Sustainability in the Time of Corona
There has been a significant buzz around the healing of nature ever since the global lockdown began in March 2020. While the Air Quality Index has improved with about 8% global decrease in CO2 emissions (International Energy Agency Report), we assumed that ‘nature was healing’.
However, the ground reality differs. Many Sustainable Development Goals are being compromised for the sake of the economy.
What are Sustainable Development Goals?
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 global goals set by the UN, to be adopted by economies to balance social, economic and environmental sustainability in their development outcomes.
Today, we look at a few such underlying goals which are being overlooked by policymakers and businesses in the face of the ongoing pandemic.
SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
Government waste management systems are currently not equipped for the new wave of COVID-19 waste — single-use plastics, surgical masks, PPE kits and other hazardous bio-medical waste. This mounting garbage could be going into our oceans and lands as we read this.
SDG 7: Climate Action
Large states are relaxing their environment regulations to come out of the current economic limbo. The USA, for example, has lowered its fuel efficiency standards for new vehicle purchases in the state. China has temporarily suspended environmental standards for small businesses to boost economic recovery. All these could speed up the impacts of climate change that we experience every day.
SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities
Due to the pandemic, India had to make the shift to online education. 3/4ths of the students in India do not have access to the internet at home. These students have not been able to study or take exams for over 4 months. This feeds into the existing vicious cycle of poverty for them and their future generations. Globally, 60% of children are not getting an education due to COVID-19 closures.
Global lockdowns add to other social inequalities as well. People have unequal capacities to follow and sustain regulations such as lockdowns; the unorganized job sector and the marginalized communities are the worst affected. An MRD report quotes an estimated job loss of 40 million people in the country, mostly in the unorganized sectors, leaving these people with little to no means of sustenance.
SGD 17: Partnerships for the Goals
As the pandemic leads us towards more isolated economies with restricted border movements and international migration, the spirit of multilateralism is shrinking. Take the case of visa restrictions for international students in the USA, brought about to increase job opportunities for residents — such restrictions affect access to a variety of shared resources.
Finding the Balance
It is easy to dust away issues around the environment, inequality and shared responsibilities in the struggle for recovery. However, we must understand that without societal and environmental health, we cannot achieve economic prosperity. An effective Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) policy, which has been in talks of late, could mark the first step towards this balanced recovery for India.