Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021: Key Takeaways

The global community is at a “critical moment” in its pursuit of SDGs, said a new report titled “The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021”, adding the current crisis is threatening decades of development gains.

Here are the major highlights of the UN report:

Goal 1: End Poverty in all its forms everywhere

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have reversed much of the progress made in curbing poverty, with global extreme poverty rising in 2020 for the first time since the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s.

Goal 2: Ending Hunger, achieving food security and promoting sustainable agriculture

Nearly 26% of the global population were affected by either moderate or severe food insecurity in 2019, indicating that people are unable to eat a healthy diet on a regular basis, or that they run out of food and, at worst, go a day or days without eating, said the report.

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well‑being for all at all ages

Until June 2021, total reported deaths from COVID-19 reached 3.7 million worldwide. For those who survived the virus, COVID-19 has long-term effect, including mental health issues that could affect individuals for a prolonged period.

Goal 4: Ensure inclusive as well as equitable quality education

Improving basic school infrastructure is important for school reopening, said the report. The pandemic is projected to cause an additional 101 million children to fall below the minimum reading proficiency threshold, increasing the total number of students falling behind to 584 million in 2020.

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Nearly one in three women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence at least once since the age of 15, usually by an intimate partner.

Discriminatory laws, as per the report’s findings, continue to prevent women from enjoying their full human rights.

More than ever, women are required as “equal partners” in formulating gender-responsive laws, policies and budgets to build back better.

Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water

Improving water-use efficiency is one of the keys to reducing water stress. Water-use efficiency globally rose 10% to $19.00 per cubic metre in 2018.

The UN report goes on to say that “transboundary water cooperation” is of paramount importance to encourage regional integration and tackle security challenges.

Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Even though access to electricity has expanded, millions of people are without electricity, and one third of the global population lack clean cooking fuels and technologies.

Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

By 2020, the global unemployment rate reached 6.5%, up 1.1 percentage points from the previous year. The number of people unemployed worldwide increased by 33 million.

According to the report findings, youth and women were especially hard hit, with employment losses of 8.7% and 5% respectively in 2020.

Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

The importance of investing in research and development (R&D) has never been more apparent. The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines underlines the important role of innovation amid unexpected crises.

Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

By the end of 2020, the number of people who had fled their countries and become refugees owing to war, conflict, persecution, human rights violations and events seriously disturbing public order had risen to 24.5 million.

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Between 2014 and 2018, the proportion of the urban population living in slums worldwide increased to 24%, translating to over 1 billion slum dwellers. Slum dwellers are most prevalent in three regions:

• Eastern and South-Eastern Asia (370 million)

• Sub-Saharan Africa (238 million)

• Central and Southern Asia (226 million)

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Adopting sustainable consumption and production patterns is a prerequisite to addressing global crises. The UN report says that there is a “positive trend” in the development of national instruments and strategies aimed at supporting this shift.

Around the world, new renewable electricity capacity installations observed remarkable development over the past decade, outpacing installations in non-renewable electricity capacity.

Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

In the view of looming catastrophe, climate action is gaining momentum.The COVID-19 pandemic drastically reduced human activities in 2020, leading to a temporary fall in CO2 emissions, as per the report.

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

Coastal areas face growing risks from eutrophication. The primary drivers of eutrophication are fertilizer run-off, livestock waste, sewage discharge and atmospheric nitrogen emissions.

Coastal eutrophication is harmful for the environment and people living in coastal areas, and is associated with harmful algal blooms, hypoxia, and health hazards to swimmers and fishers.

Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, forests, and halt biodiversity loss

Although ending environmental decline is fundamental to sustainable development, yet forests are being cut down, and terrestrial ecosystems are being degraded at unprecedented rates.

According to the UN report, land degradation now affects one-fifth of the Earth’s land area.

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified inequality and discrimination, creating major disruptions in government functioning. The pandemic is disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable worldwide, with children at high risk.

The report suggested that recovery from the crisis must be built on a foundation of peace.

Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development

Strengthening “multilateralism and global partnerships” is more important than ever.

The pandemic is further testing multilateral partnerships that were already shaky. The effects of the pandemic are leading to debt distress in several countries, besides limiting countries’ fiscal and policy space for critical investments in recovery, climate action and the SDGs, threatening to prolong recovery periods.

The interconnected global economy needs a global response to ensure that all countries can address health, economic and environmental crises and recover better.