More from UNDESA Vol , No. - January 2021

New Year resolution: working together to achieve the goals

2020 was set to be a celebratory year for the United Nations as it turned 75 years old. Yet the globe was turned upside down by a virus which no one was prepared for. The year also marked a ten year countdown to 2030: the deadline to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 were a culmination of the UN’s seven-decade long experience in development. The 2030 Agenda  signified that development is not just about building more roads or a person’s ability to purchase fancy consumer items, but rather good development that is sustainable is based on equality of opportunity, equal access to quality education, decent work, good health, clean drinking water and good air quality. Unfortunately, during the past five years, we have fallen well short of what was needed to be on track to uphold the pledge towards achieving the seventeen SDGs.
Then the greatest challenges to face the world in the past three-quarters of a century took hold of the globe: the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Nobody was ready for a shock of this magnitude.

People lost loved ones, suffered from the effects of the disease, found themselves unemployed or out of school, and we all stayed isolated and indoors for extended periods of time. The poorest people across the world – those already struggling and relying on assistance, or in need of continuous access to basic services such as healthcare – were the hardest hit.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life for everyone, everywhere. Governments were tasked with addressing a health crisis, a financial crisis, a humanitarian crisis, and in some areas, a crisis for the maintenance of peace and human rights.

In 2020 we learned the hard way that when you fail to prepare, you are prepared to fail. We cannot continue to fail. We should, by identifying who is suffering the most, why they are suffering, and what they need in order to recover,  be prepared to manage  another crisis of this magnitude when it comes. The UN will have to meet it when it does.

Despite these challenges, the United Nations continues to do a lot, for instance on the SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being for all. The UN has already achieved great progress against several leading causes of death and disease. HIV/AIDS and malaria no longer pose widespread mortal threats. Infant and maternal mortality has declined. Life expectancy has increased dramatically. To support the United Nations further, as President of the UN General Assembly, I am launching  a global movement demanding “Vaccines4All”. The virus does not discriminate. Nor should our response. COVID-19 does not care where you live or how much money you have in your pocket. But the people who have less, will need more to get back on their feet.  Countries need to come together to provide vaccines for everyone, everywhere, so that we can all recover better together.

In 1945, the world was torn apart by conflict and only dreamers could imagine a bright future ahead. But those dreamers put their ideas of a better world down on paper, and the Charter of the United Nations provided a compass for humanity. Countries worked together to support peace, the full enjoyment of human rights, and sustainable development. While no system is without flaws, no other institution can rival the United Nations in capacity, legitimacy, or scope. The multilateral system has, and will continue to, enable individuals, communities, and countries to learn from each other, help one another, and make progress together.
Today the United Nations is a hub, convening governments, civil society organisations, scientists and global citizens in order to respond to global issues and recover from COVID-19, so that we are ready for whatever comes our way.
We have a blueprint for success called the Sustainable Development Goals. We have only ten years to deliver on one of the greatest changes to the world, and the decisions made in 2021 will impact generations to come.

A lot of these Goals represent the minimum of what we as humans should strive for: zero hunger; ending poverty; gender equality; peace, justice and strong institutions.

Last year marked the beginning of ‘the roaring twenties’: forest fires raged, a pandemic swept the world, and the world teetered on the brink of famine. In 2021 we will need to meet the needs of 160 million people in vulnerable situations in the world. There is a lot to do and we each have a role to play: as individuals and as a community, both locally and globally. Implementing the SDGs will require us to look beyond our own borders to ensure that we leave no one behind.

This is not a question of what we can do – this is a challenge that we must meet. It is a tall order that requires the world to work together, as nations, united.

In 2021 there is only one New Year’s resolution that has the power to change the world, and that is to work together to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. I believe in the power of humanity to achieve what may seem impossible, just like the founders of the United Nations did in 1945.

In 2030, let us look back and be proud of what we have achieved together.

All 17 SDGs in numbers

While progress has been made over the last five years, the world is not on track to deliver the Goals by 2030. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, progress was visible in some areas: the incidence of many communicable diseases was in decline; the global maternal mortality ratio had declined by 38% and the under-5 mortality rate had fallen by almost 50% since 2000; and over 1 billion people had gained access to electricity between 2010 and 2018.

At the same time, the number of people suffering from hunger and food insecurity was rising, climate change was occurring much faster than anticipated and inequality continued to increase within and among countries.


COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on all 17 Goals and threatening the achievements already made in many areas. The pandemic has overwhelmed health systems, disrupted global value chains and the supply of products, caused businesses and factories to shut down, and severely impacted the livelihoods of half of the global workforce.

An estimated 88 million to 115 million people will be pushed back into extreme poverty and up to 132 million more people may suffer from undernourishment in 2020, erasing the modest progress made in recent years. The pandemic has also caused school closures which kept millions of students worldwide out of school. Hundreds of thousands of additional under-5 deaths will be expected in 2020.

While the virus has impacted everyone, it is the poorest and most vulnerable who are affected disproportionally by the pandemic, including children, older persons, persons with disabilities, migrants and refugees and informal sector workers. Across the globe, young people are also being disproportionately affected, particularly in the job market. Women and girls are facing new barriers and new threats, ranging from a shadow pandemic of violence to additional burdens of unpaid care work. The devastating impacts of COVID-19 demonstrate precisely why we need the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and underscore the urgency of their implementation.

Access more data and information on the indicators for all SDGs in the SDG Progress Report 2020.


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