COVID-19 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

April 19 2021
By Ursula

Preparing a lecture on the topic „Biosafety: gatekeeper for sustainability in biotechnology?“ for the Sustainability and Society course of the University of Zürich, I dived into each of the UN sustainable development goals to learn about latest developments (

To my point of view, biotechnology can and should have an impact in the process of achieving the UN sustainable development goals if biosafety and biosecurity is taken into account.

No country can overcome this pandemic alone. As is stated under the goal N°17, partnerships, global solidarity is not only a moral imperative, it is in everyone’s interests. 

Indeed, it was a very disturbing eye-opener regarding the effect of COVID-19 on the state of achievement of these goals. Here just a few numbers:

N°1 End poverty in all its forms: According to UNDP income losses are expected to exceed $220 billion in developing countries, and an estimated 55 per cent of the global population have no access to social protection.

N°2 Zero hunger: The World Food Programme’s food assistance programme provides a critical lifeline to 87 million vulnerable people across the world. Their analysis of the economic and food security implications of the pandemic outlines the potential impact of COVID-19 on the world’s poorest people. 

N°3 Health: Currently, the world is facing a global health crisis unlike any other — COVID-19 is spreading human suffering, destabilizing the global economy and upending the lives of billions of people around the globe.  The United Nations Development Programme highlighted huge disparities in countries’ abilities to cope with and recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

N°4 Education: In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, a majority of countries announced the temporary closure of schools, impacting more than 91 per cent of students worldwide. By April 2020, close to 1.6 billion children and youth were out of school. And nearly 369 million children who rely on school meals needed to look to other sources for daily nutrition.

N°5 Gender equality: The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could reverse the limited progress that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights.  The coronavirus outbreak exacerbates existing inequalities for women and girls across every sphere – from health and the economy, to security and social protection.

N°6 Clean water and sanitation: The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the critical importance of sanitation, hygiene and adequate access to clean water for preventing and containing diseases. Hand hygiene saves lives. According to the World Health Organization, handwashing is one of the most effective actions you can take to reduce the spread of pathogens and prevent infections, including the COVID-19 virus. Yet billions of people still lack safe water sanitation, and funding is inadequate.

N°7 Affordable and clean energy: 789 million people – predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa – are living without access to electricity, and hundreds of millions more only have access to very limited or unreliable electricity. It is estimated that only 28 percent of health facilities have access to reliable electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, yet energy is critically needed to keep people connected at home and to run life-saving equipment in hospitals.

N°15 Life on land: The COVID-19 outbreak highlights the need to address threats to ecosystems and wildlife. In 2016, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) flagged a worldwide increase in zoonotic epidemics as an issue of concern. Specifically, it pointed out that 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic and that these zoonotic diseases are closely interlinked with the health of ecosystems. “In COVID-19, the planet has delivered its strongest warning to date that humanity must change,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.