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Path steepens to 2030 anti-poverty goals

The U.N.'s annual forum on progress towards its 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 opened with a big challenge made far harder by the pandemic.

The United Nations' annual gathering on progress towards its 17 anti-poverty Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 opened on Tuesday with a massive challenge made incalculably more difficult by the coronavirus pandemic.

The three-day political forum is meant to give an overview of the pandemic's severe impacts on the 17 goals, or SDGs, that comprise the 2030 agenda. Participants also gathered to discuss concrete measures they could take to better deal with the pandemic — and try to get everyone headed in the same direction.

Even before COVID-19 infected millions, killed more than a half million people and shuttered economies around the world, none of the world body's 193 member nations were on track to fulfill the 2030 targets. The pandemic made it all but an impossible feat for officials taking part by videoconference in the annual High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at New York to accelerate progress this decade.

The top 15 countries closest to achieving all 17 SDGs are entirely European, according to rankings contained in a report prepared by independent experts with the New York-based U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, or SDSN, and German private foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung.

The Sustainable Development Report

'All hands on deck'

The meeting kicked off with Norway’s veteran diplomat Mona Juul, president of the U.N.’s 54-nation Economic and Social Council, acknowledging many SDGs remain "out of reach" due to the pandemic.

"This year we must be more ambitious and more innovative than ever before," she said in a speech calling for "all hands on deck" to take on the steepening challenge. Juul has been sounding a similar message since winning election a year ago to lead the United Nations’ top economic and social body.

"All over the world, people are suffering as the pandemic continues to upend lives and livelihoods. The human costs and the economic consequences are staggering," Juul told a high-level meeting on poverty eradication last week.

"With unemployment soaring, investments and remittances falling, and debt mounting, those with the least are — as always — hit the hardest. We may see an increase in global poverty for the first time in thirty years," she said. "The pandemic could almost double the number of people suffering acute hunger. The achievement of the 2030 agenda, its overarching commitment to eradicate poverty, and leave no one behind, is under considerable threat."

As the forum got underway, 47 nations were pledging to carry out voluntary self-assessments of their progress towards fulfilling the SDGs. A report last week found Asian countries have progressed the most on the SDGs since their adoption in 2015, and have responded most effectively to the COVID-19 outbreak.