More from UNDESA Vol 24, No. 06 - June 2020

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the SDGs will help us build back better

By Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, and President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Co-chairs of the SDG Advocates

Our world today is grappling with a crisis of monumental proportions. The novel coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the globe, upending lives and livelihoods. The human life cost of the pandemic is painful, but the effects on the global economy and on sustainable development prospects are also worrying. While the full economic impact of the crisis is difficult to predict, UN DESA estimates the global economy could lose US$8.5 trillion, wiping out the gains of the previous four years.

The pandemic has exposed fundamental weaknesses in our global system. It has shown how the prevalence of poverty, weak health systems, lack of education, and a lack of global cooperation exacerbate the crisis.

If there was any doubt that our world faces common challenges, this pandemic should categorically put that to rest. The crisis has re-enforced the interdependence of our world. It has brought to the fore the urgent need for global action to meet people’s basic needs, to save our planet and to build a fairer and resilient world. We face common, global challenges that we must solve through common, global solutions. After all, in a crisis like this we are only as strong as the weakest link. This is what the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global blueprint to end poverty, protect our planet and ensure prosperity, are all about.

Sadly, this pandemic hit at a time when the SDGs were gaining traction and a significant number of countries were making good progress. As the world is seized with containing the spread of the virus and addressing its negative impacts, the reality is that countries are resetting their priorities, and reallocating resources to deal with the pandemic. This certainly is the right thing to do because the priority now is to save lives, and we must do so at all costs.

That is why we must all support the call by the United Nations to scale up the immediate health response to suppress the transmission of the virus, end the pandemic and focus on people particularly, women, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector and vulnerable groups already at risk. Working together we can save lives, restore livelihoods and bring the global economy back on track.

But what we cannot afford to do, even in these crucial times, is shift resources away from crucial SDG actions. The response to the pandemic cannot be de-linked from the SDGs. Indeed, achieving the SDGs will put us on a firm path to dealing with global health risks and emerging infectious diseases. Achieving SDG 3 (Good Health) will mean strengthening the capacity of countries for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks.

This pandemic has exposed the crisis in global health systems. And while it is severely undermining prospects for achieving SDG 3 by 2030, it is also having far-reaching effects on all other SDGs.

Emerging evidence of the broader impact of the crisis on our quest to achieve the SDGs is troubling. UNESCO estimates that nine in 10 students worldwide are affected, posing a serious challenge to the attainment of SDGs Goal 4 (Quality Education). The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates some 25 million people could lose their jobs, with those in informal employment suffering most from lack of social protection. Unfortunately, these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Crucially, in many parts of the world, the pandemic and its effects are exacerbated by the crisis in achieving clean water and sanitation targets (SDG 6), weak economic growth and the absence of decent work (SDG 8), pervasive inequalities (SDG 10), and above all, entrenched poverty (SDG 1) and food insecurity (SDG 2). UN DESA estimates the crisis will push over 34 million people to fall into extreme poverty before the year is over.

Even at this stage in the pandemic, we cannot deny the fact that the crisis is teaching us, as global citizens, the utmost value in being each other’s keeper, in leaving no one behind, and in prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable.

What is acutely needed is enhanced political will and commitment. Our world has the knowledge, capacity and innovation, and if we are ambitious enough, we can muster the resources needed to achieve the Goals. Buoyed by the spirit of solidarity, Governments, businesses, multilateral organizations and civil society have in the shortest possible time been able to raise billions, and in some cases, trillions to support efforts to combat this pandemic. If we attach the same level of importance and urgency to the fight against poverty, hunger, and climate change, we will find success in this Decade of Action on the SDGs.

As the world responds to this pandemic and seeks to restore global prosperity, we must focus on addressing underlying factors through the Sustainable Development Goals. We must not relent our efforts, even amid this crisis. While some SDG gains have been eroded, this should not deflate our energy. They should rather spur us to accelerate and deepen our efforts during this Decade of Action to ‘recover better’, and build a healthier, safer, fairer and a more prosperous world.

Originally published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

*The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.

SDG 17 in numbers

Strengthening global partnerships and enhancing the means of implementation for the SDGs has remained challenging due to scarce financial resources, trade tensions, technological obstacles, and lack of data. The pandemic is adding more hardships in the implementation of the SDGs.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, over $100 billion in capital has flowed out of emerging markets since the outbreak; the largest outflow ever recorded. World trade is expected to plunge between 13% and 32% in 2020. Strengthening multilateralism and global partnerships are more important than ever before.


  • Net ODA flows totaled $147 billion in 2019, almost the same level as in 2018, but with an increased share going to the neediest countries. Bilateral ODA to LDCs rose by 3% in real terms from 2018, aid to Africa rose by 1%, but humanitarian aid fell by 3%.
  • Global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows continued their slide in 2018, falling by 13% to $1.3 trillion from a revised $1.5 trillion in 2017. It is projected that the pandemic may cause global FDI to shrink by 30% to 40% during 2020-2022.
  • Remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries are estimated to have reached $554 billion in 2019, exceeding official aid by a factor of three since the mid-1990s. Remittances to low- and middle-income countries are projected to fall by 20% in 2020 to $445 billion, due to the pandemic.

Information and communications technology

  • More than half of the world’s population is now online. At the end of 2019, 53.6% of individuals, or 4.1 billion people, were using the Internet.


  • The share of LDC exports in global merchandise trade remained marginal at just above 1% in 2018. Growth in global exports of LDCs stagnated over the last decade, missing the target of doubling the share of global LDC exports by 2020 from 2011.

Data, monitoring and accountability

  • In 2017, countries received $689 million in support from multilateral and bilateral donors for all areas of statistics, which accounts for only 0.34% of total ODA. International funding for data and statistics is only around half the level that it needs to be.

Get more SDGs data from UN DESA’s Statistics Division.

Emerging economies in full-blown unemployment crisis

As economic activities ground to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people are losing jobs or experiencing significant reductions of income or working hours in Brazil, India, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and other emerging economies.

Unemployment rates are skyrocketing while underemployment and informality also rise sharply. Inequalities that, even before the pandemic, separated societies along educational, gender, age and immigration divides, are defining the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on the labour market. The so-called low‑skilled workers – especially among women, youth and migrants – are more exposed to lay‑offs and wage cuts. With weak or no social protection, workers in the informal sector are particularly hard hit.

The emerging economies will face enormous challenges to recreate the millions of jobs being lost, which will likely lead to permanently higher levels of unemployment and further polarization of skills and income.

More alarmingly, job losses will lead to substantial increases in poverty and inequality. This is especially problematic, as some emerging economies, including South Africa, Brazil, India and Mexico, are already among the countries with the highest levels of income inequality in the world.

Beyond emergency stimulus measures that are underway, governments will need to implement large employment programs to create enough decent jobs to absorb the newly unemployed workers.

These large emerging economies will also need to consider universal, redistributive and solidarity policies for social protection, which is essential to inclusive growth. Without it, emerging economies will be even more susceptible to recurrent development setbacks, which can lead to social unrest, political upheaval or worse.

Learn more from the June Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects published on 1 June.

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