World leaders issued a political declaration warning they are not on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030. The world leaders came together to evaluate progress – or lack thereof – towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed in 2015 as central part of the 2030 Agenda.
The alarm is sounding as the world has already reached the midpoint in the timeline to achieve development for all by 2030.
Many global events and crisis have contributed to the slowing in the progress towards the SDGs. The billing of this year’s SDG summit as a ‘global rescue plan‘ reflects the urgent need for ambitious action to drive progress across the SDGs.
According to reports, the world is on track to achieve only 15% of the 17 SDGs on time.
Progress on eight SDGs is even going backwards.
- Half a billion people are on course to remain in poverty in 2030.
- Nearly 100 million children will be out of school and last year, 735 million people faced acute hunger.
- Poverty eradication, gender equality, education and hunger all faced setbacks amid several global crises.
Movendi International analysis shows how alcohol impedes progress across these goals: alcohol fuels poverty, gender inequality, undermines academic achievement and quality education, and contributes to hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition.
Need for finance to rescue the SDGs
According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, finance is key in implementing the rescue plan to save the SDGs. As finance is the lifeblood of the SDGs, many developing countries are being kept from achieving them because these countries cannot access the trillions of dollars necessary to carry out crucial reforms. Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley raised a key point on how the necessary projects could be financed, according to Health Policy Watch.
I accept that there may not be enough public money, and to that extent, how do we mobilise money?
The major multinational corporations have balance sheets that dwarf and miniaturise the majority of countries in this room. We have to find a way of them contributing to the financing of global public goods.”Mia Mottley, Prime Minister, Barbados
Global hunger takes centre stage
Global hunger took centre stage in the warning as a stirring example of the lives affected by the failure to achieve the SDGs. The world is currently set to fall 600 million people short of its goal of ensuring not a single person goes hungry. 2.4 billion people, 30% of the global population, did not have constant access to food in 2022.
In our world of plenty hunger is a shocking stain on humanity and an epic human rights violation. It is an indictment that millions of people are starving in this day and age,” said UN Secreatry-General Antonio Guterres, as per a UN press release.Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations
Alcohol fuels hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition
Hunger and food insecurity in the world is one major SDGs problem fueled by alcohol, as Movendi International analysis shows.
Alcohol tends to crowd out other more productive household spending, for example on education, health care, and healthy food. This seriously erodes the human potential of those affected. This is especially true of families affected by alcohol use disorder and in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs).
Alcohol is a major obstacle to development
In fact, alcohol use is identified as a major contributor to disease in UN initiatives such as the SDG Agenda and the NCD Action Plan. As a result, levels of alcohol use serve as an official indicator of progress towards these UN-set goals. Given current trends, UN targets for reduced alcohol consumption are unlikely to be met in time as well.
A landmark study revealed in 2020 that given current trends, UN targets for reduced alcohol consumption will not be met. Moreover, in many countries, especially in low- and middle-income countries, the alcohol-attributable burden of disease continues to increase.
The potential of alcohol policy to help reach the SDGs
At a moment when the need for finance is cited as a key challenge in achieving the SDGs by 2030, it it is important to revisit the potential of alcohol policy in helping the world reach its targets. For example, peer-reviewed research by the Copenhagen Consensus Center studied 30 interventions for their cost-benefit results in mitigating non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and their risk factors, such as alcohol. NCDs, such as cancer, and their risk factors, are the biggest cause of death and disease in the world. The researchers found that intersectoral policies often provided great value for money.
The study concluded that there are several cost-beneficial opportunities to tackle NCDs. In countries with very limited resources, the best-investment interventions tackle the major NCD risk factors, especially tobacco and alcohol. This would help increase health system capacities, with benefits continuing to accrue well beyond 2030.
The Copenhagen Consensus Center found that each dollar spent on alcohol policy development will deliver $76 of social benefits. And an alcohol tax increase alone can generate large social benefits at $53 in return for each dollar invested.
These findings are key in helping finance global health and development goals in a timely and sustainable manner.
Promoting development through alcohol policy
Alcohol policy also presents a source of finance for countries struggling to fund projects to achieve the 17 SDGs. The Copenhagen Consensus think tank together with several Nobel laureates and more than a hundred leading economists worked to identify where each policy dollar can do the most good over a period of many years.
Alcohol policy and alcohol taxation in particular are among the top options for governments.
The recent NCD Countdown Collaborators (early 2022) report also identified 30 cost-effective interventions to reach the SDGs quickly and efficiently. Prioritizing these win-win solutions is a unique opportunity to get back on track towards the SDGs.
Findings from WHO indicate that the price tag for scaled-up implementation of a core set of NCDs “best buy” interventions is comparatively low.
Investing just US$1 in the implementation of the three alcohol policy Best Buys generates a return on investment of more than US$8 – the second biggest return on investment among all NCDs best buy interventions.
Population-based measures for reducing tobacco and alcohol use, as well as unhealthy diet and physical inactivity are estimated to cost US$ 2 billion per year for all LMICs – less than US$ 0.40 per person.
How governments fail to utilize the potential of alcohol policy solutions in achieving SDGs
Health and well-being are at the heart of the United Nations Agenda 2030. Reducing the consumption of alcohol is a pre-requisite to achieve the SDGs given its health, social, environmental, and economic burden. However, a review of how selected European countries have considered and used alcohol policy in their efforts reveals disappointing results.
An analysis of their voluntary national reviews (VNRs) delivered to the United Nations yielded shocking results:
- Nine countries (28.1%) did not mention alcohol in their report.
- Only eight countries (25%) mentioned one or more of the alcohol policy best buys among the actions they are taking to reduce alcohol related harm and only three (9.3%) explicitly elaborated on their impact on goals other than goal 3.
- Only five countries referred to the agreed indicator 3.5.2 measuring alcohol per capita consumption in the adult population.
The alcohol policy best buys have enormous potential for achieving the SDGSs. However, the number of countries that considered the effects of the alcohol policy best buys in their VNRs is very low. This shows that there is much more potential for countries to drive progress across the SDGs by making full use of the alcohol policy best buys.
Alcohol fuels many of the health and social harms and inequities that the SDGs seek to address.
Some of these are, violence (SDG 5 and 16), inequalities (SDG 5 and 10), economic growth (SDG 8), sustainable consumption (SDG 12), environmental conservation (SDG 13 and 15).
Few countries use a population level approach to alcohol harm. Instead, most countries expect their citizens to take personal responsibility regarding alcohol harm. But as the evidence shows, overlooking population-wide solutions means a missed opportunity to implement highly cost-effective (and in the case of alcohol taxation even domestic resource mobilising) solutions and facilitate transformative change to shift the world on to a resilient and sustainable path.
Accordingly, the proper implementation of alcohol policy has the potential to revive the SDG Agenda by addressing the key challenges it faces. For one, implementation of alcohol policy directly helps countries achieve targets related to 14 out of the 17 SDGs. Additionally, it also helps mobilise the resources necessary to finance the achievement of others.