Pandemic severely impacts SDG 12 targets; Asia-Pacific region unlikely to meet goals

South Asia Monitor, September 06, 2020

By George Cheriyan,

‘Ensure sustainable consumption and production (SCP) patterns’ – is Sustainable Development Goal 12. It is about promoting resource and energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, and providing access to basic services, green and decent jobs and a better quality of life for all. Its implementation helps to achieve overall development plans, reduce future economic, environmental and social costs, strengthen economic competitiveness and reduce poverty. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 goals, are the blueprint designed in September 2015 to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.

The global population could grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050. The equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles. Rising incomes and lifestyle changes and continued resource-intensive growth patterns are expected to further worsen resource depletion and ecosystem degradation.

The SDGs Report 2020 brings together the latest data to show us that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the progress remained uneven and we were not on track to meet the targets by 2030. Now, due to pandemic, an unprecedented health, economic and social crisis is threatening lives and livelihoods, making the achievement of Goals even more challenging.

Impact of the pandemic

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). First time after World War II, the global energy demand reduced. India had seen a reduction of 30 percent in energy consumption. Air quality saw drastic improvements and daily global emissions decreased by 17 percent or 17 million tonnes of carbon dioxide compared to 2019. The Delhi NCR region had seen a reduction of 79 percent in air pollution. However, these gains were short-lived. The pandemic had resulted in a 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, sale of laptops in the state of Kerala itself increased by 400 percent. Use of personal vehicles, due to lack of public transport and physical distancing norms, increased to more than the pre-pandemic levels. This increased consumption will have severe negative impacts on achieving the targets of SDG12.

Status in the Asia-Pacific Region

Asia-Pacific region is unlikely to meet any of the SDGs without concerted efforts by all stakeholders, says the Asia and Pacific SDG Progress Report 2020. Conditions in 2030 will be worse on 20 percent of the SDG indicators without immediate actions to reverse the current trends. The region is ‘poor’ on most measurable environmental targets and not even moving in the right direction. The region is struggling the most on SDG 12 and SDG 13. On SDG 13, the region emits half of the world’s total greenhouse gas (GHG), and its emissions have doubled since 2000. On SDG 15, 35 percent of countries in the region have continued deforestation trends.

On SDG 12, the Pacific is the only sub-region on track. South and South-West Asia show ‘considerable’ regression. Poorer countries tend to lack adequate infrastructure and mechanisms to manage key environmental challenges covered under SDGs 12–15. Though data availability for the SDG indicators has ‘substantially increased,’ from 25 percent in 2017 to 42 percent in 2020, data is still a challenge and unavailable for over half of the SDG indicators, including several SDGs with slow progress. Hence there is an urgent need for strengthening the policy-data nexus in the region. Mobilizing additional financing for development (FfD), and handhold region’s least developed countries (LDCs) to access global markets and build their capacity for statistical development are other actions required.

Progress on SDG 12

In this context, CUTS International recently organized an international webinar on ‘SDG-12: Will the pandemic slowdown the progress of meeting the target’, to discuss the issues, and bring together thoughts on the progress of targets of SDG 12. The main objective was to assess the impact of the pandemic up on SDG 12 and to suggest ways to move forward to achieve the set targets by 2030.

Experts concluded that the pandemic will have severe negative impacts on achieving the targets of most of the SDGs, especially of Goal 12. However, while unlocking and reconnecting, pandemic offers countries an opportunity to rebuild recovery plans that will reverse current trends and change the consumption and production patterns towards a more sustainable future.

It was deliberated by various experts that climate change is the indicator of consumption patterns of society as a whole. Learnings from the reduced consumption, during the lockdown period, can be used for behavioural change practice to sustain the same. Circular economy principles need to be practised and institutionalized. Lack of coordination between various departments within the government acts as a major challenge in meeting the targets and collecting the data on various targets. Many countries are taking actions towards SCP. However, many of those achievements are not consolidated and reported. While few of the local governments do implement successful SCP practices, it often goes unnoticed and unreported. There is a need to scale up and replicate those pilot practices. Empowering local government and integrating various departments is important.

Waste management 

Local governments should not be seen as mere implementers of the agenda. Local governments are catalysts of change and best-placed to link the global goals with local communities. Local bodies and municipalities need to enhance their capacities not only to manage waste but also to reduce waste generation by creating awareness, experts said.

Being the first webinar assessing the impact of the pandemic, it generated a lot of interest among UN organisations, policymakers and the civil society. The need for continuous advocacy with the government to build recovery plans that will reverse current trends and change the consumption patterns was the key take away.

(The writer is Director, CUTS International, a global public policy research and advocacy group. He is also a member of a global think tank on Sustainable Consumption. The views expressed are personal)

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