“Despite severe impact of pandemic on SDG12, there is opportunity to rebuild a sustainable future, says experts”

Voice of Jaipur,  August 27, 2020

The Covid‑19 pandemic will have severe negative impacts on achieving the targets of most of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, while unlocking and reconnecting, pandemic offers countries an opportunity to build recovery plans that will reverse current trends and change the consumption and production patterns towards a more sustainable future, experts said in an International webinar organised by CUTS on ‘SDG-12: Will the Pandemic Slowdown the Progress of Meeting the Target’.

India and its States are taking actions towards sustainable consumption and production (SCP) which is gaol12 of SDGs. However, many of those achievements are not being reported, and this could be giving a wrong image of the nation’s merits and efforts towards SCP, said Archana Datta, Project Co-ordinator for India for SWITCH-Asia (RPAC), UN Environment Programme India Office. Switch Asia is actively supporting India on SDG12 monitoring and reporting. She further said that the pandemic has exposed our system’s weaknesses, and meeting targets of SDG is no more the responsibility of the governmentbut it also shifts to the private players and the citizens of the country.

In opening address George Cheriyan, Director, CUTS said, the Asia-Pacific region is unlikely to meet any of the SDGs without concerted efforts by all stakeholders. Conditions in 2030 are predicted to be worse on 20% of SDG indicators than the status in 2015. The region is struggling to achieve progress in SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and SDG 13 (climate action), in fact, the region is not even moving in the right direction.

The pandemic had brought “immediate relief” in areas related to SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG 13 (climate action), SDG 14 (life below water) and SDG 15 (life on land). The global Co2 emission reduced by 17 percent. First time after World War II, the global energy demand reduced. India had seen a 30% reduction in energy consumption. There were drastic reduction in air pollution; Delhi NCR had seen a reduction of 79%. However these gains were short lived. The pandemic had resulted in tremendous increase in plastic consumption, the sale of global disposable masks increased from USD 800 million in 2019 to USD 166 billion in June 2020. Since education had gone online, the use of electronic gadgets increased tremulously, the sale of laptops in the state of Kerala itself increased by 400%. Use of personal vehicles, due to lack of public transport, including Metros and physical distancing norms, increased to more than the pre pandemic levels. These increased consumption will have severe negative impacts on achieving the targets of SDG12, George added.

Eva Eiderström, Director, Department of Ecolabelling and Green Consumption, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Stockholm, stated that climate change is the indicator of consumption patterns of society as whole. It was also highlighted that circular economy still needs to be developed and institutionalized. Its focus also seems to be less on reduction of total use of resources and more on recycling. She stressed upon active dialogue with concerned stakeholders for sustainable use. She also said eco-labelling can play a key role in promoting responsible consumption. Eva concluded by highlighting that the SDG goal 12 is the key for survival and we have to shape  our systems according to that.

Dr. Usha Titus, Principal Secretary, Department of Environment, Government of Kerala acknowledged that Kerala is top in overall SDG ranking, but is certainly not on top with regards to SDG 12. She gave brief overview of various schemes and programs being successfully implemented within the State to address SCP. During the discussion, she acknowledged that lack of coordination between various departments within the State acts as a major challenge in meeting the targets and collecting the SDG data. While few of the local Panchayats do implement successful SCP practices, it often goes unnoticed and unreported. Absence of nodal officers in each department to push the SDG agenda is also a major roadblock.

Dr. Joy Elamon, Director General, Kerala Institute of Local Administration underlined the importance of empowering local government and integrating various departments for achieving the SDG 12 targets. Local governments should not be seen as mere implementers of the agenda. Local governments are catalysts of change and the level of government best-placed to link the global goals with local communities. He also agreed that centralised and decentralised management both have their own advantages and disadvantages, and what works best depend on case to case basis. For instance, with respect to solid waste management, decentralised management works best. He also emphasised on behaviour change need to adopt sustainable lifestyle.

More than 100 participants from 23 states of India and 12 countries, including representatives of UNCTAD, UNEP, UN-ESCAP, and ASEAN secretariat, civil society organisations, academics attended the webinar.

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