Akosita Talei's picture

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the UN’s flagship plan to end poverty and protect the environment. Researchers need to launch a rapid response.

In October, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres made a series of key appointments. He tasked 15 scientists from around the world with providing policymakers with evidence, as well as their thoughts, on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This time last year, the UN’s flagship plan to end poverty and guide the world to environmental sustainability by 2030 was already off track. Since then, the pandemic has reversed most of the achievements made in the five years since countries adopted the goals.

The World Food Programme estimates that 270 million people are now at risk of starvation: double the number before the pandemic. And school closures resulting from lockdowns have set back one of the few SDGs that were within reach before the pandemic — the goal to achieve universal primary education. In December, the UN’s science and cultural organization UNESCO estimated that some 320 million children were out of school, an increase of 90 million in just one month.

In the 3 months from 1 April last year, working hours equivalent to 495 million full-time jobs were lost to lockdowns around the world, according to the International Labour Organization. And in October, the International Monetary Fund projected that the world economy would contract by more than 4% by the end of 2020, a decrease on a scale not seen in generations.

This is the situation facing the researchers whom Guterres has tasked with researching and writing the second UN Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) — the first was published in 2019. They have been drawn from all over the world and span a range of disciplines, including climate change, ecology, environmental economics, ethics, health policy, infectious diseases, oceanography, the governance of international organizations and the study of science and development.


Editorial: How science can put the Sustainable Development Goals back on track