Why COVID shutdowns are a silver lining for the SDGs

The SDGs were set by United Nations members in 2015 and to be achieved by 2030. We are now ending 2020 and should be at least a third of the way toward achieving the goals.

2020: The International Year of Plant Health

Long before COVID disruption, the United Nations declared 2020 the International Year of Plant Health. It was meant to be the year to raise global awareness of the cause-and-effect that exists between plant health and ending hunger, reducing poverty, creating healthy communities, protecting the environment, and boosting economies. 2020 was meant to bring global attention to how interconnected we all are.

2020: The International Year of Nurses and Midwives 2020 was also designated the International Year of Nurses and Midwives by the World Health Organisation. In reality, 2020 is turning out to be a totally wild ride of a year.

The role of nurses and midwives has never been more recognised. COVID has shone a light on the significance of healthcare access, resourcing, standards, funding, information and training. 2020 is definitely a year of health care workers.

Has COVID created a roadblock or fast-tracked SDG progress?

COVID has deepened our understanding of the interconnection between people, communities, countries, the environment and food. It's proven what compromising global health does to jobs, food production, housing, education, even our toilet paper supplies. We now have a fundamental understanding of the importance of health in a way we could never have imagined.

Among the disruption and tragedy and loss, COVID has also highlighted the environment. The regeneration potential. The reversal of climate change. Our impact on the environment has never been so easily visible. COVID has not only quarantined us from one another, but it has quarantined humans and human impact on the environment to an extent.

We know the immediate behaviour changes from COVID - wearing masks, social distancing, no hand shaking. But the medium and long term changes are a guessing game.

  • Will we have increased road traffic globally because people hold ongoing fears about public transport?

  • Will we require more public transport to cater to socially distancing rules on board?

  • Will we do away with KeepCups and continue to use single use materials in fear of contagious surfaces?

  • Will factories push to make up for lost time, doubling production and air pollution?

  • Will the distraction of COVID and COVID economic recovery mean that illegal logging and illegal fishing goes unnoticed?

  • Will government priorities be on stimulating the economy and industry at any (social) cost?

  • Will funds for climate change and green policy be redirected for COVID recovery?

A green and socially responsible recovery may be possible in a post-COVID world. Despite the COVID-fatigue, there seems to be a common positive sentiment emerging, as well as a genuine drive across industries, government and civil society to 'build back better'. The question will be what 'better' means. Hopefully better means greener, more equitable, greater diversity and inclusivity.