Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Entwicklung und Humanitäre Hilfe
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The COVID-19 crisis is reversing progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While the virus has impacted everyone, developing countries are the worst affected. The 2030 Agenda is about achieving 17 transformational goals to reduce poverty and inequality globally, but the EUs response to the pandemic seems not to have been designed with this in mind. It is key that COVID-19 recovery plans are aligned with the SDGs. But what are the first steps the EU should take to put the 2030 Agenda at the centre of efforts to recover from the COVID-19 crisis?
A comment by Alexandra Rosen
The COVID-19 crisis reverses progress on SDGs
The COVID-19 crisis is reversing progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). All reports tell the same story. While the virus has impacted everyone, the poorest and the people left the furthest behind have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The latest UN SDG report estimates that 71 million people are expected to be pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020. This is actually the first rise in global poverty since 1998. It threatens the achievement of not only SDG 1 ‘ending extreme poverty by 2030’ but also the development cooperation objectives of the European Union to eradicate poverty. The year 2020 was declared the “Decade of Action” as a reaffirmation of the global commitment to the 2030 Agenda. Instead, the COVID-19 crisis is setting back progress on poverty, healthcare and education. And developing countries are the worst affected.
Even before the pandemic, the world was off-track to meet the SDGs
Inequalities were blighting the world well before the outset of COVID-19. The pandemic has however brutally exposed and exacerbated various forms of inequalities within and among countries. We also know that EU efforts to reach the 0.7% goal of Official Development Assistance (ODA) of the Gross National Income (GNI) is not advancing as fast as it should. According to CONCORD Europe’s 2020 AidWatch report, the EU will not meet the aid target before the year 2070. And now, the COVID-19 crisis is widening the financing gap of developing countries. The increasing needs and declining resources have been magnified by the pandemic.
The EUs response to the COVID-19 pandemic: where are the SDGs?
The European Commission declared at the beginning of this year that “we will put the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of our policymaking”. Then, the crisis hit Europe. The EU deployed a rapid response, including a wide range of measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus: support to national health systems and countering the socio-economic impact of the pandemic by taking measures at both national and EU level. As an attempt to give a coordinated European answer to EU partner countries, the EU also adopted the ‘EU Global Response to COVID-19’. EU Member States scaled up their efforts, mobilising up to almost €36 billion through the Team Europe initiative. But all of a sudden, the references to the 2030 Agenda were not there anymore. What happened to putting the SDGs at the centre of EU action?
Let recovery plans be guided by the 2030 Agenda
Aligning COVID-19 recovery plans with the SDGs is possible. But it won’t happen automatically. According to the OECD, it needs “cross-sectoral actions and mechanisms to manage unavoidable trade-offs between short and long-term priorities, and between economic, social and environmental policy goals”. In practice, this means that the EU should analyse conflicts of interests at the start of any initiative and put EU domestic priorities aside when they clash with global sustainable development. This is what Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development (PCSD) is all about. If we do not understand how the world is deeply interlinked, efforts to build back better will not succeed. We cannot be short-sighted in our policymaking. PCSD helps us to understand that all policies should work towards achieving the long-term goals of the 2030 Agenda which will reduce poverty and inequality globally. This, in the end, is also better for Europe.
How to bring the SDGs back from hiding
So what is needed for the EU to put the 2030 Agenda at the centre of efforts to recover from the COVID-19 crisis?
About the author
Alexandra Rosen is a policy and advocacy coordinator at CONCORD Europe and leads CONCORD`s workstream on Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development. CONCORD is the European Confederation of Relief and Development NGOs and with its members represents more than 2600 NGOs.
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