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Sustainable Development Goals: Where Are We At?

An individual holding a cardboard which has 'PLANET over PROFIT' written on it.
'Sustainable Development Goals'

Agenda 2030

The 2030 Agenda, signed in 2015 by 193 countries of the United Nations, is described as an action plan for people, the planet and prosperity. It contains 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that address the most critical issues at a global level.

However, considering the current situation, we should perhaps begin to conceive it as a real lifesaving option to cling onto and by which we can start swimming towards a truly sustainable and fair future, given that our survival depends on our willingness to either or not assess these guidelines.

For the second consecutive year, in fact, there have been no improvements in achieving the objectives listed in the document and, according to the 2022 Sustainable Development Report, the average score of the SDG Index has even decreased compared to 2021. The reasons are to be found in the slow, if not non-existent, improvement of living conditions in vulnerable countries. Added to this are a series of crises in global health - starting with the COVID-19 pandemic, environment and peace concerns.

Setbacks and drawbacks

The efforts required to address poverty and hunger (SDG1) have suffered a real setback due to the explosion of several armed conflicts, in particular the invasion of Ukraine. More than 4 years of effective improvement have been wiped out by the pandemic bringing the number of people living below the poverty line from 581 million to 657-676 million in 2022. In addition, the number of workers who, despite having a job, live in poverty has risen for the first time in two years, bringing 8 million people into this group. Once again, the most vulnerable sections of the population are paying the price.

On food, the conflict in Ukraine is reportedly driving up food and commodity prices, contributing to the largest refugee crisis of modern times and hindering the achievement of the goal linked to reducing inequalities (SDG10) which, for the first time after years of a negative trend, has seen an increase in inequality even within its own country of origin.

Despite the second goal of the 2030 Agenda (SDG2) requiring the international community to defeat hunger in the next 7 years, one in ten people today suffers from hunger and one in three people do not have regular access to adequate sources of food. Most of those affected, especially women and children, live in developing countries, where malnutrition causes almost half of under-five deaths, as well as stunted growth that currently affects as many as 142 million of children.

Even in the United Kingdom, where we would be inclined to think that the problems linked to poverty are marginal, there are about 13.4 million individuals who find themselves in conditions of absolute poverty, with effects also on their security food. Figures that suggest the urgent need to promote a new model of food production, sharing and consumption starting from the agricultural and fishing sector which, if managed differently, could offer nutritious food and generate adequate income for the entire planet.

Impact on health outcomes

Progress in health (SDG3) and education (SDG4), as well as efforts to improve the delivery of basic services and close the gender gap (SDG5), have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the global inability to adequately address this crisis.

Additionally, the pandemic has brought with it a corollary of side effects that go far beyond direct deaths, starting from the increase in cases of depression and anxiety, to the lack of performance management that have caused worsening or delays in the discovery of many pathologies.

The closure of schools and compulsory remote attendance, although considered important for containing the spread of the Coronavirus, have also put children's health and safety at risk, with an increase in domestic violence and child labour, but have also had a substantial impact on their learning. Around 24 million students may never go back to school and, in low- and middle-income countries, the percentage of children living in educational poverty - already above 50% before the pandemic - could reach 70%, especially due to the long closure of schools and the relative ineffectiveness of distance learning.

A feeble fight against gender inequality

At a time when even the most "progressive" nations have taken enormous steps backwards in terms of gender equality - think, for example, of the restrictions on abortion in the United States. Parallel to this is the violence in Iran that many women are subjected to - in sum, the goals linked to achieving gender equality are far from being achieved by 2030.

Across the globe, violence against women remains high and its consequences are exacerbated by multiple global health, climate and humanitarian crises. The same representation in top positions, both in companies and in government buildings, remains well below what was hoped: in the world, women represent 39% of the workforce, but hold only 27% of managerial positions.

Agenda 2030 and climate change

The increase in heat waves, droughts and fires and floods is already affecting millions of people around the world and causing potentially irreversible damage to Earth's ecosystems.

As we have been told and reaffirmed by the world's most authoritative bodies - such as the Intergovernmental Body on Climate Change (IPCC) or that on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) - the nature is collapsing and to avoid the worst impacts, the greenhouse gas emissions are expected to peak before 2025 as well as working together to decrease the impact on ecosystems globally. Instead, CO2 emissions increased by 6% in 2021 and 1% in 2022, reaching a record figure of 36.6 billion tons; one billion animal and plant species are at risk of extinction and entire ecosystems are disappearing mainly due to habitat fragmentation (deforestation and urbanisation ), overexploitation, spread of invasive alien species, climate change and pollution.

Environmental impacts

In particular, 85% of wetlands - whose importance is underlined in the sustainable water management goal (SDG6) - have disappeared in the last 300 years. But how does the survival of these ecosystems relate to water quality? Wetlands can improve the quality of water resources by removing pollutants from surface waters through three removal processes: sediment capture, nutrient removal, and chemical detoxification.

To achieve SDG6 targets it will be necessary to quadruple current efforts by 2030. If we fail to do so, by the same year as many as 1.6 billion people will continue to lack access to drinking water, 2.8 billion people will not benefit from water for sanitary use, and 1.9 billion people will not be able to use it for the simplest things: washing their hands with clean water.

Where are we at?

To achieve these SDGs, the key word in the coming years must be innovation in order to be resilient to the impacts of the global crisis. This makes us understand how ambitious and far-sighted the 2030 Agenda is but at the same time, it is necessary to ensure fair, just and sustainable development.

Collaboration, sharing and joint action at a global level are the prerequisites for the achievement of these SDGs - related respectively to the creation of a fair and sustainable society, and to the construction of a global partnership - and represent a real challenge without equal in history of humanity.

Almost never, in fact, until now, have the nations and peoples of the planet managed to work together and in the long term beyond any social, cultural and religious interest and diversity.

Suggestions for the future

The year 2023 and those to come, represent key moments to evaluate the priorities and the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals. In doing so, the collaboration of all stakeholders, including governments, is essential to ensure not only the transparency of the data available but also the implementation of concrete and urgent actions. It is clear that we are far from achieving the stated objectives.

Almost 8 years from the deadline set by the United Nations, and one step away from definitively closing that window that can determine the victory or loss of humanity against the war it has declared on itself, it is time to work together and demonstrate that , at least once in the history of man on Earth, collaboration is stronger than any economic and political interest.

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