Critical goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030 have stalled following the outbreak of COVID-19. The UN Secretary-General, through a 2020 report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notes that the world was making progress on attaining SDGs before COVID-19.
Progress included the decline in global poverty though at a slower pace than desired. Additionally, countries were developing national policies and signing international environmental protection agreements to support sustainable development. The pandemic has, however, reversed these gains. The report notes that the effects and measures to mitigate the spread and exposure to the virus have overwhelmed health systems globally and disrupted global value chains and supply products.
Furthermore, the pandemic has caused businesses and factories to shut down, impacting severely on the livelihoods of half of the global workforce. This is expected to push tens of millions of people back into extreme poverty and hunger. Kenya’s effort to meet the SDGs have indeed slowed down due to the virus. Whilst measures to mitigate the spread of the virus have had a positive effect on public health, they have also put a brake on crucial drivers of economic growth.
The last four months have demonstrated how failure to accelerate the pace towards attaining the 17 goals can have a devastating impact on the economy and society. Additionally, this period has provided a practical lesson on how interconnected the goals are.
One crucial lesson that Kenya must take into account is that 16 SDGs rely heavily on one goal – SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). Accelerating the pace of fulfilling Kenya’s commitment on global goals depends on how fast our economy grows. This requires an environment that promotes investments, job creation and wealth accumulation.
A good starting point would be to understand the role of each stakeholder and how their innovations contribute towards realizing the SDGs. For instance, whilst the current goal is to ensure that business and Kenyans survive the pandemic, supporting SMEs through incentives will accelerate their growth, in turn, create jobs and wealth.
Consequently, we shall have a cascading effect on all other SDGs including, alleviating poverty, reducing inequality and building sustainable cities among others. This calls for all stakeholders, both the private and public sector players, to unite and fast track the realization of the SDGs before the 2030 deadline.
Critical for this is robust institutional frameworks with distinct, yet complementary roles, responsibilities and accountability measures. Kenya has undertaken several initiatives to ensure that the SDGs are achieved, mainly through development and review of relevant laws and policies. However, according to a 2020 SDGs Readiness Report by Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Global Compact Network Kenya and the Office of the Deputy President, several gaps in the SDGs legal framework continue to hinder their optimal attainment.
Lack of an enabling legislative environment for implementation and monitoring was largely attributed to the failure to attain Millennium Development Goals (predecessor to SDGs, which aimed at tackling the indignity of poverty). Therefore, there is a need to create a sustainable legal, institutional, policy and regulatory framework for implementation and monitoring.
The report calls for the enactment of new laws where none currently exists, amendment of the existing laws in tandem with the SDGs and implementation of legislation to deal with various concerns and specific goals. The report also highlights the need for a policy framework that promotes coordinated strategies to avoid haphazard identification of SDG priorities, implementation, evaluation and monitoring. SDGs are universally accepted, more so because they provide opportunities for different industries to create shared value.
Even as we grapple with the current challenges brought upon us by the pandemic, we must not lose the long term focus and mission to achieve the SDGs. This will translate to increased employment, inclusivity, and efficient use of resources by all sectors and citizens.
SDGs also offer Kenya an opportunity to make progress towards its national priorities as spelt out in Kenya Vision 2030. Unlike the predecessor, the SDGs have presented us with a great opportunity to significantly harness the potential of both the public and private sectors.
Let us take advantage of it.