In September 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and established the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the future global development framework to succeed the Millennium Development Goals, which ended in 2015. UN Secretary-General at the time, Ban Ki-moon, proposed the core spirit of sustainable development as “leaving no one behind,” pledging that the United Nations would free all humans from hunger and poverty. With the collective effort of nations worldwide, this goal had made concrete progress in 2019. Yet, COVID-19, which broke out at the end of 2019 and spread around the world in 2020, has made this seemingly complete tower on the verge of collapsing once again. According to The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021, launched before this year’s High-level Political Forum, the actuation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals has appeared to regress due to the pandemic. For example, in 2020, over 119 to 124 million people suffered from extreme poverty caused by COVID-19, and 70 to 161 million people from hunger. Stressing the obstruction of global development caused by the pandemic, United Nations Economic and Social Council President Munir Akram said in the closing ceremony of the High-level Political Forum held in July 2021, “We must lift the scale of our actions, make them more impactful and targeted, include climate, environmental dimensions, and –again– work together across the globe to leave no one behind.” Thus, we themed this issue as “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Global Sustainable Development Goals,” to discuss the pandemic from different aspects and the measures that can be taken on the path to reach the SDGs.
Firstly, in the article composed by TaiwanICDF Deputy Secretary General Dr. Pai-Po Lee, “Review and Prospect of the High-level Political Forum,” Dr. Lee highlights the key points and results of High- level Political Forum discussions in recent years. However, he also observes that “Compared to the past when emphasis was placed on the role that countries play in the SDGs, regions play an even greater role in realizing the goals.” In the article “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Global Sustainable Development Goals,” research fellow of the Institute of European and American Studies at Academia Sinica, Dr. Cheng-Yi Lin, underlines the influence of the United States on the SDGs under the pandemic, especially in the era of President Biden. In contrast to President Trump’s “America First” policy, the United States has participated more proactively in international affairs. Aside from returning to the Paris Agreement, Biden has also increased foreign aid budgets. In the domain of public health, he has declared that the United States would become “the arsenal of vaccines” for all nations in the fight against COVID-19. The diplomatic policy of the new government, changing from unilateral to multilateral, is expected to have positive effects in advancing the SDGs in the future. However, Dr. Lin also points out that “When a country’s attention is focused on the pandemic and the vaccines, its devotion to SDGs would surely be weakened. Although the United States has gathered other fellow democratic countries to fight against the pandemic, achieving the global SDGs is still a great challenge.”
COVID-19 not only has impacted global economic and public health systems, it has also caused another severe crisis – the limitation to liberty and human rights. Therefore, the CEO of Taiwan’s Doublethink Lab, Min-Hsuan Wu, mentions in “The Global Open Government Partnership in Reaching the Effectiveness of SDGs under the Pandemic: Taking Taiwan’s Experiences as an Example,” that with Taiwan’s experiences in actuating Open Government Partnership initiatives, we can share with the international community how our government’s digital transformation enhanced transparency. Taiwan aims to contribute to the SDGs, and also to extend our diplomatic visibility.
Furthermore, under the development of the pandemic, women have been the invisible victims. For the article “Poverty, Violence, Plague: The Women Living under the Shadow in Latin America,” Professor Lucía Hsiao-Chuan Chen from the Graduate Institute of Latin American Studies in Tamkang University says, “In order to stop the virus of COVID-19 from spreading, nations began to implement border closures, lockdown, quarantine, etc. A lot of companies have been forced to cut down working hours, or even to close. It has not only affected the employees, but also intensified the occurrence of domestic violence.” Under the spread of the pandemic, women are increasingly subjected to domestic violence, and facing constraints to their right to work. Thus, women’s empowerment is crucial to achieving goal 1 “No Poverty” and goal 5 “Gender Equality.”
As the world gradually becomes deficient of its resources, the circular economy has been valued in promoting the SDGs. The monograph on this issue, themed “The Discussion of the Circular Economy in Taiwan under the Pandemic,” is authored by Deputy Director Dr. Chun-Hsu Lin and his research team from the Center for Green Economy of Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research. Dr. Lin shares with readers the recent actuation of recycling in Taiwan and how recycling efforts support the SDGs. In the end of the monograph, Dr. Lin advises to start with environmental diplomacy, creating chains with countries of emerging markets to help them build recycling infrastructures and personnel training. In addition to helping the countries free themselves from the shadow of trash, recycling is also foreseen to motivate progress towards the SDGs.
As for our special report, the issue is titled “The Six Key Points to Accelerate the Progress of the SDGs under the Pandemic,” interviewing the Taiwan Institute for Sustainable Energy Chairman Dr. Eugene Chien, TaiwanICDF Secretary General Amb. Timothy T.Y. Hsiang, TaiwanICDF Deputy Secretary Generals Dr. Pai-Po Lee and Alex L.J. Shyy, Sunnyfounder Co-Founder Hui-Ping Chen, and KPMG Sustainability Consulting General Manager Dr. Niven Huang. During the interview, in addition to sharing the impacts of COVID-19 on the SDGs from their professional perspectives, the interviewees also share the key conductions for reaching the SDGs under the new normal of the pandemic. Moreover, as Taiwan’s professional foreign aid agency, the TaiwanICDF also highlights how in the face of the pandemic, our country has embodied the spirit of “Taiwan is helping” by practicing foreign aid, continually cooperating with the international community bilaterally and multilaterally, fighting the pandemic with the world by sharing our experiences, and extending global partnerships.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the end of 2019, the world has suffered from the huge impact, such as the increase of the population in poverty and hunger, frequency of violence against women, vaccines becoming diplomatic bargaining tools, and especially the frustration of COVID-19 setting back the SDGs. We hope that this issue’s monographs and special report can lead the readers to reflect, under the new normal of the pandemic, how we can fulfill the ultimate goal of the UN of “leaving no one behind” through the practice of foreign aid.