5 Reasons Why The Global Goals Are The Best Plan To Build Back Better

Alice Macdonald is the Director of Policy and Campaigns at Project Everyone, the organisation behind the Global Goals campaign. She has spent the past 15 years working across politics and campaigns at both the local and global levels. Here she makes the case for why the Goals are our best blueprint on how to rebuild after the COVID-19 crisis.

2020 was meant to be the biggest year yet for the Sustainable Development Goals. Labeled a ‘super’ year due to critical summits like the Climate COP, it also marked 5 years since their agreement by 193 leaders and the start of a Decade of Action launched by the UN. There were big plans in the works, to make this the year we changed course for the better. Of course, now all of that has changed with the devastating spread of COVID-19- 2020 will definitely go down in history but unfortunately not for the reasons we hoped.  

Like many campaigners, here at Project Everyone, we have spent the last weeks, months (where are we now?) trying to figure out what we can do now to be of most use and what we will need to do in the long term.  Whilst rightly the focus now must be on the immediate crisis, as we all know the social, economic and political implications will last for years to come. That could have a dire impact on  the Global Goals - a historic plan to end poverty, conquer inequality and fix climate change.  For example, recent predictions show that global poverty could increase for the first time in three decades, pushing more than half a billion people into poverty.

There has been much talk of ‘building back better’.  To do that - leaders and citizens  alike-  must put the Global Goals at the heart of their recovery strategy – both to keep us on track to achieving them and using them as the framework to power our response.  

Here’s 5 reasons why:

1.     A  universal vision:  It’s pretty unimaginable now that 193 countries could come to agreement on a common plan to tackle the world’s biggest challenges and that that plan would be universal applying to all countries irrespective of GDP - but that’s what happened just 5 years ago. However, progress to implement those Goals has been too slow. As a recent UN report noted ‘ A hard truth is that we could have been better prepared for this crisis. The MDGs and the SDGs could have put us on track towards a world with access to universal health coverage and quality health care and more inclusive and sustainable economies” It is not too late to embrace that vision and deliver healthy lives, healthy societies and a healthy environment for all.

2.     A basis for renewed global coordination: As 200+ leaders have underlined, a global concerted effort to defeat COVID-19 is needed.  Global cooperation will also be needed for the recovery. But there is a risk that countries will retreat, focussing purely on the domestic  without acknowledging either the moral case to help others abroad or that global action on COVID-19 is a necessity to protect ourselves.  The Goals can serve as a practical  blueprint for renewed global cooperation providing a set of common Goals, targets and indicators to measure progress.

3.     An interconnected way of thinking: COVID-19 has clearly shown the connected world we live in. The knock on effects of the pandemic on domestic violence, poverty, employment are all too clear.  This SDGs are indivisible in their nature.  We will  only succeed, if we achieve all the Goals together including the new and existing challenges COVID will have brought to the surface.  Any effort to rebuild must acknowledge that the challenges we face are interlinked and develop holistic strategies to address them as the Goals sets out. The Goals see economic wellbeing, social inclusion and environmental sustainability as closely interconnected providing a new way to think about the way we value the world we live in beyond simple measures of GDP.

4.     Leaving No One Behind: at the heart of the Goals is a commitment to Leave No One Behind recognising the gross inequality that is still a central feature of our world.  COVID-19 is hitting poorest and most vulnerable hardest both now and in the longer term. In their response now and in the recovery, must ensure that that principle is at the front of their plans. That will demand policies actions like debt relief, expanding and strengthening social protection systems and new models for growth which close the gap instead of widening it.

5.     Everyone has a part to play: Goal 17 is partnerships, a recognition that everyone from politicians to businesses, civil society and the public themselves have a role to play in delivering the Goals just as they do in the COVID response. That partnership approach must continue in the recovery. In particular, there must be respect for and investment in the communities  and grassroots groups  like Kennedy Odede’s brilliant SHOFCO in Kibera, who are so crucial in the response to the coronavirus and will continue to be in the future. COVID has shown the best of humanity – that people want to support each other – the Goals can provide a way for everyone to identify the actions they can continue to take to help in their communities.

September 25th will mark 5 years since the Goals were agreed. There is no way of knowing where we will be then, but our hope is that it can be a moment for leaders, business and civil society to wholeheartedly embrace the Goals as both a vision for the future and as a way to shape the recovery.  There must be practical tools in place to enable this – more investment in data to allow us to understand the impact of COVID-19 and to shape policies accordingly, mobilization of finance from all sectors and strengthened accountability and increased transparency enabling civil society to operate effectively and to hold leaders to account.

For the first time in history humanity shares one common Goal – beating COVID. When we have achieved that we must do the same with the SDGs - the Global Goals must be all our Goals

Written by Alice Macdonald, Campaigns & Policy Director at Project Everyone