The ultimate cost of the coronavirus pandemic won’t be tallied for a while. But one casualty seems obvious now: sustainable development. The pandemic has exposed the world’s failure to meet basic human needs, not least in health. Worse, it threatens to erase recent social, economic and environmental progress, particularly among the world’s most vulnerable populations. Pundits frequently describe the coronavirus as a “great equalizer,” reinforcing the message that “we’re all in this together.” In truth, the pandemic is reinforcing the brutal inequality that separates the world’s privileged and marginalized communities.
Five years ago, U.N. member states endorsed the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, 17 ambitious objectives to improve the human condition by 2030. The SDGs are not modest. They envision, among other goals, the total elimination of extreme poverty and hunger, achievement of gender equality, access to quality education, decent employment for all, a clean energy transition, protection of biodiversity, dramatic action on climate change, and robust domestic institutions capable of delivering peace and justice. Each SDG is accompanied by ambitious targets, a whopping 169 in total.
Well before COVID-19 struck, U.N. member states were lagging badly in realizing the SDGs. The pandemic will put them in an even deeper hole in achieving the following goals.