The Sustainable Development Goals: Global Setbacks

How was global progress on the goals pre-COVID? How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted this progress?

Figure 1 — The SDG Report 2020

The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic will be hard-hitting and long-lasting, according to The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020. The 2020 Report includes data on each of the 17 goals before the outbreak of the pandemic, and how the outbreak has irreversibly impacted our communities, our national and global progress, and possibly the continued global commitment to the SDGs.

While the world was not on track to meet a number of targets by the 2030 deadline long before the pandemic, the impacts of COVID-19 on individual nations and the global community, have resulted in alarming outcomes for each goal. For example, SDG #1 — No Poverty; before the pandemic, the world was off track to end poverty by 2030. Then, directly caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, was the first increase in global poverty in decades — with over 71 million people being pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020; and SDG # 1 is definitely not the only one.

Another highly impacted area falls under SDG #3 — Good Health & Well-Being. Before COVID-19, progress in many health areas continued, but required more funds and an accelerated pace on issues such as tuberculosis, child and maternal health, HIV/AIDS, and immunizations. However, due to complications from the pandemic, the Report states that healthcare disruptions could reverse decades of improvements, with hundreds of thousands of additional under-5 deaths expected in 2020. The pandemic has also caused interruptions in childhood immunization programmes in 70 countries, illness and deaths from communicable diseases are expected to spike, with service cancellations expected to lead to an 100% increase in malaria deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa. Again, these are the impacts felt by only 2 of the 17 goals, all of which are integral to our continued survival and well-being. According to the 2020 Report, no area has been spared the effects of the pandemic.

While COVID-19 impacts every person and every person worldwide, it doesn’t impact us all equally. In developed countries the fatality rates have been the highest among marginalized groups, and in developing countries, those considered to be most vulnerable — elderly, children, the disabled, indigenous people, migrants, and refugees — risk being impacted even more severely. Around the world, young people are being impacted disproportionately, particularly regarding employment. As well, women and girls are facing new barriers and threats, ranging from the associated pandemic of violence, to the additional burdens relating to unpaid care work. Unemployment and underemployment due to the crisis has resulted in some 1.6 billion workers — approximately half of the global workforce — are expected to be significantly impacted, with their incomes falling to an estimated 60% in the first month of pandemic.

According to a recent survey conducted by the UN and the World Bank, with responses from 122 countries, with the spread of the coronavirus, field data collection operations have been and continue to experience disruptions — limiting their abilities to deliver official monthly and quarterly statistics in addition to the data necessary to monitor progress on the SDGs. According to survey results, 9 in 10 national statistical offices in low-and middle-income countries have experienced funding cuts, and struggle to maintain operations during the pandemic. As well, 61% of questionnaire respondents expressed their need for external support to address challenges associated with the virus. The priority areas identified by respondents included technical assistance, capacity-building, financial aid, and software for remote data collection. The pandemic is creating a significant setback in the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and is also highlighting global data inequalities. It is important that the statistical community and donors provide technical and financial support to national statistical offices in need. Without the information from these nations, the success of the Agenda is impossible.

While there is no doubt that the pandemic has heavily impacted and altered the progress of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the United Nations and its partners are still holding firm in their convictions, and are working hard to ensure that the COVID-19 crisis does not derail the hopes and ambitions attached to the Goals. The ideas and principles upon which the Goals were created, are key to us bouncing back, and rebuilding stronger than before the COVID-19 outbreak. The continued attempts to meet these universal Goals will keep governments focused on growth, but also on inclusion, equity, and sustainability.

Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic has acted as reminder that the need for global cooperation and solidarity is more important now than ever. We must strengthen and combine our forces and efforts to ensure no one is left behind, while we create a more livable, equitable, and sustainable world.

Updates on the impacts of COVID-19 on the progress of the SDGs, and more specifically, our national and local well-being, will be coming soon to The Sustainable Switch.


United Nations.(2020). The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020. Retrieved from

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