Assessing COVID-19 impact on the Sustainable Development Goals

Author: UNDP

UNDP’s flagship study, conducted with the Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver, assesses the impact of three different COVID-19 scenarios on the SDGs, capturing the multidimensional effects of the pandemic over the next decades. The findings show that while COVID-19 can lead to severe long-term impacts, a set of ambitious but feasible integrated ‘SDG investments’ can help the world exceed the development trajectory we were on before the pandemic, even when taking COVID impact into account.

The analysis also includes a special focus on debt-burdened countries, where the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted repayment capacity due to increased crisis spending to support essential sectors like health, education and social safety nets. 

By using scenario modeling, the study shows how governments can make choices today that have the greatest potential to boost progress in the future, within planetary boundaries. This type of analysis can empower governments to turn COVID-19 from a short-term crisis into an opportunity for transformation towards sustainable development in the long-term.

Read the publication

Explore Sections


The study applies the International Futures tools developed by the Fredrick S. Pardee Center at the University of Denver to understand the potential effects of three COVID scenarios:

  • The ‘Baseline COVID’ scenario represents significant pandemic-period increases in poverty and hunger and substantial longer-term negative consequences;
  • The ‘High Damage’ scenario describes a future where the economic damage is worse and recovery is delayed;
  • The ‘SDG Push’ scenario outlines the impact of targeted policy interventions that can accelerate progress towards a more fair, resilient and green future.

SDG Interventions – HOW DO WE GET THERE?

These interventions are ambitious, even radical, and require behavioural changes on all levels of society. Governments must improve their effectiveness and efficiency. Citizens must change consumption patterns in food, energy and water. And the global collaboration on climate change must improve – including on carbon taxes and fossil fuel subsidies. 

Updated Scenarios in 2022

Challenges to SDG attainment and the benefits of SDG push – an update

Under COVID Baseline and High Damage scenario: 
  • In 2030, an additional 47 million and 120 million people, respectively, will still live in poverty as a result of the adverse socioeconomic impact of COVID 19. 
  • Of the additional people living in extreme poverty, half are to be women and girls in both scenarios. 
Future scenarios were updated to reflect the world in 2022: 
  • We can still make choices that outperform the development trajectory in 2019 
  • Gains we can make in term of poverty eradication were diminished from the potential of the SDG push in 2020 
  • Time is of the essence: 
  • Target interventions aligned with an “SDG Push” could decrease the number of people living in extreme poverty by 95.4 and 244 million by 2030 and 2050, respectively. 

The impact on debt-distressed countries 

Not all countries are equally impacted by the pandemic and ongoing food and energy crisis. The number of people in extreme poverty in countries in or at high risk of entering debt distress would be 175 million by 2030 due to the pandemic, an increase of almost 12 million people compared to pre-pandemic projections; this includes 89 million women and girls. Compared to the COVID Baseline scenario, 19.9 million people by 2030 and 63.9 million people by 2050, living in these countries alone could be lifted out of poverty if investments are targeted for the SDGs. The decrease in poverty is considerable for women and girls where up to 11 million could be lifted out of extreme poverty by 2030.