“Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”
Perhaps second only to the public health implications of Covid-19, the economic and employment knock-on effects may be the most publicised. Media outlets are already detailing the start of another global recession, the cost of paying back the support received, the rebuilding of businesses and entire industries, and the numbers of those who have plunged into poverty during the pandemic.
There are no two ways about it, the economic effects of coronavirus will be felt for a long, long time, especially in the BAME community, by women, and by young people, who have suffered disproportionately in the last year.
What are the main goals that SDG 8 seeks to achieve?
- 1 Sustain per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances, and in particular at least 7% per annum GDP growth in the least-developed countries
- 2 Achieve higher levels of productivity of economies through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high value-added and labour-intensive sectors
- 3 Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises including through access to financial services
- 4 Improve progressively through 2030 global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation in accordance with the 10-year framework of programs on sustainable consumption and production with developed countries taking the lead
- 5 By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value
- 6 By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training
- 7 Take immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, eradicate forced labour, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms including recruitment and use of child soldiers
- 8 Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments of all workers, including migrant workers, particularly women migrants, and those in precarious employment
- 9 By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism which creates jobs, promotes local culture and products
- 10 strengthen the capacity of domestic financial institutions to encourage and to expand access to banking, insurance and financial services for all
- a. Increase Aid for Trade support for developing countries, particularly LDCs, including through the Enhanced Integrated Framework for LDCs
- b. By 2020, develop and operationalize a global strategy for youth employment and implement the ILO Global Jobs Pact
What are the stats on work and unemployment in more than 1 year of emergency measures designed to try and stifle the pandemic?
When we first started working on this topic in November 2020, the unemployment figures that were being reported by different websites swung between 25m and 40m people. As we finalise this piece in March 2021, the figure is now somewhere between 80m and 115m.
What other stats have we found?
- Southern Asia, which consists of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka is believed to be the worst affected region on Earth for covid-related job loss. Latin America and the Caribbean appears to be second-worst.
- As we concluded in our report on SDG 7, women have been hit disproportionately during the coronavirus, and so too have young people
- In the US, unemployment rates rose to a 90-year high, with 55% of jobs lost in the low-average wage category, pushing millions close to poverty
- UK unemployment rate not as badly affected thanks to the furlough scheme, but has reached a four-year high at 6.5%, representing 2.2m unemployed workers. The Office for Budget Responsibility expects this figure to jump to 7.5% in the summer of 2021 when the furlough scheme ends
- Benefit claimants in the UK are up 113% in 1 year
- The International Labour Organization says that if hourly losses of work globally were converted into full-time jobs, this would equate to an average of 255m job losses. On the bright side, the number of working hours is slowly increasing and has been reduced from 525m equivalent jobs at the peak of the problem, to 130m in the winter of 2020.
How can the international post-pandemic recovery work in tangent with SDG 8?
This is a difficult question to answer for a number of reasons. When is a pandemic officially over? Can we ever get back to pre-covid levels of economic growth? Will there be much international cooperation when most countries will be perceivably too busy dealing with internal issues?
I honestly believe that the SDGs offer us the best roadmap for reducing the biggest damages and disparities caused by the coronavirus, as well as the best strategy for rebuilding and even perhaps even recovering better. Why do I believe that? It’s because I’m a staunch believer in sustainability and an eternal optimist.
Let me tell you why redesigning economies and industries that have been severely damaged with a priority on sustainability, environmental performance, and low-carbon technology can drag us from these depths and lift us to new heights:
- Resource efficiency: We have almost 8 billion inhabitants on this planet, most of whom have spent a year stuck at home, not travelling, not eating at restaurants, not enjoying their normal lives. When things open up again, demand for everything is going to be high, with people making up for the lost time. In order to meet this seemingly unsustainable level of demand that is coming, we need to think sustainably, rather than just profitable.
- Innovation is a competitive advantage: The pandemic has seen people change their habits and lifestyles in amazing ways. It’s reported that 25% of British millennials either turned vegan or part-vegan during the last year. People learned how to work and work out from home, innovating their daily routines. Companies innovated their logistics to make them more efficient when their physical premises couldn’t open. This is sustainable thinking. We’ve proven that we can adapt, so can we adapt in even more sustainable ways?
- Sustainability is cheaper and more engaging: If you offer someone £100, they might be sceptical, but they’d accept. If you offered them the chance to save £100, they might listen but not act. Sustainability and environmental performance are chances to save, to cut back, to be more efficient, but it takes more than listening, it takes action.
- Embracing a low-carbon global economy grows industries that are profitable and purposeful, allowing even capitalist systems to see the ROI for sustainability
Let’s flip the coin and look at why I’m worried that if we don’t try to make an international recovery with sustainability in mind, we are setting ourselves up for something even more frightening and restricting than Covid-19.
- Fossil fuel depletion will continue and if we don’t build robust alternatives, the energy crisis will deepen, rather than reaching a point where we have a renewable abundance
- We will be unable to deal with the irreversible effects of climate change, extreme weather, and habitat damage
- Increased competition for resources could lead to more conflict, which would create serious knock-on effects and political instability that makes sustainability harder to achieve in the long term
So, what are some actionable ideas?
Firstly, decisions have to be made at the top, in governments and in the world’s biggest businesses that affect global policy and put us on the right trajectory. This could mean using the SDGs as a guideline or framework for the changes that are required.
Beyond policy change, funding must be made available, something that is going to be increasingly more difficult to come by during a global recession. However, as stated previously, by making systems more environmentally efficient and expanding the sustainability sector, the innovators will be able to find the tools and funds needed to make major changes.
The UN believes that the three key elements to building a new world that is better than before are:
- To eradicate extreme deprivations. If we can relieve those who suffer most and build recovery systems for those at threat, the whole world will benefit as a result
- To create and provide a universal quality of essential services
- To focus on reversing environmental degradation to preserve the planet and leave it in a better state for future generations
I couldn’t have said it better myself.