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Dhaka Tribune

Covid-19 stalls progress of SDGs

The United Nations Conference on Trade Development (UNCTAD) made the observation on its annual statistical publication, SDG Pulse 2020

Update : 09 Jul 2020, 10:02 PM

The progress on critical targets such as poverty, inequality, the climate crisis, unsustainable production of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) has stalled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, says UNCTAD.

The United Nations Conference on Trade Development (UNCTAD) made the observation on its annual statistical publication, SDG Pulse 2020, launched on Thursday.

The coronavirus crisis is pushing critical economic, social, and environmental development targets beyond reach, said the report.

The organization's online annual update tracking progress on a range of indicators of United Nations’ SDGs shows that poverty, inequality, the climate crisis, unsustainable production, and other pressing challenges require even more urgent action due to Covid-19, the report added. 

The world only has 10 years left to achieve the goals of the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development, to which more than 150 world leaders committed in 2015.  

“Despite Covid-19, despite containment, despite everyone working from home, it was very important for us to publish the SDG Pulse on time,” said UNCTAD’s chief statistician Steve MacFeely.

“The development challenges facing the world didn’t stop or go away, so it’s important that we continue to report progress towards the 2030 Agenda, and the important role that UNCTAD plays in that journey,” MacFeely said.

The far-reaching impact of the pandemic

The impact is evident in the trade of international goods, for which UNCTAD now forecasts a decline of almost 27% for the second quarter of 2020 compared with the same quarter last year.

The organization also forecasts a fall of 20% in merchandise trade for the whole year.

Although LDCs had been achieving modest growth in market share, Covid-19 has likely pushed the target beyond reach.

For developing countries, while declines in exports are likely driven by reduced demand in destination markets, declines in imports may indicate not only reduced demand but also exchange rate movements, concerns regarding debt and a shortage of foreign currency,” the report says.

Preliminary data for April suggests the sharpest downturn for South Asia and the Middle East, which could register trade declines of up to 40%.

Meanwhile, East Asia and the Pacific regions appear to have fared better, with trade drops remaining in the single digits both in the first quarter of 2020 as well as in April.  

Another result featured in this year’s update is that the coronavirus-induced record-breaking fall of 5% in carbon dioxide emissions – compared with the same period in 2019 – will not be enough to achieve even the weakest of the targets set out by the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Global emissions must be cut by almost 8% every year for the next decade to keep the world within reach of the 1.5°C target of the climate agreement. 

The magnitude of that task has been laid bare by COVID-19.

Covid-19 from a statistical point of view

The update also highlights the impacts on global statistics more generally, discussing how official statistics have had to adapt very quickly. Further, it examines some of the privacy risks associated with virus tracing apps.

“Governments and the public are faced with a dilemma. Technology can be used to track us during the pandemic,” MacFeely said, “but the same technology can be used to track us afterwards, too. Once the cork is out of the bottle, it’s almost impossible to put it back in again. The power to control populations is frightening.”

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