The COVID-19 pandemic has reversed decades of progress in many developmental areas and aggravated the already-existing gaps in implementing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Measures by countries to recover from the crisis have been varied. These measures, if designed properly and implemented efficiently, can stimulate progress in many pandemic-hit SDG areas, with synergistic effects on other SDGs. However, ignoring the broader sustainability perspectives may further intensify the existing trade-offs, particularly in the environmental domain.
We proposed and applied an SDG interlinkage methodology to assess the impact of COVID-19 and its recovery on the SDGs (Zhou and Moinuddin, 2021). While COVID-19 is a global tragedy, implementing an effective recovery may enhance global resilience and sustainability. This study aimed at contributing to seizing this opportunity in Asia. Using the IGES SDG Interlinkages Analysis methodology, we analysed the impacts of COVID-19 and the implications of the recovery measures for Bangladesh and the Republic of Korea.
Our study found that COVID-19 exposed the vulnerability of individuals, communities, societies, and many global systems such as the global value chains. Between the two countries, the negative shock was more severe in Bangladesh, affecting the livelihood of many. Economic slowdown improved the environmental domain, but only temporarily. The crisis, however, has provided an impetus for innovation in both countries. As for the recovery measures, the focuses of the two countries are different and impacts of these measures are expected to be different as well. Bangladesh prioritised livelihood and economic recovery, but this may intensify some of the existing trade-offs with environmental SDGs and deteriorate biodiversity and ecosystems. In the Republic of Korea, where the focus is more on the Korea New Deal, stimulating progress in some areas such as renewable energy and resource efficiency will help interlinked sectors such as health and basic services.
Amid the growing call for building back better, our interlinkage analysis for the case study countries also demonstrates the significance of resilience building. For example, the poor and marginalised in both countries are vulnerable to the crisis. In Bangladesh, the poor were directly hit by derived impacts: health damage, disrupted agricultural production and food insecurity, school dropouts, interrupted basic services, or losing jobs and incomes. The country’s inadequate social protection system exacerbates the compounding effects of poverty). In the Republic of Korea, the existing regressive trend in poverty elimination will be worsened due to the hit by COVID-19 and through derived impacts: damaged healthcare system, education interruption, and contracted economic growth.
The COVID-19 pandemic suggests that governmental plans and recovery policies should include resilience building to enhance the preparedness for future crises, such as those induced by climate change. The Korean New Deal appears to provide a broader, longer-term framework incorporating resilience building, particularly for building environmental resilience.