Revisiting Sustainability and Development in the Pandemic Era

To sustain refers to the ability to maintain at a certain rate or level. The very 17 goals to be realized for sustainable development across the globe by 2030 were by nature highly ambitious. Back in 2015, many national budgets had more than sufficient funds. The governments agreed on ambitious treaties, frameworks, and plans for financing development. But today, the very foundations on which the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were built have shifted. The concept of sustainable development is an interrelated process of activities that approach development in various dimensions for the present and the future. The pandemic sure did challenge the very concept of the goals and questioned every research field that was invested in achieving the goals. There might not be enough money or care to eradicate poverty and inequality, improve health care and overturn biodiversity loss and climate change, all by 2030 as prescribed by the SDGs. Thus, it is high time we revisit strategies because proper sustainability should have paved a framework in coping with such an unprecedented event. To begin with, we must have an overview of the evolution of the SDGs, the forthcoming nature in the pandemic and post-pandemic phases. Then, observations and reflections of related consequences of the goals such as health (SDG3), education (SDG4), economy (SDG8), consumption/production (SDG12), and climate (SDG13), are to be studied. Thereafter, interconnections between SDGs are analyzed to identify synergies and guide the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in recovery processes.

To begin with, we need to identify the hurdles that had to be coped with before a new approach. Nations across the world are faced to drop long-time economic orthodoxies and reorienting policies to face the new challenges. The global economy is expected to contract this period, and the timeframe for its recovery is years, not months if the past is any guide. Industrialized countries are struggling to support their citizens and will not bankroll the development of others. Nevertheless, some countries have political turmoil, and the leadership is found to be caught in a time warp with the irrational choices to defend their tarnished credibility. Thus, adjusting to new economic reforms, existing political crisis all makes it even more difficult to revive the markets back to sustainability. Another case being, despite fantastic progress in medicine and science, resource scarcity is a ‘fait accompli’ – and it was evident in the numbers of death by pandemics. Countries had to ration health services, often through market forces that eventually favor elites who have access to resources and power. In low-income countries, hard choices must be made for fair priority setting every day between interventions and policies that are all known to be effective. There are always debates on ethical and political values. Problems created by the pandemic emphasize the indivisible character of the SDGs. Multidisciplinary prospects are needed for exploring interconnections between environment, wildlife, and humans all in one approach. The dynamism of urban areas can also be sustained by proper conservation policies and the deployment of ecosystem services.

Another concern is about the government’s use of emergency powers in response to the pandemics that ignored and weakened democratic processes. Civil society groups have been completely side-lined. Policy decisions on suppression or mitigation of the pandemic have a direct impact on the distribution of risks, benefits, and freedoms. The pandemic exposed and widened existing social inequalities and trust in our political and scientific authorities is eroding. On contrary, trust in public authorities and amongst community members has emerged as a decisive factor in several nation’s abilities to secure compliance with pandemic regulations and measures. Emerging infectious diseases cause large-scale mortality and morbidity, disrupt trade, and travel networks, and stimulate civil unrest.
When local emergence leads to regional outbreaks of global pandemics, the economic impacts can be devastating. Crucially, the processes that drive disease emergence risk interact with those necessary to achieve numerous societal goals. The absence of focus on these interactions generates policy blind spots that must be addressed to ensure that sustainable development efforts are not counterproductive and do not compromise global health security. Goals and targets that rely on a growing global economy will not be met. Boosting industry, innovation and infrastructure will require extra investment. A strategy for increasing government revenue for investment is lowering tax avoidance. Low-income countries used to lose their GDP via companies practicing tax avoidance each year, which highlights an opportunity to intercept this money and use it to fund the achievement of the SDGs. However, it must be noted that this increase in revenue might be offset by companies incurring the loss of income and bankruptcy due to the pandemic. The pandemic has exposed the consequences of deepening systemic inequality and prioritizing growth beyond planetary boundaries.

Studies show that governments and other partners need to enhance access to basic services and improve health and social protection transfers, as well as increase connectivity to mobile and broadband services and strengthen investments in R&D. It will be critical to boosting access to inclusive, effective, and accountable governance. And for all of this to be sustainable, we need to rebalance the relationship between nature, climate, and economy Researchers and policymakers should harness the synergies in the achievement of multiple SDGs by considering their interconnectedness and their wider societal impacts. Environmental policies that promote sustainable land-use planning, reduced deforestation, and biodiversity protection, provide ancillary benefits by reducing the types of wildlife contact that can lead to disease emergence. Reducing local and international instability is essential to prevent disease spread, even for infectious agents at the brink of eradication. Thoughts on what can be done directly to the emphasis on aiming for achievable and rational actions. Decision-makers in the countries of the world must work focused to be able to achieve actual sustainable development that represents the main key to contain the occurrence and emerging crises. Focus on molding the scientific aspect and developing it to serve all segments of society can promote the process of sustainable development. The population should enhance their specializations to provide the skills they have acquired to build the sustainable development process. Nations and local institutions could better integrate human health within sustainable development planning by leveraging current policies and collaborations already adopted by international organizations.

Amid a devastating crisis, there is space for bold decisions. Revisiting these goals can start by prioritizing them, by focusing on a few broad strategic goals. This might upset a few, but sometimes that cannot be avoided. With so many diverse targets, selecting and prioritizing a few can be stressful. Thus, we should group them to the ones that have clear quantitative aims and the ones that can be brought into national policies and priorities. Some targets have goals that are intertwined and can interact positively. Energy pricing reforms are needed to increase fiscal space. We need to reduce the burden on gender equations by sparking investments in the care economy. Low-income nations must prioritize majorly – achieving universal health coverage, strengthening the workforce, and strengthening the capacity of early-warning systems for global health risks. Sustained per-capita economic growth for all countries is itself an SDG target, which points to just how deeply its pursuit is ingrained in the modern world. Might sound controversial, but the key feature of globalization such as values of interconnectedness – trade, and travels need to be restricted. These interconnections increase the likelihood of future global pandemics emerging and spreading. Thus, full social and environmental costs, as well as benefits, now need to be re-examined. Another form of growth, the population should be slowed in priority. Because a surge in population will make worse all other threats to sustainability. These times should be an opportunity to reinvigorate research and action on the scale of human activity on our finite planet. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate and transform development through an unprecedented crisis. A new trajectory to development that is more resilient than the previous one, should be developed for the future and thus attaining a new modus operandi to sustainable existence.

– Alert Joseph (One of the Prize Winners of Article Writing Competition 2021)

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