School of Life Sciences


Sustainable Development Goals essential for the UK Government’s pandemic recovery

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

The UK All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development cites evidence from the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) in their report ‘Building Back Better: The SDGs as a roadmap for recovery’, published this week.

The report reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected progress made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and it calls on the UK government to use the SDGs as a ‘road-map to recovery’. It suggests that the recently merged Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) could use the ready-made framework of the SDGs in their upcoming new strategy.

The Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) provided evidence quoted in the following key sections of the report, emphasising the importance of an integrated approach:

Climate change and the environment

SSRP provided evidence that some tropical forests in Latin America and Africa may be hot spots of pandemic impact. There is evidence of intensifying deforestation in parts of Brazil, Peru and Guinea-Bissau connected to pandemic-related relaxation of forest protections leading to a boost in logging and mineral extraction. This is adding to greenhouse gas emissions and further endangering sensitive ecosystems, as well as the indigenous peoples that live in these areas.

Maintaining effective international development assistance

As resources are limited due to the pandemic, ‘synergy drivers’ – the advancement of two or more goals simultaneously – were presented as an efficient way of doing ‘more with less’ on the SDGs. SSRP provided examples from its many case studies, including sustainable supply chain management, sustainable agriculture practices, and integrating public health programmes with sustainable forestry practices.

SSRP also highlighted the need for the UK Government to empower local communities to take ownership of SDG delivery. SSRP noted, “Responsibility for implementing the SDGs lies with national governments, but the implementation itself happens in local communities, businesses, and schools throughout each country”. Implementation of the goals must therefore take stock of local conditions.

Particularly impacted groups

SSRP provided evidence of the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on indigenous peoples in Latin America. Research by Environmental Justice Research Fellow, Dr Mary Menton, shows that indigenous peoples suffer higher mortality rates, lack of access to critical healthcare, and are increasingly vulnerable to land grabbing, logging and wildlife trafficking in indigenous territories – exacerbated by a lack of law enforcement.

Increasing economic empowerment and reducing inequality

Based on research carried out by Dr Andreas Antoniades, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, SSRP showed that helping the 24 countries in the class of ‘debt distress’ or ‘near debt distress’ to achieve long-term debt sustainability would give these countries a better chance of coping with the current financial crisis and get back on track to achieving the SDGs.

Director of SSRP, Professor Joseph Alcamo, says: “Research has a key role to play at this critical time in coping with the pandemic and supporting the achievement of the SDGs. It especially must show how we can boost the resilience of the most vulnerable, and how we can take advantage of synergies among the SDGs to ‘build back’ most efficiently.”

Three of the recommendations in the report based on SSRP testimony:

  • Support debt restructuring for countries in debt distress or near debt distress, and explore debt cancellation.
  • Ensure domestic and international climate policies align with, and advance, other SDGs.
  • ‘Leave no one behind’ and deliver integrated solutions to tackling poverty, promoting nature restoration, and building climate and economic resilience.

Before the full extent of the pandemic took hold, the United Nations (UN) declared 2020 a ‘decade of action’ for delivering the SDGs by 2030. This APPG on the SDGs report states: “the SDGs are now more important than ever to create a resilient world with better health and social security systems. A world that can build back better from the impacts of this pandemic and be ready to respond to other future risks and challenges.”

The Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP) is committed to delivering ‘Science for the SDGs’ and, throughout the pandemic, its members have been noting the impacts across the health, economic, inequality and environment goals in the online SSRP forum and webinar series on sustainability and the pandemic.

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By: Amy Sweet
Last updated: Thursday, 24 September 2020

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