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Pitfalls and progress of SDGs

We all should act now to achieve SDGs by 2030. Photo by Chuttersnap - Unsplash

By: Goh Yoon Chuan, Dr. Mohd. Istajib Mokhtar

Leave no one behind—that defining principle of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a shared promise by every country to work together to secure the rights and well-being of everyone on a healthy, thriving planet. We are just crossing the halfway mark between 2015 and 2030, and there are already indicators that the promise is in peril. The Sustainable Development Goals are fast disappearing in the rear-view mirror, together with the hope and rights of current and future generations. A fundamental shift will be required in terms of commitment, solidarity, financing, and action to put this world on a better path.

One key factor in the delay of achieving the 2030 agenda is the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, which paralyzed the entire world in at least two to three years, depending on how fast these countries’ ability to bounce back from the pandemic remained to be seen. As much as the governments of all countries would hope to stay on course with the 2030 agenda, the pandemic brought us the reality of life and death. All government agencies, including the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the private sector, put aside everyone’s own agenda in saving the world population. Although this pandemic has accelerated the adoption of virtual technology like web meetings, working from home arrangements, food delivery, and many others, overall, it still has an adverse impact on achieving the 2030 agenda. There are however positive aspects to this, as we could see the air and water pollution has been reduced, where aquaculture has shown significant signs of recovery, and people in India can see the Himalayas for the first time in ‘decades,’ as the lockdown eases air pollution.

Not long after the recovery from the pandemic, the world witnessed another self-destructive activity where Russia ‘decided’ to invade Ukraine. Although one could argue that this war only took place in Europe and should not impact the entire world, it is important to point out that Europe plays an integral part of the world’s economy, and any destabilization in the region will have an adverse impact on the 2030 agenda. This is followed by the recent war in the Middle East, specifically the Zionist invasion of Gaza under the same context of protecting herself. Having a second war started before the previous one yet to be officially ended will have the same impact of putting another nail in the 2030 agenda coffin.

It is unfair to continue painting a negative picture of the progress of the 2030 agenda, as many positive actions have been undertaken, especially in SDG 9: – Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation. This is best demonstrated in the Net Zero ambitions that are being adopted by many government and private sectors. Besides large energy companies, there are many other local players in Malaysia working towards this goal with the governance from Malaysian Securities Regulator Incorporates ESG in the updated corporate governance code for all publicly listed companies in Malaysia.

Although with these vast improvements, we should not take things for granted, as mentioned in the quote from António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations: “Unless we act now, the 2030 Agenda will become an epitaph for a world that might have been.”


The authors are from the Department of Science and Technology Studies, Faculty of Science, Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at

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