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An update on the Sustainable Development Goals

Five years into its existence, that call for action that is known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), faced a global pandemic. This month – July 2021, the UN will be convening countries and many of them will be disclosing their progress against the SDGs in a Voluntary National Review.  

But as 44 countries are lining up to share their regional progress, we’ve also got hold of the “Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals: Report of the Secretary-General” report that paints the global picture of where we are at, with the latest data from April 2021. 

At the time of writing the report, the COVID-19 pandemic has already taken more than three million lives, devastated economies worldwide and affected all spheres of human life. Sadly, as we write this blog, that figure has now risen to four million lives.  

Before COVID, progress was being made on several of the 17 Goals, including advancements on reducing poverty, improving maternal health and child health, increasing access to electricity and advancing gender equality. The progress was perhaps not at the fastest of paces imaginable, but it was happening. On the other hand, even before the pandemic hit, progress against some of the SDGs had already stalled or reversed, including ones relating to reducing inequality, lowering carbon emissions and tackling hunger. 

At present, as the report explains, we do not know the degree to which COVID-19 has knocked the SDGs further off track. But we do know that it has impacted significantly on a number of areas and undermined decades of development efforts. The data that we have, already shows us that: 

  • There are an additional 119 to 124 million people are now living in extreme poverty 
  • Inequalities have been exacerbated globally, which the impacts most detrimentally felt on the global south 
  • 225 million full-time jobs have been lost across the world 
  • An additional 101 million children have fallen below the minimum reading proficiency level (which meant whipping out gains gained over two decades) 
  • It is estimated that there will be an additional 10 million children at risk child marriage over the next decade as result of COVID-19 pandemic 
  • Despite reductions in travel and claims that “nature was healing”, climate change did not slow down, and greenhouse gas emissions increased over the course of 2020 

“Overall, this report paints a worrying picture regarding the state of the SDGs six years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. But it will depend on the collective response over the coming 18 months whether or not the COVID-19 crisis serves as a much-needed wake-up call that spurs a decade of truly transformative action that delivers for people and planet.” 

That is why this topic couldn’t be more timely and more relevant to us. 

The SDG’s agenda is to create peace and prosperity for all, stop climate change and end poverty. So surely there’s a clear overlap to social value as we know it? Of course. We set out with the mission to reduce inequality, degree environmental degradation and increase our aggregated wellbeing. Our method in the Social Value International movement, is to change mainstream accounting of value to include the voices of those who are most affected but often left outside the decision-making process, and ensure those voices are listened to. “Leaving no one behind” is the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals and these clear overlaps provide just a couple of reasons to why SVI and our global community has supported the important work of UNDP and SDG Impact in the development and adoption of the SDG Impact Standards. 

As we have seen in the report, achievement of the SDGs by 2030 is going to be even harder than it was pre the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019 it was estimated that the world’s financial needs for achieving the SDGs were between $5 trillion and $7 trillion a year. Having found approximately $3 trillion a year by 2019 far, we needed an extra $2 trillion to $4 trillion a year between then and 2030. Since 2020 and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and investment funds have been channelled finance into emergency pandemic protection measures, and it is now clearer than ever that to plug the funding gap and achieve the SDGs, the private sector, enterprises and investors will play a vital role. However, up until now, there has been a stumbling block – we have been without a clear framework for integrating impacts on SDGs into business and investment decision making. The SDG Impact Standards address that gap. 

The SDG Impact Practice Standards have been developed with the aim of creating a clear framework for integrating impacts on SDGs into business and investment decision making that can help funnel SDG investment and impact. “The SDG Impact Standards are provided as a best practice guide and self-assessment tool. Organizations can use them to align their internal processes, practices and decision making. Organizations are encouraged to use the Standards in their entirety as a gap analysis and self-assessment tool, and to fill gaps and improve practice over time.” 

As trustee of SVI Jeremy Nicholls said: “this is a very exciting opportunity for organisations to significantly increase their positive impact and make real contributions to the SDGs” and Social Value International are proud to be involved. From encouraging our members to engage with and respond to the public consultation on the SDG Impact Practice Standards to working closely with the SDG Impact team in the development of the assurance model and in training materials for UNDP country offices, Social Value International are supporting the rollout and the adoption of the standards.  

In a recent blog by Social Value Internationalannouncing the strategic partnership with UNDP, Chief Executive of SVI Ben Carpenter said “The Practice Standards are a vital addition to the impact management landscape, providing organisations with a robust framework for best practice. This strategic partnership with UNDP solidifies our alignment in thinking and allows us to support the rollout and adoption of the standards”; whilst Director of SDG Impact, Elizabeth Boggs Davidson, said: “The SDG Impact Standards provide a common language and best-practice guidance for integrating impact management into business, investment practices and decision-making. SVI’s expertise in the design of a customized training program on the Standards for UNDP Country Offices and its support to the assurance framework and curriculum design for assurers will all help to drive wide-spread adoption of the Standards.”

We strongly encourage our members and our global community to engage with and adopt the SDG Impact Standards – especially as the standards drive convergence to The Principles of Social Value and can provide additional guidance in how to operationalise them. It is now, more important than ever that the SDGs are embedded into our thinking, as countries, as organisations and as individuals. From the progress report, we know that we are off track to reach most of the Goals that the world agreed to achieve by 2030. But we are certain that when we join the SDG and social value movements together, we will be better equipped to face the challenge at hand. 

Written by: 
Charlotte Osterman (Social Value UK & Pax Tecum Global Consultancy) and Rebecca Harvey (Social Value International) 

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