With Covid-19 now a factor in our day-to-day lives, the world has become a strikingly different place. From the way we interact to the way we travel, very few aspects of our lives will remain exactly as they were before. Supply chains will be reshaped, a slow reemergence of travel will take place, and businesses that we once loved will find themselves either out of business or obsolete.
Scientists have been warning us for decades that climate change would have disastrous consequences, not least in the form of the spreading of infectious diseases. The closer nature and people are, the higher the risk of transference of disease crossing from the natural environment to the human environment.
Join us as we explore each of the UN’s Sustainable Development SDGs and how each one has been impacted by Covid-19. We will do our best to envision the future and how we can use what has happened as an opportunity to make the world a better place, one that is more closely aligned with the 17 different SDGs.
This article is your pillar page, offering you a brief insight into the 17 SDGs and their 169 respective targets. We will be writing a full report for each of the SDGs in due course.
Each full article will aim to answer:
- How is this SDG affected by C19?
- What was the status of this SDG before C19?
- What has C19 taught us about the significance of this SDG?
- What could be next for this SDG?
- Topical questions that relate to that SDG in particular.
- How does this SDG connect to or synergise with other SDGs?
- What future targets can be set?
SDG1: No Poverty
Covid-19 didn’t discriminate when it came to how much money you have in your pocket, but when it came to lockdowns, poverty became an issue. Those experiencing poverty in crowded cities faced great uncertainty, as could be seen in India. The homeless in some countries were given shelter, whilst in other countries, they were not, and so effectively couldn’t lockdown.
SDG2: Zero Hunger
Some more powerful nations were able to import foreign labourers to tend their fields and agricultural projects at the start of the lockdowns. What about the people in poorer countries who were forced to lock down, cutting them off from their land and food supply? It can be quite easy to sit in the first world, order shopping and restaurant food online to be delivered to your home, but that convenience is not shared in the developing world, where food is not taken for granted.
The World Food Programme was incredibly concerned about countries that were receiving food aid, like Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanisation, Venezuela, and Ethiopia. Those five countries alone account for around 60 million people in food poverty and at risk of famine.
How can we move forward? Find out here.
SDG3: Good Health and Well-being
This goal looked at tackling some huge issues, such as substance abuse, road traffic accidents, sexual health, chemical and pollution deaths (1 in 8 deaths globally), and strengthening all countries to be prepared for managing and reducing global health risks. That last goal is poignant. Looking at these, we can see immediately that each of these goals will have been impacted by both the coronavirus and by national lockdowns. Road traffic accidents are down, substance abuse is likely to be down, the circumstances of sexual health have changed, air pollution and contamination are massively reduced, and all countries are working at full speed to tackle the global health issue we are faced with.
This SDG may well be the one that is more positively developed as a result of COVID-19. More on that here: *Link will be updated when the blog is released*
SDG4: Quality Education
In SDG4.4, the sub-goal states: ‘by 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs, and entrepreneurship’. This sub-goal is going to be massively halted, impeded, and challenged by the global economy downturn that we are about to get seriously hit by.
Governments around the world have done what they can to support their people, but within those support mechanisms are people who get left out and who are going to end up much worse off (I’m one of them as the director of a limited company). In this brave new world, people are going to have to get very creative and learn new skills to thrive or survive. Expect to see millions of people bootstrapping small businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Businesses in the brave new world will need to work better with governments and education institutes to influence their training. Government study programs to get people learning and educating themselves will be vital with the rising unemployment, and access to learning will have to improve, especially by removing or lowering financial barriers.
*Link will be updated when the blog is released*
SDG5: Gender Equality
Whilst the coronavirus doesn’t pick its victims based on gender, it’s women who bear much of the knock-on responsibility. Women are more likely to be furloughed, more likely to be responsible for childcare and homeschooling, and have to continue to maintain the home. The pre-existing gender equalities are being exacerbated and in the developing world, that disparity is only widening.
Read on as we discuss how the new world can tackle this: *Link will be updated when the blog is released*
SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
In 2018, Cape Town in South Africa became dangerously close to running out of water; you may remember talk of ‘Day Zero’. This was when talk of global drinking water shortages in major cities really hit the news, and it continues to be a challenge in many places, where water for showers is rationed and garden watering is done at night.
Being in the UK, it’s easy to underestimate our privilege in having a developed home with clean water coming straight from the taps. Despite the Earth being mostly water, less than 5% is drinkable and the global accessibility to water is shrinking.
What we hope the Covid-19 response will do is to shine a light on the disparities going on around the world, which will in turn help people to approach water differently. In the future we will need to take greater steps to preserve drinking water, rather than polluting or wasting it, because the harsh reality is that when water is at dangerously low levels, people will fight, steal, or kill for it.
*Link will be updated when the blog is released*
SDG7: Affordable and Clean Energy
Again, allow me to reference South Africa, where a practice called Load Shedding is used. In the practice, energy is shared around the country, with certain parts experiencing blackouts during parts of the day or night in order to meet the capabilities of the grid with the needs of the nation.
Put simply, there isn’t enough energy, which is dangerous for hospitals and clinics who need energy to support their Covid-19 patients. In the brave new world, renewable energy that is not dependent on the grid or fossil fuels is absolutely vital. Overall dependence must be reduced. We will also need to redefine how we approach waste and try to maximise its energy potential.
This quote from Dr Charles Donovan, the Executive Director of the Centre for Climate Finance and Investment at London’s Imperial College Business School summarises it well, he said “Reliance on fossil fuels has left countries more exposed to the economic shock of global crises like coronavirus, and government should look to renewable energy to help reduce such risks”.
Learn more here: *Link will be updated when the blog is released*
SDG8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDGs 4 and 8 are cousins, in a sense. Work and economy are inherently tied in to education and professional skills, so we should try to see this all as one big loop. In the new world, businesses will be changing massively, with workforces working from home whilst also reducing their numbers, and economies shrinking to adjust.
There are tens of millions (estimated 25-40m) of people who have become unemployed during this lockdown period who could be helped by the implementation of a booming low carbon industry. Already in the UK, 400,000 people work in low carbon industries, a figure that could double or triple if the government and industries invest in long-term sustainable improvements.
I always try to remind business owners and leaders that embedding sustainability is creating organisational value through good environmental performance. In this delicate market, resource efficiency is key to protecting jobs, and the government will be forced to rethink their growth strategies in order to protect and create more of them.
Adaptability will be key to economic stabilisation and recovery in late 2020 and beyond. We’ve seen remarkable levels of adjustment with people working from home, despite previous imaginary hurdles, and now tools like Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts are household names!
*Link will be updated when the blog is released*
SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
What the coronavirus has done is exposed the issue that we were poorly prepared for disaster in many ways, whilst well prepared in other ways. What we must accept and do now is to build systems and structures with ten and twenty year thinking in mind, in order to improve global resilience.
In the new world, the world ‘urgency’ will be redeveloped and redefined. For most people, urgent means doing something about what is happening right now, but the new urgent, which I will call ‘sustainable urgent’, means doing something right now to influence what will happen in the future.
We all know that robust systems can improve quality and save money, helping people along the way, in what is known as the triple bottom line (people, planet profit).
Read more on this topic: *Link will be updated when the blog is released*
SDG 10: Reduced Inequality
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we can see that all humans have the same basic needs.
Since we all have the same needs and are working our way up the hierarchy, perhaps we can use the coronavirus as a chance to move back down the hierarchy and pool our resources and energy into bringing more people up along with us.
Inequality is going to become more and more visible over the coming years in the fallout of covid. Recessions, economic issues, and a highly competitive jobs market are going to make financial issues even more severe. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. We’ve seen that key workers have had to work harder than ever, many of them earning minimum wage, whilst those with comfy salaries sit at home on furlough enjoying the time off.
As people start to return to work, we will see health inequality, as high risk people may be forced back into the workplace, whilst low risk individuals who have flouted the terms of the lockdowns also return and put them at risk. This is one possibility.
Whatever happens, there will be a distinct domino effect of fiscal policies from government and industry that will move individuals between social classes. The lives we knew are gone, we must embrace the change.
Get the full scope here: *Link will be updated when the blog is released*
SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
Scientists have found that coronavirus can travel on the air particles found in pollution, which is very concerning. Italy found that the most polluted places were those also most severely affected by the coronavirus, this is because there is a provable correlation between poor air and the spread of disease. In the future, air pollution has to be taken more seriously.
In terms of communities, there have been some positive upturns. The community effect is booming, with people befriending their neighbours, clapping for the NHS, and grocery shopping for one another.
With economies and wealth shrinking, our dependencies reducing, and our needs lessening, maybe our networks will get smaller too, strengthening our local communities.
Read more here: *Link will be updated when the blog is released*
SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
In the new world, supply chains will be different, more well equipped for a sustainable future, for example, people will likely use local businesses and products more. We should see changes in consumer habits, efforts to tackle excess packaging, better transport routes, ways to send back usable packaging, and more. We are also looking forward to seeing changes in production habits, especially low carbon methodologies, but also split shifts and social distancing must be taken into account. Doughnut economics are likely to be factored in too.
Let’s give an example. There’s a timber company that is not using FSC wood. They argue that sustainable wood is simply too expensive. However, wood is the one thing that they need for their business to run, so if they don’t look after that resource sustainably, in ten years they will face a shortage or other related hurdles. After deep consideration and consultations with an environmental consultant, they reconsider and switch to FSC wood.
Sustainable and Development are two words that contradict each other, but when we use the term sustainable development it’s because we accept that there is a need for growth. We have to meet the needs of people now and for the future, whilst also keeping an eye on the environment.
Full article available to read here: *Link will be updated when the blog is released*
SDG 13, 14, 15: Climate Action, Life on Land, Life Below Water
We’ve decided to merge these three goals because they’re so closely interlinked with one another. Climate action will improve life on land and below water, and by improving life on land and below water we would also in effect be taking action on the climate. It all comes full circle.
Climate change means rising temperatures, more extreme weather, rising sea levels, and increasing CO2 levels. Connected to these issues we see air pollution, changes to vector ecology, increased allergens, water contamination, water and food supply impacts, environmental degradation, extreme heat, and more. As a result of all of this, we see more disease, injury, fatalities, civil conflicts, forced migration, and suffering.
In the UK, the stance is that by 2050 we will have net zero greenhouse gas emissions, which is one of the most ambitious targets in the world. This quote from GreenGB sums it up “Our ambition, under modern Industrial Strategy, is for the UK to be at the forefront of providing low carbon technologies, innovative systems and services that will be needed as the world acts to tackle climate change. Already there are almost 400,000 jobs in low carbon businesses and their supply chains and the sector has the potential to support up to 2 million jobs by 2030.” All of the legislation coming out over the next few years will likely be based on the targets above.
Awesome: One great piece of news that came out during the lockdown was that Britain went two whole months (and more) without burning coal for electricity.
Prevention is better than the cure is often a phrase well embraced in the health community, and that’s no truer than with climate change. We’ve known the risk for as long as 70 years and the natural disasters that could be attributed to climate change are estimated by Morgan Stanley to have cost more than $3 trillion collectively.
If we ignore the effects of climate change, we will have to put up with the costs and domino effects of:
- Relocating towns and communities
- Shrinking harvests, food production issues and shortages
- Prices of goods and food will rise massively
- Widespread poverty
- Diseases will spread more easily in higher temperatures
- Shortage of fresh water
- More wars to access limited resources
- Less work
- Flooding due to sea level rises
To relate all of this to coronavirus, we will be looking at the lockdowns and how the initial reduction of litter, air pollution, and carbon emissions was fantastic. However, we are now seeing masks, gloves, and wipes as part of a new pollution problem. It’s also been overlooked that the proposed plastic bag charge rise has been postponed.
EcoSystem Services are the benefits that humans derive from the environment. I always say in the training that I deliver, and when I set targets with companies, that fundamentally there are only 3 things that people need to survive: clean air, clean food, clean water. The way the world has evolved and the way that ecosystems operate is essentially what keeps us alive. EcoSystem Services provides us with an opportunity to link the ecosystem and the benefits of nature to human rights because it’s in our own interests to protect them.
Commonly being made up of agroecosystems, forest ecosystems, grassland ecosystems, and aquatic ecosystems, the EcoSystem Services are highly influential on human well-being. There are certain things beyond air, food, and water that we also rely on nature for, such as housing materials, clothing, health products, fuel, travel, and protection (such as flood defences), to give a few examples.
The problem is that people often fail to recognise that their relationship with resources and ecosystems can be harmful to the planet. The interactions that people have are constantly evolving, as a society, and as the human way of life ebbs and flows. Economics, culture, social interactions, whilst all seemingly separate from the natural world, all, in fact, are closely related to it.
*Link will be updated when the blog is released*
SDG 16 & 17: Peace and Justice, Strong Institutions / Partnerships to achieve the SDG
In order for us to progress beyond the coronavirus into a better world, we need strong government commitment to get us out of this crisis. What all governments, industries, committees and more need to do is to commit to robust reporting, fairness and equality, and positioning themselves as sustainability leaders who can drive things in the right direction. Too much faffing, weak commitment, and a lack of agreement on what needs to be done has held back the true potential of international development, affecting stakeholders and partnerships along the way. The truth is that strong leadership and educated policy-makers are the key to solving this and making things better. Can we say that we have those things already?
Read the full article here: *Link will be updated when the blog is released*
The conclusions and lessons from Covid-19
- Global challenges have no national borders
- Global challenges require systemic changes
- Collective individual action makes a huge difference to the income
- Prevention is better than the cure
- All our response measures need to be based on science
- Business as usual is no longer an option!