the implications of the Goals on their department’s policies and programming to ensure domestic implementation is on track.
(8) Data for development
Data plays a vital role in enabling national governments to track progress against the SDGs, and for citizens and civil society to hold the government to account on areas where they are falling short.
Additionally, it is essential that gender data remain a priority commitment of the global community, to enable the design of gender-fair bailouts, subsidies, and other economic recovery measures.
(9) Reporting against the SDGs
Governments should report annually on their contribution to SDG progress. This would be a helpful internal process for governments, to assess where they are successful and where their efforts are falling short, and thus where they need to take further action or reprioritize their efforts.
There is no magical solution to overcome all challenges at once, but there are a number of strategies that must be taken immediately to get us back on track. Achieving the transformative vision of the SDGs by 2030 requires a major realignment of most countries’ national priorities toward long-term, cooperative, and drastically accelerated action, design a ‘human-centered’ COVID-19 response and recovery that tackle these challenges and build a ‘better normal’.
Dr. Hanaa Albanna
SDGs, CSR, and Charity Expert
International Initiatives Manager – Global One UK