The achievement of the SDGs can be a great starting point towards resilient and sustainable development
Pakistan has recently seen one of the worst monsoons in its history exacerbated by the impacts of climate change, causing flash floods across provinces.
The impacts of climate change are visible in the historic heat waves sweeping through Europe and Great Britain which have never had to deal with such high temperatures and are ill equipped to deal with them both in terms of infrastructure and cultural practices.
The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) 2022 Report on the status of SDG progress and a possible future roadmap indicates that the SDG index world average is stagnant at 66, making this the second consecutive year that the world has not made progress on the SDGs.
In fact, the average SDG Index score slightly declined in 2021, which can be explained in part in terms of problematically slow and even downright non-existent recovery in the particularly marginalised and vulnerable parts of the world, i.e., the low- and middle-income countries, and countries disproportionately vulnerable to climate change. Pakistan happens to fall in both categories. It ranks 125 out of 163 on the SDGs index with a score of 59.3 against the regional average of 65.9.
Food security seems impacted amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict which has impacted global commodity prices. For Pakistan, this has burdened an already struggling economy with rising fuel and commodity prices combined with the rising political uncertainty.
It is easy to see that these crises and pressures have diverted the much-needed policy attention and priorities away from medium- and long-term goals, such as the realisation of the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement 2015 and of course, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) towards reducing carbon emissions.
Pakistan submitted its revised NDCs on the eve of the COP26 held in Glasgow in November 2021 with some ambitious targets for carbon reduction by 50 percent until 2030 – 15 percent from the country’s resources and 35 percent depending upon international climate finance support.
However, Pakistan is not alone in this regard. Much of the world’s attention is similarly diverted and the SDSN report calls for a global return to focus on these issues as the SDGs are not mere paper commitments but real time humanitarian and development goals that focus on social inclusion, clean energy, responsible consumption and production and universal access to public services; all of which are needed more than ever to respond to the major challenges of our times, including security crises, pandemics and the ever-present spectre of climate change.
Pakistan adopted the SDGs as its official development agenda through a joint resolution of the parliament in 2016 and set up SDGs Units both at federal and provincial levels. The country has selected 193 out of 247 indicators for national reporting leaving 54 due to either non-availability of data or non-relevance to Pakistan.
Currently, the country is reporting 133 priority indicators. In 2018, the government developed the National SDG Framework which prioritises and localises the 17 SDGs. Government ministries and line departments, as well as NGOs were asked to prioritise the SDGs in their programming and to report their achievements in the SDGs format.
Pakistan prioritises the 17 SDGs into three categories; Category 1 goals require immediate attention to achieve rapid results and help expedite achieving goals in categories 2 and 3. The Category 1 includes: SDG 2 (No Hunger), SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), SDG 4 (Quality Education), SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions).
Category 2 includes SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 5 (Gender Equality), SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals). Category 3 includes SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 14 (Life below Sea) and SDG 15 (Life on Land).
In a recent discussion, the climate change director agreed that while the SDGs are a great guideline for achieving sustainable development, we need to act and prepare beyond 2030. This can only be accomplished by realigning our policy priorities towards achieving the current SDG targets and planning beyond 2030.
He appears to be right in terms of futuristic thinking but the policy makers should keep in mind that Pakistan lags behind much of the SDG targets and indicators due to resource constraints, targetted policy deficit and implementation on the SDGs as the country’s own targets. Further, there is a need to align development work with the SDGs targets and indicators.
A major gap in Pakistan’s SDG progress is data collection and monitoring. As much as 3 percent data seems missing for being unreported or non-existent. The Covid-19 pandemic and the deadly monsoons have shown that we can no longer rely on traditional methods of data collection and monitoring alone.
We must use technology, data systems and innovative methods to ensure availability of timely and high quality data to monitor the impacts of any situation or crisis in real time and inform policy intervention at international and national levels. A significant investment in data sciences, research and development and capacity building of the current and future workforce for data collection and analysis is needed.
Not everything is doom and gloom. Pakistan’s overall progress on the SDGs index score increased from 52.95 in 2015 to 63.10 in 2020, i.e., 19.2 percent from the baseline of 2015. The country made significant progress, 28.2 percent from the baseline in short-run goals which include Goal-2: zero hunger, Goal- 3: good health & wellbeing, Goal-4: quality education and Goal-16: peace, justice, and strong institutions. Even so, progress on two short-run goals, i.e., Goal-7: affordable and clean energy and Goal-8: decent work and economic growth remains unsatisfactory.
Apart from policy prioritisation at the upper echelons, another avenue of progress that Pakistan can utilise is its often-underutilised youth. Mobilisation and capacity development of youth on climate action and sustainable consumption and production and achieving sustainability can be a viable strategic intervention.
Well-informed youth can lead debate on climate action and sustainability in line with relevant SDGs among communities and stakeholders and on social media platforms. They can promote sustainable consumption and production in all spheres of life. This is a leading issue on the debate on realising SDGs for climate action and sustainability.
As peer mobilisers, the youth can motivate fellow youth to play their role in local actions for conservation in the interest of reducing impacts of climate change, especially from floods. The achievement of the SDGs can be a great starting point towards resilient and sustainable development
The writer holds an MSc degree in international development from the UK. He works as a research associate at the Resilient Development Programme, SDPI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org