Pandemic to severely negative impact SDG targets

Matters India, September 03, 2020

By George Cheriyan,

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 rebuild recovery plans that will reverse current trends and change the consumption and production patterns towards more sustainable future, concluded experts in a webinar held recently.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) # 12

“Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”, which is SDG 12, 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. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was launched in September 2015, is to end poverty and set the world on a path of peace, prosperity and opportunity for all on a healthy planet. The 17 SDGs demand, nothing short of a transformation of the financial, economic and political systems that govern our societies today, to guarantee the human rights for all.

According to latest projections, 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 Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020 brings together the latest data to show us that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, progress remained uneven and we were not on track to meet the Goals 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 on Sustainable Consumption and Production

Asia-Pacific region is unlikely to meet any of the SDGs without concerted efforts by all stakeholders, says the Asia Pacific SDG progress report 2020. Conditions in 2030 are predicted to be worse on 20 percent 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% during the lockdown. 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 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.

Importance of the webinar

To discuss the issues, in the mentioned context of pandemic and bring together thoughts on the progress of targets of SDG12, the international webinar on ‘SDG-12: Will the Pandemic Slowdown the Progress of Meeting the Target’ was organised by CUTS International. The main objective was to assess the negative impact of the pandemic up on SDG12 and to suggest ways to move forward to achieve the set targets by 2030.

Experts, Archana Datta, (Project Coordinator for India for SWITCH-Asia (RPAC), UN Environment Programme India Office), Eva Eiderström (Director, Department of Ecolabelling and Green Consumption, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Stockholm); Dr. Usha Titus, (Principal Secretary, Department of Environment, Government of Kerala), Dr. Joy Elamon (Director General, Kerala Institute of Local Administration) spoke in the webinar. I delivered the opening address.

It was deliberated by various experts that States are taking actions towards sustainable consumption and production (SCP). 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. Climate change is the indicator of consumption patterns of society as a whole. The need for circular economy to be developed and institutionalized was highlighted. Its focus also seems to be less on reduction of total use of resources and more on recycling.

States like Kerala are taking lot of initiatives for sustainable consumption such as Responsible Tourism Mission, Clean Sea project, Green Protocols in gatherings etc. Lack of coordination between various departments within the State acts as a major challenge in meeting the targets and collecting the data on various targets. While few of the local Panchayats do implement successful SCP practices, it often goes unnoticed and unreported.

Empowering local government and integrating various departments is important 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. Local bodies and municipalities are needed to enhance their capacities not only to manage waste, but also to reduce waste by creating awareness.

The experts concluded that the pandemic is having severe negative impact on achieving the targets of SDG 12, however it can be converted into an opportunity. The learnings from the reduced consumption, during lockdown period, can be replicated and used for behavior change practice to sustain the less consumption practices in longer term.

More than 100 representatives from 23 states of India and 12 countries, including representatives of UNCTAD, UNEP, UN-ESCAP, and ASEAN secretariat attended the webinar. Being the first webinar assessing the impact of the pandemic, it generated lot of interest among UN organisations, policy makers 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, is the key take away from the webinar.

(George Cheriyan is Director, CUTS International and a member of Global Think Tank on Sustainable Consumption.)

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