In September 2015 almost all states from around the world, gathering at the United Nations General Assembly, adopted the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, a shared roadmap for a better and more sustainable future for all, addressing global challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity and peace and justice.

The resolution “Agenda 2030: Transforming our World” [1]1 — Advisory Council for the Sustainable Development of Catalonia (CADS) (2016) ‘The 2030 agenda: transform Catalonia, improve the world’. Available online at CADS’ website. is a direct call to governments in order to formulate ambitious responses to facilitate the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030. However, it states that the achievement of the SDG is a responsibility shared with a wide range of actors. Paraphrasing the Charter of the United Nations, the resolution declares that “it is we, the peoples, who are undertaking a global transition to 2030 where governments, parliaments, the United Nations system and other international institutions, local authorities, indigenous peoples, civil society, business and the private sector, the scientific and academic community and the general public must work together”.

The SDG are a roadmap for humanity. They encompass almost every aspect of human and planetary wellbeing and, if met, will provide a stable and prosperous life for every person and ensure the health of the planet [2]2 — “COVID-19 and the SDGs How the ‘roadmap for humanity’ could be changed by a pandemic”. Available online.

The data show progress in achieving some of the SDG over the past few years. By 2018, progress across nations, albeit shy and uneven, reported the benefits of concerted action: for the first time more people lived better than a decade ago, including a nearly threefold reduction in the proportion of working families living under the poverty threshold, and a 50% reduction in under-five children mortality. By 2019, the agenda was further off track, with calls for more steadfast and swift progress in order to meet the SDG by 2030.

However, by 2020, the world is living in a situation of severe climate and environmental emergency, which threatens the present and future of the planet and the millions of people who live on it. Economic and social inequalities -between countries, but also within each of them- continue to grow. As the United Nations points out in its Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020 [3]3 — United Nations (2020). The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020. Report available online. , “improvements such as maternal and child health, expanding access to electricity or increasing women’s representation in government, were offset elsewhere by growing food insecurity, deterioration of the natural environment, and persistent and pervasive inequalities”.

Five years after the adoption of the Agenda 2030 by the United Nations General Assembly, the world is experiencing a health pandemic with deep economic and social impacts, which has caused a disruption to SDG progress

2019 was the second warmest year on record and global temperatures are expected to rise by up to 3.2°C by 2100. Two billion hectares of land on Earth are degraded, affecting some 3.2 billion people, driving species to extinction and intensifying climate change. Over 31,000 species are threatened with extinction. Every day, 100 civilians are killed in armed conflicts. Despite improvements, full gender equality remains unreached. Progress in many health areas continued, but needs acceleration. In short, challenges that the Agenda 2030 should overcome in the decade leading up to 2030.

Five years after the adoption of the Agenda 2030 by the United Nations General Assembly –which coincides with the 75th anniversary of its creation– the world is experiencing a health pandemic with deep economic and social impacts. The COVID-19, which cannot be detached from the global environmental imbalance, has unleashed an unprecedented crisis that has hit all segments of the population (with the world’s most vulnerable being the most affected), all sectors of the economy, and all regions of the world. It has also caused a disruption to SDG progress and in some cases turned back decades of progress.


An agenda for a planetary emergency

Today, human society is in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems. From coral reefs flickering out beneath the oceans to rainforests desiccating into savannahs, nature is being destroyed at a rate that is tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the last 10 milion years. The biomass of wild mammals has fallen by 82%, natural ecosystems have lost about half their area and a million species are at risk of extinction – all largely as a result of human actions.

These messages are included in the Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released in May 2019 by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) [4]4 — IPBES, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (2019). “The global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services”. Report available online. –the first comprehensive intergovernmental biodiversity assessment since the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005 [5]5 — Guide to the Millennium Assessment Reports. Available online. . The report shows evidences about the multiple threats to biodiversity, which have intensified since previous reports, and concludes that the sustainable use of nature will be vital for adapting to and mitigating a dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, as well as for achieving many of our most important development goals.

The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 (GBO-5) published by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in September 2020 [6]6 — The Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO) is a publication by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB). It is a periodic report that gathers the most recent data on the state and trends of biodiversity and draws relevant conclusions for its further application. The GBO-5 is available online. , provides a global summary of progress towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Based on the findings of this report, the CBD Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema stressed that “the rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised. And the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own wellbeing, security and prosperity.”

Furthermore, the GOB-5 calls for a shift away from “business as usual” across a range of human activities and outlines eight transitions that recognize the value of biodiversity, the need to restore the ecosystems on which all human activity depends, and the urgency of reducing the negative impacts of such activity. The report also argues that governments will need to scale up national ambitions in support of the new Global Biodiversity Framework and ensure that all necessary resources are mobilized and the enabling environment strengthened. It emphasizes that countries need to bring biodiversity into the mainstream of decision making and factored into policies across all economic sectors.

Countries should strengthen environmental regulations and adopt a ‘One Health’ approach to decision-making that recognizes complex interconnections among the health of people, animals, plants, and our shared environment

The world is facing an unprecedented crisis in recent History. As recently stated by IPBES [1]1 — Advisory Council for the Sustainable Development of Catalonia (CADS) (2016) ‘The 2030 agenda: transform Catalonia, improve the world’. Available online at CADS’ website. , “future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people if we are not extremely careful about the possible impacts of the choices we make today”. IBPES also remember that recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity and “particularly our global financial and economic systems, based on a limited paradigm that prizes economic growth at any cost”.

Countries should strengthen environmental regulations; adopt a ‘One Health’ approach to decision-making that recognizes complex interconnections among the health of people, animals, plants, and our shared environment; and prop up healthcare systems in the most vulnerable countries where resources are strained and underfunded. As mentioned in the above mentioned IPBES article, “this is not simple altruism – it is a vital investment in the interests of all to prevent future global outbreaks”.

The SDG and partnerships: opportunities for a systemic change

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the unpreparedness of public health systems, the fragility of the economies of many countries and has led to the disappearance of a large number of companies, mass unemployment and a high social cost among those who are worst off. If we also add the problems arising from the climate emergency, it becomes clear that radical reforms are needed to change the prevailing political direction of recent decades. Inevitably, global and regional institutions and governments will have to take a more active role in society, the economy, health and the environment.

Facing a situation unprecedented in our recent history, global institutions have insisted on demanding that the scale of the response must match its scale. No country will be able to emerge from this crisis on its own, nor will any sector have the capacity to do so. Entire societies must come together, and each country must move forward with the public, private and civic sectors, working in partnership from the outset. As the thinker Yuval Noah Harari [1]1 — Advisory Council for the Sustainable Development of Catalonia (CADS) (2016) ‘The 2030 agenda: transform Catalonia, improve the world’. Available online at CADS’ website. called for, the global emergency requires coordinated, decisive and innovative political action by the world’s leading institutions and economies, and maximum financial, scientific and technical support for the most vulnerable. Since its approval, the underlying message of Agenda 2030 is that by advancing a global roadmap shared by all countries it is easier to respond better to crises such as the pandemic.

The key question is therefore how we will act at the start of the recovery phase. Will we return to business as usual? The economic decisions we decide to take during the year 2020 will set the course for international efforts on climate change and biodiversity in the coming decades.

The COVID-19 crisis acts as a catalyst for the transformation of the world in many ways: citizens have accepted unprecedented measures. Is it possible to achieve the same degree of social awareness with Agenda 2030?

However, the renewed commitment of some companies and the new role of public administrations in the management of the crisis also opens up a new possibility to promote a low-carbon transition and encourage models of co-management of resources and natural areas. The COVID-19 crisis acts as a catalyst for the transformation of the world in many ways. Where this change is heading will depend on the consensus and commitment of our societies and their institutions. Citizens have accepted the intervention of governments in the face of the health and economic crisis and have accepted unprecedented measures such as lockdowns and social distancing. Social and collective responsibility has been and continues to be essential in the fight against the pandemic. Facing the challenges of Agenda 2030 requires the same degree of responsibility and urgency. It is pertinent to ask ourselves whether it is possible to achieve the same degree of social awareness with Agenda 2030, or whether governments are capable of acquiring the same degree of determination to avoid the disaster of climate change, the collapse of natural systems and the social crisis. It is also vital to ask the economic and business world whether it will be able to readjust its functioning and objectives taking into account the gravity of the moment.

According to Kemal Dervis and Sebastian Strauss [1]1 — Advisory Council for the Sustainable Development of Catalonia (CADS) (2016) ‘The 2030 agenda: transform Catalonia, improve the world’. Available online at CADS’ website. , major global crises often open up the political path for radical reforms in favour of multilateralism. In this regard they state that there is a clear parallel between the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change: “Both present emergence, path dependence, feedback loops, tipping points and non-linearity. Both involve catastrophic risks ruled by radical uncertainty and require avoiding traditional cost-benefit analysis, which is based on known probability distributions, in favour of drastic mitigation to reduce exposure. Most important, both highlight the need for much closer and more forward-looking international cooperation to manage global threats.”

Both the management of the pandemic and the climate emergency and biodiversity loss will require unusual levels of global cooperation. All three challenges require changes in our daily behaviour in the sake of reducing tomorrow’s suffering. We cannot expect to ‘go back to normal’, because things were not normal before. Could the COVID-19 experience therefore help us to understand climate change, biodiversity loss and the challenges posed by Agenda 2030 in a different way and continue to activate our energies to avoid the worst consequences?

Due to the size, scope and pace of the pandemic, as well as the considerable outflow of capital from developing countries, the United Nations warns that there is a significant risk that the response to the pandemic will take up most of the political capital and limited financial resources and be diverted away from implementing nationally determined contributions to achieving climate, biodiversity and SDG goals. For this reason, it is vital that, in responding to the crisis, countries keep sustainable development goals and climate commitments and halt biodiversity loss in mind in order to sustain the small successes already achieved and, when recovery begins, to make investments that will propel us towards a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient future.

If we want to reduce our vulnerability and build more egalitarian and inclusive societies that are more resilient to pandemics, climate change and the set of challenges we are facing, we already know how to proceed. Since September 2015 we have had a global roadmap for the future approved by all countries: Agenda 2030, with its 17 SDG, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and, as soon as the pandemic allows, the CBD COP 15 must approve the new Post 2020 legal framework for biodiversity. Signatory countries should be determined to advance the implementation of these common commitments, especially on investments in people, health systems and social protection, and seize the opportunity to move towards a greener and more inclusive economy. These goals can and should shape our response and recovery, laying the foundation for resilient people and sustainable societies.

Lessons learned from the first 5 years of Agenda 2030 underline that to overcome the challenges there is an imperative for a systems-wide transformation; tackling the COVID-19 crisis as well as the environmental emergency will require solid international cooperation

The post-COVID world can serve to trigger a unity of purpose in response to our common problems and the problems of the planet. However, for this to be possible, international social and environmental agreements cannot depend on what Nobel Laureate economist William Nordhaus [10]10 — William Nordhaus (2020). “The Climate Club: How to Fix a Failing Global Effort”. Published in Foreign Affairs in the 2020 march/june edition. Available online. called “the free driving syndrome” but require solid international coordination. It is this kind of governance that the world is demanding.

There is an unexpected benefit of the pandemic: the current situation highlights and paves the way to the opportunity. Lessons learned from the first 5 years of Agenda 2030 underline that to overcome the challenges there is an imperative for a systems-wide transformation that has at its core a system thinking approach, with policy solutions that reset and shape social environments, through whole-of-government and society approaches. Structural changes are paramount, to economic activity, mobility, production and consumption patterns, and greener technologies as a centrepiece of economic recovery.

Catalonia’s commitment

In 2016 the Government of Catalonia committed itself to drawing up a national plan for the implementation of Agenda 2030 and to developing an integrated system of objectives and indicators to assess the level of compliance with the SDG. Approved on September 25, 2019 the plan reflects the Government’s commitments to help achieve the SDG and is designed as a dynamic tool to ensure the coherence of policies for sustainable development. The plan took as a reference the report “Agenda 2030: transforming Catalonia, improving the world” [11]11 — Advisory Council for the Sustainable Development of Catalonia (CADS) (2016) ‘The 2030 agenda: transform Catalonia, improve the world’. Available online at CADS’ website. , drawn up by the Advisory Council for Sustainable Development of Catalonia (CADS), approved a year earlier, which identified the challenges that the government had to address in order to meet the SDG.

The commitment of the Parliament of Catalonia is also noteworthy: on November 9, 2018 it approved a motion by which it committed itself to integrating the SDG into its legislative action and urged the government to prioritise Agenda 2030 in the development of its policies and to continue to draw up the plan for Agenda 2030, ensuring the mainstreaming of development and the defence of women’s rights and sexual and gender diversity. The motion promoted accountability to the government through a biannual CADS hearing in Parliament and the presentation of a balance sheet of the degree of achievement of the SDG by members of the government in their periodic hearings in a parliamentary committee.

In response to the mandate given by this same motion, the Government approved in February 2020 the National Agreement for Agenda 2030, drawn up with the active participation of a group of public and private actors who are strongly involved, in a pioneering way, in promoting the achievement of the SDG, with a cross-cutting vision, a desire for transformation and an understanding of the complexity of Agenda 2030. The Agreement [12]12 — National Agreement for Agenda 2030. Generalitat de Catalunya. Available online. defines a shared vision on how to advance in the achievement of the SDG and sets the role and commitment that the different social agents of Catalonia must acquire in order to create “a future that leaves no one behind and does not exceed the carrying capacity of nature”, and “to make Catalonia and the world a better place in 2030”.

In Catalonia, the National Agreement for Agenda 2030 is a nation-wide coalition that is open to all citizens and public and private actors

The Agreement is open to all citizens and all public and private actors willing to join, with specific commitments to meet the SDG, and a large coalition of countries is invited to join Alliance Catalonia 2030 to share information, resources and good practices, as well as to promote initiatives to speed up the achievement of the objectives. The foundations and agreements are on the table, the transformation and the work is still almost all to be done, so will we have the capacity as a country to fulfil the SDG that we have determined to achieve?

Why this monographic volume

As the world begins planning for a post-pandemic recovery, the United Nations is calling on Governments to seize the opportunity to “build back better” by creating more sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies. “The current crisis is an unprecedented wake-up call,” stated Secretary-General António Guterres. “We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future.”

In this context, the Agenda 2030 is more urgent than ever. The progress towards the SDG to date is overwhelmingly slow yet it continues to be an outstanding framework for action, where the whole International Community has the opportunity –and the responsibility- to contribute to it. It is in this context that The Centre for Contemporary Studies and CADS want to join the shared efforts of the International Community within the framework of the Decade of Action for the SDG by launching a special issue of the IDEES journal devoted to the Agenda 2030.

Over the next months, this monograph will offer different approaches and reflexions in order to set how to speed up the path towards sustainable development.

  • REFERENCES

    1 —

    Advisory Council for the Sustainable Development of Catalonia (CADS) (2016) ‘The 2030 agenda: transform Catalonia, improve the world’. Available online at CADS’ website.

    2 —

    “COVID-19 and the SDGs How the ‘roadmap for humanity’ could be changed by a pandemic”. Available online.

    3 —

    United Nations (2020). The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020. Report available online.

    4 —

    IPBES, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (2019). “The global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services”. Report available online.

    5 —

    Guide to the Millennium Assessment Reports. Available online.

    6 —

    The Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO) is a publication by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB). It is a periodic report that gathers the most recent data on the state and trends of biodiversity and draws relevant conclusions for its further application. The GBO-5 is available online.

    7 —

    IPBES, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (2020). “IPBES Guest Article: COVID-19 Stimulus Measures Must Save Lives, Protect Livelihoods, and Safeguard Nature to Reduce the Risk of Future Pandemics”. Available online.

    8 —

    Yuval Noah Harari (2020). “The world after coronavirus”. Published in Financial Times on March 20, 2020. Available online.

    9 —

    Kemal Derviş, Sebastián Strauss (2020). “What COVID-19 Means for International Cooperation”. Published in Project Syndicate on March 6, 2020. Available online.

    10 —

    William Nordhaus (2020). “The Climate Club: How to Fix a Failing Global Effort”. Published in Foreign Affairs in the 2020 march/june edition. Available online.

    11 —

    Advisory Council for the Sustainable Development of Catalonia (CADS) (2016) ‘The 2030 agenda: transform Catalonia, improve the world’. Available online at CADS’ website.

    12 —

    National Agreement for Agenda 2030. Generalitat de Catalunya. Available online.

Puri Canals

Puri Canals

Puri Canals Ventín is advisor at the Advisory Council for Sustainable Development of the Government of Catalonia (CADS) and holds a PhD in Biological Sciences. She obtained her Degree in Biology from Universitat de Barcelona in 1986 and, since then, she has worked in various fields of study related to biological sciences with a social commitment in environmental issues such as the conservation of nature. She works as a lecturer at Universitat Rovira i Virgili. Since 2009, she is the president of the Mediterranean Network of Marine Protected Areas (MedPAN). Between 1994 and 2010, she was also the president of the DEPANA, Lliga per la Defensa del Patrimoni Natural (League for the Defense of Natural Heritage) and vice-president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In 2020 she was awarded with the Creu de Sant Jordi award.


Angel_Castiñeira

Àngel Castiñeira

Àngel Castiñeira is professor at the Department of Society, Politics and Sustainability from ESADE. He is also the director of the ESADE Center for Leadership, a centre for thought and applied research that acts as a forum for dialogue between organisations and participants who assume in a committed and responsible manner the challenges of governing a global and local world. Castiñeira holds a PhD in Philosophy and Educational Sciences from the University of Barcelona and his main fields of study are social and political philosophy, as well as geopolitical thought, applied ethics and values, changes in the social and cultural environment and democratic governance. He was the director of the Center for Contemporary Studies for six years (1998-2004). His most relevant publications are Catalunya com a projecte (2001), Societat civil i estat del benestar (2002), Catalunya, reptes ètics (2006) and Immigració a estats plurinacionals: el cas de Catalunya (2007).


Eva Jané Llopis

Eva Jané Llopis is the director of Health and Sustainable Development in ESADE and CADS adviser since 2019. She holds a PhD in Social Sciences and a Masters in Global Leadership. She directed several programs related to Health in the World Economic Forum and has a career of more than 20 years in international senior positions in organisations such as the WHO, Maastricht and Nijmegen universities, CAMH Toronto and the World Economic Forum. She is a consultant to international organisations like the WHO and the European Commission, where she takes part in the Multisectorial Platform on SDG. She has leaded international research projects and think tanks and authored more than 80 publications in scientific magazines and books.


Arnau Queralt i Bassa

Arnau Queralt i Bassa

Arnau Queralt is director at the Consell Assessor per al Desenvolupament Sostenible de Catalunya (CADS) from the Ministry for Foreign Action, Institutional Relations and Transparencyt of the Government of Catalonia. Since January 2015 he is the president of the Xarxa Europea de Consells Assessors en Medi Ambient i Desenvolupament Sostenible (EEAC). He is a member of the executive board of Xarxa Mediterrània d’Experts en Canvi Climàtic i Ambiental (MedECC), has been a member of the executive and academic board at Instituto Universitario de Estudios Europeos and has also been the president of the Col·legi d’Ambientòlegs de Catalunya. He has a degree in Environmental sciences from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, a masters degree in Public Management from the Government and Management Interuniversitary Program (ESADE, UAB and UPF) and a diploma in European Affairs from the Spanish Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic School and the Catalan Pro Europe Patronate, where he was former director.


Pere_Almeda

Pere Almeda

Director of the Centre for Contemporary Studies of the Government of Catalonia and of the IDEES magazine. Jurist and political scientist,he works as an associate Political Science professor at the University of Barcelona. He has been advisor of the European Parliament and has served as coordinator of the Catalunya Europa Foundation and the project Fight against inequalities: the great global challenge.