The world is making progress towards Goal 7, with encouraging signs that energy is becoming more sustainable and widely available. Access to electricity in poorer countries has begun to accelerate, energy efficiency continues to improve, and renewable energy is making impressive gains in the electricity sector.
Nevertheless, more focused attention is needed to improve access to clean and safe cooking fuels and technologies for 3 billion people, to expand the use of renewable energy beyond the electricity sector, and to increase electrification in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Energy Progress Report provides global dashboard to register progress on energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy. It assesses the progress made by each country on these three pillars and provides a snapshot of how far we are from achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals targets.
Lack of access to energy may hamper efforts to contain COVID-19 across many parts of the world. Energy services are key to preventing disease and fighting pandemics – from powering healthcare facilities and supplying clean water for essential hygiene, to enabling communications and IT services that connect people while maintaining social distancing.
789 million people – predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa – are living without access to electricity, and hundreds of millions more only have access to very limited or unreliable electricity. It is estimated that only 28 percent of health facilities have access to reliable electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, yet energy is critically needed to keep people connected at home and to run life-saving equipment in hospitals.
If hospitals and local communities don’t have access to power, this could magnify the human catastrophe and significantly slow the global recovery.
The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All explained why energy access matters during the coronavirus emergency and outlined three ways to respond to the COVID-19 emergency:
Read more about the role of energy in COVID-19 response.
Sustained and inclusive economic growth can drive progress, create decent jobs for all and improve living standards.
COVID-19 has disrupted billions of lives and endangered the global economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects a global recession as bad as or worse than in 2009. As job losses escalate, the International Labor Organization estimates that nearly half of the global workforce is at risk of losing their livelihoods.
Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, one in five countries – home to billions of people living in poverty – were likely to see per capita incomes stagnate or decline in 2020. Now, the economic and financial shocks associated with COVID-19—such as disruptions to industrial production, falling commodity prices, financial market volatility, and rising insecurity—are derailing the already tepid economic growth and compounding heightened risks from other factors.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a historic recession with record levels of deprivation and unemployment, creating an unprecedented human crisis that is hitting the poorest hardest.
In April 2020, the United Nations released a framework for the immediate socio-economic response to COVID-19, as a roadmap to support countries’ path to social and economic recovery. It calls for an extraordinary scale-up of international support and political commitment to ensure that people everywhere have access to essential services and social protection. The socio-economic response framework consists of five streams of work:
These five streams are connected by a strong environmental sustainability and gender equality imperative to build back better.
The UN Secretary-General has stressed that the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis must lead to a different economy.
Beyond the immediate crisis response, the pandemic should be the impetus to sustain the gains and accelerate implementation of long-overdue measures to set the world on a more sustainable development path and make the global economy more resilient to future shocks.
Inclusive and sustainable industrialization, together with innovation and infrastructure, can unleash dynamic and competitive economic forces that generate employment and income. They play a key role in introducing and promoting new technologies, facilitating international trade and enabling the efficient use of resources.
However, the world still has a long way to go to fully tap this potential. Least developed countries, in particular, need to accelerate the development of their manufacturing sector if they are to meet the 2030 target, and scale up investment in scientific research and innovation.
Global manufacturing growth has been steadily declining, even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is hitting manufacturing industries hard and causing disruptions in global value chains and the supply of products.
Innovation and technological progress are key to finding lasting solutions to both economic and environmental challenges, such as increased resource and energy-efficiency. Globally, investment in research and development (R&D) as a proportion of GDP increased from 1.5 per cent in 2000 to 1.7 per cent in 2015 and remained almost unchanged in 2017, but was only less than 1 per cent in developing regions.
In terms of communications infrastructure, more than half of the world’s population is now online and almost the entire world population lives in an area covered by a mobile network. It is estimated that in 2019, 96.5 per cent were covered by at least a 2G network.
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the urgent need for resilient infrastructure. The Asian Development Bank notes that critical infrastructure in the region remains far from adequate in many countries, despite the rapid economic growth and development the region has experienced over the past decade. The Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific highlights that making infrastructure resilient to disasters and climate change will require an additional investment of $434 billion per year. This sum may need to be even greater in some subregions, such as the Pacific small island developing states.
Information and communication technologies have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. The crisis has accelerated the digitalization of many businesses and services, including teleworking and video conferencing systems in and out of the workplace, as well as access to healthcare, education and essential goods and services.
As the pandemic reshapes the way in which we work, keep in touch, go to school and shop for essentials, it has never been more important to bridge the digital divide for the 3.6 billion people who remain offline, unable to access online education, employment or critical health and sanitation advice. The 2020 Financing for Sustainable Development Report provides policy options to harness the potential of digital technologies.
Once the acute phase of the COVID-19 crisis is over, governments will need investments in infrastructure more than ever to accelerate economic recovery, create jobs, reduce poverty, and stimulate productive investment.
The World Bank estimates that developing countries need to invest around 4.5 per cent of GDP to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and at the same time limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.
Reducing inequalities and ensuring no one is left behind are integral to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Inequality within and among countries is a persistent cause for concern. Despite some positive signs toward reducing inequality in some dimensions, such as reducing relative income inequality in some countries and preferential trade status benefiting lower-income countries, inequality still persists.
COVID-19 has deepened existing inequalities, hitting the poorest and most vulnerable communities the hardest. It has put a spotlight on economic inequalities and fragile social safety nets that leave vulnerable communities to bear the brunt of the crisis. At the same time, social, political and economic inequalities have amplified the impacts of the pandemic.
On the economic front, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased global unemployment and dramatically slashed workers’ incomes.
COVID-19 also puts at risk the limited progress that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights over the past decades. Across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex.
Inequalities are also deepening for vulnerable populations in countries with weaker health systems and those facing existing humanitarian crises. Refugees and migrants, as well as indigenous peoples, older persons, people with disabilities and children are particularly at risk of being left behind. And hate speech targeting vulnerable groups is rising.
COVID-19 is not only challenging global health systems but testing our common humanity. The UN Secretary-General called for solidarity with the world’s poorest and most vulnerable who need urgent support in responding to the worst economic and social crisis in generations. “Now is the time to stand by our commitment to leave no one behind,” the Secretary-General said.
To ensure that people everywhere have access to essential services and social protection, the UN has called for an extraordinary scale-up of international support and political commitment, including funding through the UN COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund which aims to support low- and middle-income countries and vulnerable groups who are disproportionately bearing the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.
This time of crisis must also be used as an opportunity to invest in policies and institutions that can turn the tide on inequality. Leveraging a moment when policies and social norms may be more malleable than during normal times, bold steps that address the inequalities that this crisis has laid bare can steer the world back on track towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
For more information, see the SDG-10 Goal of the Month package: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/goal-of-the-month-may-2020
The world is becoming increasingly urbanized. Since 2007, more than half the world’s population has been living in cities, and that share is projected to rise to 60 per cent by 2030.
Cities and metropolitan areas are powerhouses of economic growth—contributing about 60 per cent of global GDP. However, they also account for about 70 per cent of global carbon emissions and over 60 per cent of resource use.
Rapid urbanization is resulting in a growing number of slum dwellers, inadequate and overburdened infrastructure and services (such as waste collection and water and sanitation systems, roads and transport), worsening air pollution and unplanned urban sprawl.
The impact of COVID-19 will be most devastating in poor and densely populated urban areas, especially for the one billion people living in informal settlements and slums worldwide, where overcrowding also makes it difficult to follow recommended measures such as social distancing and self-isolation.
The UN food agency, FAO, warned that hunger and fatalities could rise significantly in urban areas, without measures to ensure that poor and vulnerable residents have access to food.
Cities are on the front line of coping with the pandemic and its lasting impacts. Across the globe, COVID-19 is threatening cities and communities, endangering not only public health, but also the economy and the fabric of society.
UN-Habitat, the UN agency for housing and urban development, is working with national and local governments to help them prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The UN Habitat COVID-19 Response Plan aims to:
UN-Habitat’s COVID-19 Policy and Programme Framework provides guidance for global, regional and country-level action.
The UN Economic Commission for Africa has proposed specific support to city governments to mitigate and respond to the economic effects of COVID-19. Africa’s cities account for more than 50% of the region’s GDP, and COVID-19 is likely to hit African cities hard, with sharp declines in productivity, jobs and revenues.
Worldwide consumption and production — a driving force of the global economy — rest on the use of the natural environment and resources in a way that continues to have destructive impacts on the planet.
Economic and social progress over the last century has been accompanied by environmental degradation that is endangering the very systems on which our future development — indeed, our very survival — depends.
A few facts and figures:
The COVID-19 pandemic offers countries an opportunity to build recovery plans that will reverse current trends and change our consumption and production patterns towards a more sustainable future.
Sustainable consumption and production is about doing more and better with less. It is also about decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation, increasing resource efficiency and promoting sustainable lifestyles.
Sustainable consumption and production can also contribute substantially to poverty alleviation and the transition towards low-carbon and green economies.
2019 was the second warmest year on record and the end of the warmest decade (2010- 2019) ever recorded.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rose to new records in 2019.
Climate change is affecting every country on every continent. It is disrupting national economies and affecting lives. Weather patterns are changing, sea levels are rising, and weather events are becoming more extreme.
Although greenhouse gas emissions are projected to drop about 6 per cent in 2020 due to travel bans and economic slowdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, this improvement is only temporary. Climate change is not on pause. Once the global economy begins to recover from the pandemic, emissions are expected to return to higher levels.
Saving lives and livelihoods requires urgent action to address both the pandemic and the climate emergency.
The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The agreement also aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, through appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework.
As countries move toward rebuilding their economies after COVID-19, recovery plans can shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, safe and more resilient. The current crisis is an opportunity for a profound, systemic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet.
The UN Secretary-General has proposed six climate-positive actions for governments to take once they go about building back their economies and societies:
To address the climate emergency, post-pandemic recovery plans need to trigger long-term systemic shifts that will change the trajectory of CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
Governments around the world have spent considerable time and effort in recent years to develop plans to chart a safer and more sustainable future for their citizens. Taking these on board now as part of recovery planning can help the world build back better from the current crisis.
The ocean drives global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea.
Careful management of this essential global resource is a key feature of a sustainable future. However, at the current time, there is a continuous deterioration of coastal waters owing to pollution, and ocean acidification is having an adversarial effect on the functioning of ecosystems and biodiversity. This is also negatively impacting small scale fisheries.
Saving our ocean must remain a priority. Marine biodiversity is critical to the health of people and our planet. Marine protected areas need to be effectively managed and well-resourced and regulations need to be put in place to reduce overfishing, marine pollution and ocean acidification.
Ocean conservation and action should not come to a halt while we tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to look at long-term solutions for the health of our planet as a whole. Our lives depend on a healthy planet.
The health of the ocean is intimately tied to our health. According to UNESCO, the ocean can be an ally against COVID-19: Bacteria found in the depths of the ocean are used to carry out rapid testing to detect the presence of COVID-19. And the diversity of species found in the ocean offers great promise for pharmaceuticals.
The pandemic offers an opportunity to revive the ocean and start building a sustainable ocean economy. A report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific suggests that the temporary shutdown of activities as well as reduced human mobility and resource demands due to the COVID-19 pandemic may provide marine environments the much-needed breathing space for them to start to recover.
The UN Ocean Conference, originally scheduled for June 2020, was postponed to a later date (to be determined) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nature is critical to our survival: nature provides us with our oxygen, regulates our weather patterns, pollinates our crops, produces our food, feed and fibre. But it is under increasing stress. Human activity has altered almost 75 per cent of the earth’s surface, squeezing wildlife and nature into an ever-smaller corner of the planet.
Around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction – many within decades – according to the 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service. The report called for transformative changes to restore and protect nature. It found that the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever, affecting the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.
Deforestation and desertification – caused by human activities and climate change – pose major challenges to sustainable development and have affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Forests are vitally important for sustaining life on Earth, and play a major role in the fight against climate change. And investing in land restoration is critical for improving livelihoods, reducing vulnerabilities, and reducing risks for the economy.
The health of our planet also plays an important role in the emergence of zoonotic diseases, i.e. diseases that are transmissible between animals and humans. As we continue to encroach on fragile ecosystems, we bring humans into ever-greater contact with wildlife, enabling pathogens in wildlife to spill over to livestock and humans, increasing the risk of disease emergence and amplification.
The COVID-19 outbreak highlights the need to address threats to ecosystems and wildlife.
In 2016, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) flagged a worldwide increase in zoonotic epidemics as an issue of concern. Specifically, it pointed out that 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic and that these zoonotic diseases are closely interlinked with the health of ecosystems.
“In COVID-19, the planet has delivered its strongest warning to date that humanity must change,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
In Working With the Environment to Protect People, UNEP lays out how to “build back better” – through stronger science, policies that back a healthier planet, and more green investments.
UNEP’s response covers four areas:
To prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide, the UN has launched a Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). This globally-coordinated response to the loss and degradation of habitats will focus on building political will and capacity to restore humankind’s relation with nature. It is also a direct response to the call from science, as articulated in the Special Report on Climate Change and Land of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and to the decisions taken by all UN Member States in the Rio Conventions on climate change and biodiversity, and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.
Work on a new and ambitious post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework is also underway.
As the world responds to and recovers from the current pandemic, it will need a robust plan for protecting nature, so that nature can protect humanity.
Conflict, insecurity, weak institutions and limited access to justice remain a great threat to sustainable development.
The number of people fleeing war, persecution and conflict exceeded 70 million in 2018, the highest level recorded by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in almost 70 years.
In 2019, the United Nations tracked 357 killings and 30 enforced disappearances of human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists in 47 countries.
And the births of around one in four children under age 5 worldwide are never officially recorded, depriving them of a proof of legal identity crucial for the protection of their rights and for access to justice and social services.
Human rights are key in shaping the pandemic response. By respecting human rights in this time of crisis, we will build more effective and inclusive solutions for the emergency of today and the recovery for tomorrow.
Human rights put people centre-stage. Responses that are shaped by and respect human rights result in better outcomes in beating the pandemic, ensuring healthcare for everyone and preserving human dignity.
The UN Secretary General urged governments to be transparent, responsive and accountable in their COVID-19 response and ensure that any emergency measures are legal, proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory. “The best response is one that responds proportionately to immediate threats while protecting human rights and the rule of law,” he said.
To focus on “the true fight,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a global ceasefire, in an appeal urging warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
UN Peacekeeping Missions are continuing to carry out their mandates while also helping countries in their coronavirus response, which is guided by four main objectives: to protect UN personnel and their capacity to continue critical operations; help contain and mitigate the spread of the virus, ensuring that UN personnel are not a contagion vector; support national authorities in their response to COVID-19; and continue to deliver on key mandates.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) stepped up health, water, sanitation and hygiene services to protect refugees and displaced people, working with governments to ensure that people forced to flee are included in COVID-19 preparation and response plans.
The SDGs can only be realized with strong global partnerships and cooperation.
A successful development agenda requires inclusive partnerships — at the global, regional, national and local levels — built upon principles and values, and upon a shared vision and shared goals placing people and the planet at the centre.
Many countries require Official Development Assistance to encourage growth and trade. Yet, aid levels are falling and donor countries have not lived up to their pledge to ramp up development finance.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy is projected to contract sharply, by 3 per cent, in 2020, experiencing its worst recession since the Great Depression.
Strong international cooperation is needed now more than ever to ensure that countries have the means to recover from the pandemic, build back better and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
No country can overcome this pandemic alone. Global solidarity is not only a moral imperative, it is in everyone’s interests.
The UN Secretary-General issued a series of policy briefs that lay out a vision for how the international community can deliver an effective, coordinated response to COVID-19, ensuring we keep the most vulnerable populations front and centre. The policy briefs bring together analysis from across the UN system and provide Member States with concrete ideas for how to address the consequences and even seize opportunities in the midst of the crisis.
A high-level event convened by Canada, Jamaica and the United Nations on 28 May brought together governments and international organizations to sharpen and accelerate our global response to the significant economic and human impacts of COVID-19, and advance concrete solutions to the development emergency.
Most developing countries do not have sufficient domestic resources and fiscal space to fund adequate COVID-19 response and recovery measures. International cooperation and external finance are crucial.
Particularly alarming is the prospect of a new debt crisis, compounded by tumbling prices for oil and other key commodities, heavily impacting Least Developed Countries that were already at high risk of debt distress. The UN is calling for Special Drawing Rights, targeted debt relief and an extension of the debt moratorium to all developing countries.
The 2020 Financing for Sustainable Development Report outlines measures to address the impact of the unfolding global recession and financial turmoil, especially in the world’s poorest countries, based on joint research and analysis by more than 60 UN agencies and international institutions.
To support efforts in low- and middle-income countries, the UN Secretary-General launched a UN Response and Recovery Trust Fund.
In addition, the UN set out a Global Humanitarian Response Plan to assist the most vulnerable populations, including refugees and internally displaced persons.
And the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Foundation and partners launched a first-of-its-kind Solidarity Response Fund to allow corporations and individuals to directly contribute to WHO’s COVID-19 response.
To address issues of open and timely access to critical data needed by governments and all sectors of society to respond to the global COVID-19 crisis, this UN portal provides a space for the global statistical community to share guidance, actions, tools and best practices to ensure the operational continuity of data programmes by National Statistical Offices.
To combat the growing scourge of COVID-19 misinformation, the UN launched Verified, an initiative to increase the volume and reach of trusted, accurate information on three themes: science (to save lives), solidarity (to promote local and global cooperation), and solutions (to advocate for support to impacted populations).