COVID-19 has been a tragedy, killing more than half a million people and bringing the economy and life to a standstill in many parts of the world for a long period. Economic growth has slowed down dramatically and poverty is on the rise everywhere. Questions therefore have arisen whether these setbacks will have a permanent effect, jeopardizing progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In this special issue of the Sustainable Development Outlook (SDO), the United Nations Department of the Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) examines these important questions, drawing upon analysis done at the United Nations and by other organizations and individuals on the impact and possible repercussions of COVID-19. SDO 2020 draws three main conclusions:
First, while the impact of the crisis has been unprecedented in its scope and scale, it has not affected all countries and all people in the same way, and the setbacks caused by COVID-19 need not be permanent. It is quite possible to regain the momentum and move ahead towards the SDGs.
Second, it is even possible to convert the crisis into an opportunity for recovering better. This can be done by gearing policy interventions toward the strengthening of human and planetary resilience, and directing much of the resources earmarked for recovery toward investment in promoting the Goals. This crisis has highlighted many of the weaknesses of our socioeconomic structures and of the existing policy frameworks, but it has also demonstrated that governments and other stakeholders are capable of unprecedented and determined action when necessary.
Third, the impact of COVID-19 has varied across the SDGs. While its impact for many prosperity-related SDGs was negative, its impact for many planet-related SDGs has been positive: greenhouse gas emissions declined; air and water quality improved; and a process of regeneration of the nature could be witnessed in many areas. These opposite impacts of COVID-19 demonstrate yet again that the current ways of achieving prosperity are in conflict with the health of the planet. The upheavals caused by the COVID-19 crisis therefore create the opportunity for recognizing this conflict in a more profound way and for putting in more energetic efforts during the Decade of Action to reach the SDGs by 2030.
SDO 2020 examines the outcomes of three different scenarios in the wake of COVID-19. It proceeds from the pre-COVID-19 benchmark and presents the COVID-19 pessimistic and optimistic scenarios, laying out the policies that can enable policymakers to avoid the former and achieve the latter, leading them towards the SDGs.