COVID-19 and the SDGs

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the global sustainability agenda

By Jens Martens, Bodo Ellmers and Vera Pokorny

The COVID-19 pandemic and the policies with which governments have responded to it have had a serious impact on the global sustainability agenda. While the full extent of the pandemic and its impacts cannot yet be assessed, there is an evident risk that the pandemic will jeopardize the achievement of the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their entirety.

Preliminary forecasts by the United Nations, the World Bank and other international organizations warn that the already fragile progress made in reducing poverty and malnutrition over the past decades will be reversed. The inevitable global economic downturn, already begun, does not spare any country. Unemployment has risen dramatically along with new forms of precarious employment. Measures to combat global warming and the extinction of species threaten to move down on the list of political priorities. Falling state revenues and growing debt will limit the fiscal space for policy action from the global to the municipal level.

For each of the 17 SDGs, this briefing summarizes preliminary estimates on the actual or likely impacts of the global coronavirus crisis, using a few specific examples. It illustrates that the 2030 Agenda will not be reached and its Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved if they are not systematically taken into account in all policy responses to the crisis.