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SDGs Report 2021: COVID-19 led to global extreme poverty

The “Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021” highlights the impacts of COVID-19 on SDG implementation and identifies areas that require urgent and coordinated action. The report was launched on the first day of the 2021 session of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

Sustainable Development Goals
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The report is prepared annually by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) using data and estimates in the Global SDG Indicators Database. The Global SDG Indicators Database contains global, regional and country data and metadata on the official SDG indicators. The database uses information from custodians for each SDG indicator, and specifies whether the national data were adjusted, estimated, modelled, or are the result of global monitoring.

The report indicates there has been progress in the availability of internationally comparable data on the SDGs, with the number of indicators included in the global SDG database having increased from 115 in 2016, to around 160 in 2019 and 211 in 2021.

Despite this increase in the number of indicators, the report notes the global pandemic disrupted data operations, such as population censuses, around the world. A survey of national statistical offices indicates about 42% of countries had to postpone censuses scheduled for 2020 or 2021 for at least one year.

In a forward to the report, António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, notes the report’s findings that the global extreme poverty rate rose for the first time in over 20 years, 119 to 124 million people were pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020, and an additional 101 million children have fallen below the minimum reading proficiency level. 

Among the report’s findings are the following:

  • SDG 1: The global poverty rate is projected to be 7% in 2030, which would mean the target on eradicating poverty will be missed;
  • SDG 2: On child malnutrition, 22% of children under 5 are stunted, 6.7% suffer from wasting, and 5.7% are overweight;
  • SDG 3: The pandemic has halted or reversed progress in health and shortened life expectancy;
  • SDG 4: 9% of children in grades 1-8 fell below minimum reading proficiency levels in 2020;
  • SDG 5: On women’s equal participation in decision making, only 25.6% of national parliamentarians are women, 36.3% of local government representatives are women, and 28.2% of managerial positions are occupied by women;
  • SDG 6: 2 billion people lack safely managed drinking water and 3.6 billion people lack safely managed sanitation;
  • SDG 7: 2.6 billion people use dangerous and inefficient cooking systems;
  • SDG 8: The pandemic led to the loss of the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs;
  • SDG 9: The manufacture of medium- and high-tech products fueled the economic recovery in late 2020;
  • SDG 10: In 2020, for every 100,000 persons, 311 are refugees;
  • SDG 11: Only half of the world’s urban population has convenient access to public transport (defined as residing within 500 M walking distance of a bus stop/low-capacity transport system and 1000 M of a railway or ferry terminal;
  • SDG 12: The global “material footprint” increased by 70% between 2000 and 2017;
  • SDG 13: In 202, the global average temperature was at 1.2o C above the pre-industrial baseline;
  • SDG 14: Dead zones (areas of water that lack sufficient oxygen to support marine life) have risen from 400 in 2008 to 700 in 2019;
  • SDG 15: The world has lost 100 million hectares of forest between 2000-2020;
  • SDG 16: Child labour rose to 160 million in 2020, which represents the first increase in two decades; and
  • SDG 17: Nearly half of global population (3.7 billion people) are still not online. 

In addition to the report and the database, an additional resource, the Sustainable Development Goals Progress Chart 2021, provides a snapshot of global and regional progress.

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