Center for China and Globalisation, Wednesday 24 June
Enhancing multilateralism to collectively achieve the Sustainable Development Goals
Discussion 2: Shared responsibility, shared future: the way forward for SDGs
Greetings and thank you for inviting me. I wanted to use the few minutes I have to discuss the new status of the SDGs, and why COVID-19 makes these goals more urgent, not less.
In 2019, when the UN announced the decade of action for the SDGs, Asia and the Pacific was not on track to achieve any of the 17 goals by 2030, without drastically accelerated actions.
And that was before COVID-19 shook the world. This Pandemic is a wake-up call. It laid bare the vulnerabilities and inequalities created by current growth models, and in many cases, is deepening them. Following COVID-19’s triple blow to incomes, health and education, UNDP’s latest estimates show human development regressing for the first time in 30 years.
Yet, COVID-19 is also an opportunity for transformation – as countries begin to recover, or plan for recovery, there is a chance to change the trajectory of human development for the better. The world that emerges post-COVID-19 will be very different from the one before it; how we adapt will determine our future, and the future of our planet.
Build back better
To build back better, many areas must be simultaneously addressed – from ensuring that social protection systems include everyone, to channelling private and public finance towards the SDGs.
In the interest of time, I want to highlight one – the low carbon transition – to avert another crisis waiting to happen, that would make COVID-19 pale in comparison.
Focus on low carbon transition
Climate change is more critical than ever. It can unleash ancient diseases trapped in ice, even deadlier than COVID-19. Melting permafrost has, for example, returned anthrax to Siberia in recent years. Entire nations could vanish beneath rising seas. By 2030, over 120 million people could enter climate-induced poverty. And by the end of this century, deadly heatwaves could leave much of China’s most fertile land uninhabitable.
To prevent future crises, we must shift to a low-carbon economy, now. The world has already proven that a “new normal” is possible during the immediate COVID-19 response, with many changes – like working from home, and taking conferences on Zoom like this – also protecting the environment.
Yet beyond changing our practices, we must accelerate sustainable policies and investments. Investing Green makes economic and bottom-line sense. Greening energy systems could add $98 trillion to global GDP by 2050, with healthcare savings eight times the cost of investment. It could also quadruple renewable energy jobs to 42 million globally in the next 30 years.
Already, China’s new jobs in renewables outnumber those created in oil and gas. Last year, China invested more than $80 billion in green energy, remaining the dominant renewable energy investment location since 2013.
However, more can be done: China still accounts for around 20% of global emissions.
How to accelerate the transition
China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) is set to focus more on clean energy and cutting carbon emissions.
This can be a powerful vehicle to galvanise greener investments, by adhering to sound environmental standards, moving away from carbon-intensive infrastructure projects and boosting sustainable investments.
A “new normal” is also cheaper: if China uses the most cost-effective renewable energy resources, it could generate more than 60% of its electricity from “non-fossil” sources by 2030, costing around 10% less than today.
China can also support sustainable development globally, by further mobilizing capital flows for green projects, upgrading infrastructure, improving connectivity and strengthening value chains to support the green economy, at home and abroad. Its cooperation with UNDP and partner countries in these areas demonstrates China’s willingness to share its experiences and resources in order to do so.
COVID-19 presents an invaluable opportunity to push for a more inclusive, sustainable future, in the spirit of the SDGs: a planet that can support everyone, and where all people benefit from development. This will also strengthen resilience against future shocks.
In the post-COVID-19 world, sustainability must shift from being a side effect of temporary practices, to a clear objective in itself. This must be at the centre of our recovery; because there is no more time to lose to safeguard life on earth. Thank you.