COVID-19 and Sustainability


Even before the coronavirus came into our lives and changed everything, the world was already facing the serious issue of climate change which continues today. This is a space to educate ourselves and learn more about the connection between the COVID-19 pandemic and its environmental impact. We will also be exploring how our response to the coronavirus can inspire us to a sustainable and resilient future.

What are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations?

The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace, and justice (United Nations). Check out a list of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Since the pandemic started, many of these goals have been impacted, many of which are highlighted below:

Good Health

Even before the crisis, the world was off track to ensuring healthcare for everybody by 2030. Now, the impressive gains made in recent years—declining infant and maternal mortality rates, turning the tide on HIV/AIDS, and halving malaria deaths—are threatened. We are now facing alarming setbacks, not just from the disease itself, but from the knock-on effects of breaks in vaccination campaigns.

Global Citizen highlights that hospitals worldwide have been overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 patients, and the people who suffer from other illnesses are not prioritized. The new neglection of patients with other illnesses comes in the midst of most governments lacking the funds to enrich their health care systems.

Gender Equality

Global Citizen further states that women are without a doubt more affected by the virus than men. Women make up the majority of health workers and frontlines of the pandemics and are therefore at a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus. In addition, as the majority of the population is ordered to stay at home, women are more vulnerable to be victims of domestic abuse now more than ever.

No hunger

COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in global food supply chains. And it has pushed fragile countries, such as Yemen, where, despite humanitarian assistance, 15.9 million wake up hungry every day, push millions more into further distress.

No poverty

Rapid economic progress in India and China has lifted millions out of poverty, but as of 2015, about 736 million people still lived on less than US$1.90 a day.

Now, Oxfam estimates that the crisis could push half a billion people back into poverty.

SDG 1 is the bedrock of the goals. The crisis has made this goal more challenging but also presents an opportunity to completely revolutionize development.

Decent work

About 1.6 billion people work in the informal sector and the International Labor Organization (ILO) reports that they are in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed. The ILO reports that more than one in six young people have lost their jobs since the pandemic began and those that are still at work have seen their hours reduced.

Quality education

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates about 1.25 billion students are affected by lockdowns. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates 86 percent of primary school children in developing countries are not being educated.

UNDP estimates that closing the digital divide would reduce by more than two-thirds the number of children not learning because of school closures.

Strong institutions

At least 18 national elections and referendums have already been postponed. Sometimes this can lead to an increased risk of public unrest. Governments, particularly in fragile contexts, are under unparalleled pressure to deliver digital services and social protection. They are also pushed to function in ways that advance social cohesion while upholding human rights and the rule of law.

Learn more about how the SDGs are impacted by the coronavirus and check out this video by Global Citizen.

A large number of the workers most affected by the pandemic are females. Women are experiencing inequality in their daily lives, including their workplace. Fixing gender inequality is essential for building a strong foundation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals post-covid-19.

Many people have been lucky enough to continue their job remotely. However, this is not the case for all – working remotely is impossible for many people working in sectors like accommodation and food services, real estate, business and administrative activities, manufacturing, and wholesale/retail trade. According to data by UN Women, 41 percent of women workers worldwide work in these sectors.

Women compromise 70 percent of the global health workforce, at the front lines of response. Therefore, they carry a higher risk of catching and transmitting the virus, putting themselves and their families at risk.

Moreover, due to lockdowns, violence, including domestic violence against women, has escalated. Even women fortunate enough to continue their work from their home’s comfort might come across other significant challenges like domestic violence. Violence can be hard to spot, and now that the focus worldwide is on the pandemic, it can be even harder.

Increasing access to resources and opportunities for women is crucial not only for them to become more independent but to also have the ability to improve their lives and their households. Women will be able to participate in a structural change that will lead to a sustainable, balanced, and inclusive growth. The increase of women in institutions and intergenerational development outcomes will ensure recovery and resilience post-COVID-19 and will contribute in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Based on research addressed by the Global Ag Media, if women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men, the crop yields could increase by 20 to 30% and the total agricultural output by 1.5%, resulting in lifting 100 to 150 million people out of hunger. Supporting equal opportunities for men and women means striving for the greater good.

Learn more about the role of women as drivers of economic recovery and resilience during and after the pandemic.

Ever since the coronavirus came into our lives in March 2020, we have seen rapid structural changes for the world to adapt to a safer space for everyone. Governments have taken immediate actions, factories and companies have shut down, and there has been constant scientific research on battling the virus. Read Bill Gate’s reflection on the lessons of COVID-19 that can help us approach climate change as another future global crisis, get informed about the consequences of inaction, and be prepared to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

  1. Let science and innovation lead the way.

Just as we need tests, vaccines, and treatments to fight the virus, we will need tools to fight climate change. We will need multiple disciplines in biology, chemistry, physics, political science, economics, engineering, and other sciences for a comprehensive response to climate change. Therefore investment in science is necessary.

  1. Make sure solutions work for poor countries too.

It seems like both COVID-19 and a climate change crisis will hurt the poorest people in the world the most. The overall average death rate of covid-19 will obscure an enormous disparity between rich and poor countries. Climate change is also expected to dramatically increase death rates in poor countries near or below the Equator, where temperatures are expected to increase dramatically.

Organizations like GAVI will make sure that the coronavirus vaccine will reach the poorest people in the world. Unfortunately, there’s no such organization or movement for clean energy. Governments, inventors, and entrepreneurs around the world need to focus on making green technologies cheap enough that developing countries will be able to afford them.

  1. Start now.

The coronavirus vaccine has been developed in less than one year. On the other hand, there is not a short fix for climate change – it will take decades to develop and deploy all the clean-energy inventions that are needed. What we need is a plan to avoid a climate disaster; this plan can include current resources like zero-carbon tools, developing and deploying innovations, and making sure the poorest have the resources that are necessary to adapt to the temperature increase.

These are Bill Gate’s three lessons that this pandemic can teach us about battling a global crisis to be better informed and prepared to combat another more significant concern: climate change.

The following text contains selected information from this article from February 7, 2021, regarding the Covid-19 vaccine.

Poorer countries are once again victims of inequality. As of now, developed countries are expected to vaccinate their population a lot sooner than developing countries.

Apart from this phenomenon being a social issue, it also contributes to prolonging the pandemic, which is what the world is fighting against. Ralph Mupita, the president and CEO of MTN Group (Africa’s largest mobile network operator), specifically stated that if the developed markets get vaccinated, but the underdeveloped markets don’t, the problem is not solved.

Fortunately, it is still early enough to fix the situation and rebound on rich countries that are gobbling up on the share of the vaccines.

Private sector steps up

MTN recently accounted for its donation of $25 million to the African Union’s vaccination program, which aims to vaccinate 60% of the continent’s population within the next two or three years. This proportion is significant as the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that if immunity takes longer, COVID-19 will become endemic.

The mining giant Anglo American pledged $30 million towards the vaccine rollout in countries where it operates, with $10 million of that cash going to South Africa’s program.

However, donations can’t fix the barrier of vaccine production that is preventing rollouts worldwide – and effectively pushing poorer countries to the back of the queue.

Vaccine inequality

The three biggest COVID-19 vaccine producers have plans to produce enough vaccines to cover 1.5% of the global population this year, while richer countries like those in the European Union have already secured enough doses to vaccine their population twice. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines remain to be too expensive for many poor countries to afford.

This situation is morally unfair and extremely dangerous as unvaccinated populations could provide fertile ground for new COVID-19 mutations. A suggested solution by the alliance is the suspension of intellectual property rules that restrain other producers from manufacturing the vaccines that are known to be effective.

Intellectual property

The World Health Organization launched the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (CTAP) as technology and patent repository for companies that produce effective vaccines to contribute and share their know-how so that other manufactures can produce more affordable but equally effective vaccines. AstraZeneca responded to the question and enabled access to the vaccine in up to 190 countries, and more than a dozen generic pharmaceutical companies have jumped into the pool. Other, bigger manufacturers whose contributions are needed did not follow with a response which is disappointing as Pfizer is expected to make around $4 billion in profits from its COVID-19 vaccine this year. Silverman argues that since the vaccines’ development drew on public funding, the results should be public goods.

While a few developing countries have requested parts of the TRIPS Agreement to be waived until the world’s population has developed immunity from the virus – the U.S., the U.K., the EU, and other rich countries have rejected it. However, Charles Michel, the European Council President, and Peter Sltmair, the German Economy Minister, have both recently indicated support for the compulsory licensing of intellectual property regarding the vaccine.

Vaccine diplomacy

Under President Joe Biden, the United States is joining the COVAX initiative and is planning on offering its unneeded doses to poorer countries. However, Oxfam’s Silverman warns against relying on this largesse as governments’ deals with the pharma giants have been shrouded in secrecy. There is a lack of transparency preventing the public from having full knowledge of what these agreements are. He specifically states that “It’s especially galling as this is public money, but the public has no visibility. It’s hard to rely on the beneficence of rich countries to get out of the crisis, in this deeply inequitable system.”

While some steps have been taken to fix the vaccine inequality, there are still too many things that need to be done to trust the system. One thing we know for sure is that change is possible.