In September 2015, 193 countries came together through the largest participatory process to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to endall forms of poverty, to reduce inequality and to tackle climate change. Also referred as the global goals given their holistic approach to development, the SDGs bring together 5 pillars – people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships – to address environmental, economic and other challenges through a framework of 17 goals with 193 targets and to be achieved by 2030.
We are in the 5th year of this long journey with a 15 year timeline. Since the Global Goals came into force, countries propelled their efforts in achieving the targets charted to be attained by 2030. Even though the SDGs are not legally binding for Governments, the commitment of various countries in taking ownership and aligning their respective national frameworks has seen an astounding effort in the direction. Recently, the UN has recognised public institutions led initiatives in 11 countries, such as Australia, Brazil, Chile Indonesia and others, which have made considerable progress towards SDGs. India, home to about one-sixth population in the world, showcased its commitment to the SDGs by converging the targets with its national development agenda, aligned with the SDG pledge to Leave No One Behind.
Even with all these concerted efforts by countries and gradual progress in the direction, there is still a considerable transformation required to achieve the targets as the finish line is still miles away. It is a laborious task due to various reasons from lack of financial resources to technological challenges to, at times, political will in countries. The initial report from UNCTAD, revealed that about US$ 7 trillion is required to finance and have a seamless implementation of SDGs.
A mammoth task in hand!
Hence, the role of the private sector is of paramount importance to finance many of the SDGs. While investments from the governments are in short supply, we have seen a lack of enthusiasm from the private sector where investments are largely governed by return and risks.
Figure A: The report by UNEP Finance Initiative clearly highlightsthe lack of investments flowing in from the public and private for SDGs, in contrast with estimated annual investment needs.
And the Pandemic has extended the finish line even further… far beyond the horizon. It is wreaking havoc not only on the livelihoods causing an economic slowdown but also on the overall planet. As the clock ticks towards 2030, it’s becoming apparent that countries would require to put more energy, time and resources towards their SDGs given that they are already lagging in some of their 2020 targets. At this stage, when there was already a shortfall in financing the SDGs, the pandemic will further cost an additional US$ 3 trillion. An unsettling scenario! There is an opportunity cost attributed to a delay in SDG investments as the cost starts to mount up further given a shorter time to realise the value. Further, the ongoing delay continues to cause environmental, social and economic pressures, compounding the effect and pushing the target to slip away further.
The SDGs are interconnected and require a universal approach by all countries, which signifies that we can’t cherry-pick and act on a few. Our frail health systems that grapple with the ongoing crisis not only poses challenges in achieving global health targets but also threatens to push about 11 million people into poverty (according to World Bank’s Report) causing a delay in other SDGs and further creating a vicious cycle
Further, there has been a proliferation in the global resource consumption indicating that it would take 1.6 earth’s to meet the needs of the world’s population in a sustainable way. As we continue our efforts to a more equitable economy in a world with impending climate catastrophe, it is vital to not lose track of the SDGs, rather view them through the lens of a recovery model. This requires us to accelerate our efforts to re-focus and readjust our progress. Till the world is split into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, SDGs will remain a far cry!
India’s position is 117th in SDG Index 2020, and it’s disheartening to observe that our rank is very low among the South Asian countries. We made remarkable progress under certain indicators such as SDG3: Good Health and Well-being or SDG6: Clean water and Sanitation through various national initiatives such as ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan’ and ‘Mission for Clean Ganga’. However, it’s a revelation to observe that even with this progress, we are still lagging behind. For instance, we still have the highest burden of Tuberculosis in the world, impeding our overall health targets. The challenges we experience cannot be dealt with in isolation. In addition, we also need to step up our performance in other SDGs covering hunger, livelihood and climate action. Addressing inequalities is an absolute essential to achieve the SDGs, as over the years wealth has concentrated with an extremely small percentage of the population. This is evidenced with the recent Oxfam reportstating that the top 20% of Indian population holds about 77% of national wealth with the top 1% holding over 50% of national wealth.
It is of paramount importance that the end goal of attaining the SDG’s ensures a resilient recovery for us from the crisis rather than cannibalising our resource base for a short term gain. During the outbreak of the pandemic, the Indian Government released a stimulus package close to about 10% of its GDP to fuel the economy through a range of liquidity measures for creating livelihoods, supporting MSMEs and the health sector and thereby contributing to SDG goals. Job creation is critical, and so is building up of a cleaner solution as else it will be pushing the Indian economy in the direction that might be more costly. A push could be to promote a low carbon pathway through a support framework linked with ease in credit availability for the Livelihood sector and MSMEs. Green stimulus as a means of sustainable development is an essential factor to be considered in our trajectory towards achieving global SDG’s.
For instance one of the logical transition could be the shift of Government’s financial aid from fossil fuel to the renewable energy sector, given its vision to increase renewable energy mix and reduction of carbon footprint. These are a two-fold approach to provide the stimulus support where it’s needed the most and address climate challenges by supporting targets of Clean Energy (SDG 7).
While challenges will come in multiples given our growth aspirations and sudden global scourge like COVID-19; policy planning and a clear strategy would have to be thought through for long term goals like SDGs. For a growing nation like ours focusing on SDG’s to balance priorities will ensure tackling immediate needs whilst not losing sight of holistic development targets.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of India CSR and India CSR does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.