When the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 framework was launched in 2015, preparation for the challenges of the future was firmly in mind. Within SDG3 (health), the sub-category of pandemic preparation was included, but few people perhaps imagined the impact of a global pandemic.
“We have two battles to deal with right now: the impact of Covid-19 on health and life, and the recession,” says Mahmoud Mohieldin, United Nations Special Envoy for financing the 2030 Agenda. “But there are other crises we must try to avoid at all costs. The first is a food crisis, which hopefully we can avoid because we have had good harvests, and the second is a debt crisis.”
Speaking during a recent Euromoney Livestream event, he said greater attention to the SDGs should have been paid, before adding that there are different ways of viewing the goals.
“One [view] is that they are nice goals; nobody would disagree about having better education, better health, better access to water or electricity, ending poverty or having a more inclusive world,” he pointed out.
When we look at the SDGs, we shouldn’t look at them as nice to have or as an agenda for 2030. This is an agenda to guide our work and practices now
– Mahmoud Mohieldin
In this way the SDGs are “good benchmarks”. But another way to view them is through the lens of opportunity cost, “the cost of not doing them”, which, he said, is now the case for SDG3, health.
He explained that there were multiple warnings about the lack of preparation for a global pandemic – even as recently as September last year in a report by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board called a World At Risk.
“And yet here we are today,” he said. “When we look at these goals, we shouldn’t look at them as nice to have or as an agenda for 2030. This is an agenda to guide our work and practices now.”
Mohieldin said that using the SDG framework and financing the development of these goals will be the best way to respond and recover.
He said it is an over-simplification to think soap and water will prevent Covid-19 from spreading when millions of people do not have access to clean water. Nor will social distancing be easy for the hundreds of millions living in poverty.
“The agenda should guide our work and priorities now and for the future,” he said. “But we also need to consider a new way of implementing the goals’ development post Covid-19. Some things worked very well and some things not so much. But I think the framework and its ambitions are more than adequate as providing a benchmark to manage our way out of the crisis.”
Mohieldin highlighted three areas to focus on: building greater data around the goals to help guide policymakers; mobilizing all sectors of finance; and implementation of global, national and community-based solutions.
Mahmoud Mohieldin, United Nations
In response to a question about US president Donald Trump’s criticism of the World Health Organization, Mohieldin said that now is not the time for politicization.
“The largest economies need each other to handle the global public ‘bads’, whether it is pandemics, issues related to security, climate change, terrorism and violence. What we have seen here is that no one is 100% immune to this crisis. What we need now is not just financial support but moral support. After the crisis is over, then we can see how we can support the multilateral system better, to make it more effective and more cost effective.”
But where will the financing come from?
Before the pandemic, the estimate was that there was a $2.5 trillion funding gap for the UN’s goals – and the biggest one was in developing markets.
“There will have to be] a holistic approach when it comes to finance,” said Mohieldin. “Budgets deficits are going to increase. Stimulus packages ranges from 2% to 10% of GDP – and those will have to be accommodated in the forthcoming years.”
Mohieldin said that impact investment will have to evolve from being “an idealistic way of conducting business” to become the norm. He added that partnerships between multi-stakeholders, including society, have been a missing pillar in addressing economic progress and growth in the past.
He called for all the components of finance to be addressed, including domestic and international, public- and private-sector funding, debt management, debt relief, trade finance.
Mohieldin also said community finance would become a larger topic.
“It took us almost a decade to get out from under the problems of the last financial crisis,” he said. “And this one is a very big hit.”
Five years could be an optimistic time horizon for recovery, or it could be 10 years, but it is not the proper way to think about it. What we hope to see is an improvement month by month
– Mahmoud Mohieldin
He added that the international community cannot put off addressing the SDGs while it waits for the global economy to recover.
“Five years could be an optimistic time horizon for recovery, or it could be 10 years, but it is not the proper way to think about it. What we hope to see is an improvement month by month.
Is the appetite there however for governments, the private sector and society to consider sustainability and the SDGs?”
A snap poll of Euromoney’s livestream respondents offered hope, but also indicated a mismatch between what society would like to see and how governments and the private sector will respond. Just over 70% of the audience expected society to care more about sustainability, about 59% expected the same of governments and 53% of the private sector.
You can listen to the entire livestream with Mahmoud Mohieldin here: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_qYUwEkXVQV2lnyM78SjOfg
Mohieldin’s list of other SDGs under stress
SDG1 – Loss of income is pushing families into poverty
SDG2 – Poverty and food supply disruption is creating hunger
SDG4 – Hundreds of millions of children are out of school with many without access to remote learning
SDG5 – There have been increased levels of violence against women in the home, and women account of the majority of health and social care workers who are more exposed to Covid-19
SDG8 and 10 – Unemployment has increased particularly for migrant workers or in sectors that were perhaps already treated unequally
SDG11 – Populations in urban areas, notably slums, face higher risks of exposure
SDG13, 14,15 – Commitments to environmental action have been suspended
SDG16 – Those in conflict zones are at risk of devastating loss from Covid-19
SDG17 – International co-operation around the goals is being tested