At This Rate, We Will Not Achieve the SDGs by 2030

Lost in Thailand.png

Overall, people across the globe are living better than they were ten years ago. But progress to improve the state of living for everyone on the planet has been too slow to meet the 2030 ambitions set out by the SDGs. We are still not doing enough.

As world leaders and actors on sustainable development prepare to meet for the 2018 UN High Level Political Forum, the UN released the SDGs report 2018 to highlight achievements so far. Unfortunately, the report confirms the uphill tasks of what still needs to be achieved by 2030 (only 12 years away), especially in sub-Saharan Africa, a region lagging behind in all the SDGs. In some of the SDGs, progress towards set targets have actually regressed, in many more, progress is simply too slow.

For example, global unemployment rate was 5.6% in 2017, down only slightly from 6.4% in 17 years. However, men still earn 12.5% more than women do. World hunger is actually on the rise! In 2015, about 777 million people (10.6%) were undernourished. It’s worse now with about 815 million people (11%) undernourished in 2016. Land degradation, forest cover and biodiversity continue to decline alarmingly.

Some improvements are note-worthy, but these improvements are tempered by no/slow progress of elements within the same goals. People living with electricity in the least developed nations has doubled between 2000 and 2016, but 41% of people still cook with polluting fuels and stoves. In healthcare, in 2012-2017, births attended by skilled health personnel increased from 62% (2000-2005) to 80% and under-5 mortality has reduced from 9.9 million in 2000 to 5.6 million in 2016. However, increased spread of diseases (particularly malaria, neglected tropical diseases and non-communicable diseases) and increasing cost of healthcare constrain progress.

Goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation) are doing particularly poorly. According to WHO, 91% of people are breathing polluted air, and the number of people living in slums increased from 807 million to 883 million. Only 59% of wastewater is safely treated – and this statistics excludes Africa and Asia! Sixty percent of people lack access to good sanitation facilities; and 30% of people lack access to safely managed drinking water. In 22 countries surveyed in Northern Africa and Western Asia, water stress level is above 70%! In education, more than half (58%) of adolescents around the world are not meeting minimum standards for reading and arithmetic.

The fastest progress seems to be made in Goal 10 (reducing inequality within and among countries) – income growth of the poorest grew faster than other population segments; products exported from Small Island Developing States facing zero tariffs grew by 20% between 2010 and 2016; 76% of global financial remittances (including aid) went to low and middle income countries in 2017.

There has also been progress around industrialization and sustainable consumption and production. For example, carbon intensity has decreased by 19% from 2000 to 2015, showing some progress with retrofitting in the manufacturing industry, and 93% of the largest 250 corporations now report on sustainability. Keep in mind though, that we need to cut GHG emissions by at least 80% come 2050 so this is still not enough speed!

On average, 9.2% of workers in 2017 earned less than $1.90 per day (the official definition of poverty), a significant reduction from 26.9% in 2000. We should note that even though this looks small, there should be other considerations such as increased cost of living (meaning $1.90 is still extremely small).

Overall, we have much more to do, and the statistics presented in the report show that we need drastic, high impact interventions immediately to achieve the SDGs in 2030. We need more meaningful action from all parties – governments, business, civil society and the public. So far, these past four years, we have placed much emphasis on creating awareness to mobilize action. Now is the time to make firm commitments, form collaborations, and take concrete actions towards addressing the SDGs in an integrated manner. One of the first actions should be ensuring that we have as much up-to-date data as possible. Challenges with data are glaring in the report given the old and incomplete data used. The UN needs to prioritize collection of recent data if we are to have any hope of accurate tracking and better decision making.

Image credit: Tan on Unsplash