We’re just nine years away from 2030, the year the world aims to have conquered all 17 of the United Nations’ Global Goals and ended extreme poverty. It would be a truly historic accomplishment — but there’s a lot more to do before we’re on track to get there. 

The last year alone — which has been defined by a global pandemic and the world’s response to it — has shown just how important the mission to achieve the Global Goals really is, with increasing numbers of people being pushed into poverty, while urgent actions needed to tackle the climate crisis have not been prioritized

Defeating poverty and defending the planet are key to a more sustainable and equitable world. A world where health care and education are accessible for all; a world where innovative responses to food shortages and climate change take center stage; a world where all voices are heard and nobody is left behind. 

If we don’t act immediately, we’ll move further away from creating this world for future generations. The time to act against climate change and to end extreme poverty is right now. A global pandemic shook the world in 2020, and so it’s crucial that we use 2021 to get back on our feet and push harder than ever to end poverty and tackle climate change. 

Why is it so important in 2021 to push to defeat poverty and defend the planet?

There are several key reasons why now is the world's moment to drive change: 

1. The pandemic has taken the world back several steps on the journey to achieving the UN Global Goals

Progress to achieve the United Nations’ Global Goals — 17 goals that work together to end poverty and its systemic causes — was already stalling before the global pandemic, but it took COVID-19 to really emphasize just how far behind the world is and how necessary it is to take urgent action, with the pandemic highlighting and enhancing existing inequalities.

According to the 2021 Sustainable Development Goals Report (SDG Report), the rate of extreme poverty rose for the first time in 20 years in 2020, with up to 124 million people pushed back into poverty.

The report pointed to some amount of regression in every one of the Global Goals. These include the fact that world hunger increased significantly; the rates of gender-based violence and child marriage (which had been steadily decreasing over the years) are set to increase due to COVID-19; income inequalities have been exacerbated; and inequality in global education is increasing at a rapid rate. 

2. The world is experiencing its worst hunger crisis in at least five years

Hunger and starvation levels have not been this severe since 2016, when hunger saw an increase for the first time in a decade due to some of the worst droughts the world had seen in years, as well as conflict in some regions. 

Lockdowns and restrictions due to the pandemic have resulted in income losses for many, and this has affected food security for millions of people. The pandemic’s effects only added to the hunger crisis the world had been experiencing before COVID-19, where climate change’s impact on food production, and conflict’s impact on access to food were (and continue to be) the main causes of hunger

3. The climate crisis is only getting worse

Since 2019, there has been a surge in climate-related natural disasters and extreme weather events — in the past few weeks alone, we've seen wildfires in Canada, Turkey, and California, extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Europe, and flooding in China, Germany, Belgium, and Afghanistan.

As scientists have warned before and continue to warn now, extreme weather events will only become worse and more frequent unless we take action immediately to curb climate change. 

Although the pandemic temporarily forced the world to slow down, resulting in a decrease in carbon emissions, 2020 is still tied with 2016 as the hottest year on record, and while 2021 will be cooler, it is predicted that it will still make the top 10 hottest years on record

If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the world will not be able to achieve the goal of preventing a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in global warming, a goal set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement in an aim to curb the climate crisis. In fact, as it stands the world is currently set to warm by more than 3 degrees Celsius. 

Each extra degree of warmth could be catastrophic, and would result in extreme weather changes such as persistent heat waves, intense rainfall in certain areas, and severely destructive storms. Continued global warming would also bring about unimaginable changes in the world as we know it: rising sea levels displacing hundreds of millions of people from their homes; absolute devastation of marine life; increasing health crises; widespread famine as a result of extreme weather causing the loss of crops and livestock; and more. 

4. Millions of children have dropped out of school and will never return

The pandemic resulted in 1.5 billion children being affected by school closures all around the world, and at the beginning of 2021, 168 million children had not returned to school, resulting in a significant loss in education. According to the UN, 101 million children will have fallen below the minimum reading proficiency level as a result of the pandemic, wiping out gains made in education over the last two decades.

According to a report by Save the Children, 10 million children may never return to school and this could be detrimental to the future development of countries, with education being a long-term investment into a country’s economy. If children are not educated they are less likely to significantly contribute to their country’s economy in the future, which presents a further barrier in ending extreme poverty.

But schools are a vital support for children across more than just education too, including, for example, school feeding programs that also make sure children can access daily meals.

5. The pandemic has intensified the world’s inequities and has been devastating for marginalized communities

People of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, and the world’s poorest, among other marginalized groups, have been left behind in global development efforts, and are continuously subjected to issues of inequity, justice, and discrimination. As such, marginalized communities are the most susceptible to extreme poverty, and the pandemic has exacerbated that. 

Women have been disproportionately pushed out of the workforce as a result of COVID-19’s economic impacts, they are also experiencing increased domestic violence, and hundreds of thousands of girls are at risk of child marriage

The LGBTQ+ community continues to fight for equal rights and it doesn't help that the pandemic is increasing discrimination levelled against them. Police officers in several countries have targeted LGBTQ+ people using the excuse of enforcing social distancing and stay-at-home orders as a cover, and in South Korea, LGBTQ +people have even been accused of spreading coronavirus. 

The world also bore witness to a reckoning with racial inequality in 2020 following the death of George Floyd, at the hands of white law enforcement. Citizens rallied together as rarely seen before to hold leaders, businesses, institutions, and communities accountable for discriminating against Black people and calling for an end to systematic racism.

The need for justice for people in marginalized communities has never been more clear and, through the power of online advocacy, the voices of citizens demanding justice have never been louder. We need to ensure that as the world moves forward, no one is left behind.

Why is 2021 the moment to make real change happen?

In the wake of the pandemic has come fresh determination from world leaders and citizens alike to end the world’s inequalities, take meaningful action against climate change, and defeat poverty once and for all. 

Now more than ever there has been an unprecedented growth of citizen activism, with a growing population of people calling for urgent change, including on the climate crisis, racial equity, and the impacts of poverty. There is undoubtable strength in numbers and the more citizens call for change, the closer we will be to it.

There has been a significant increase in poverty, hunger, and global warming over the last few years, most specifically in 2020, and if immediate action is not taken, the world will not get back on track to defeat poverty and defend the planet once and for all.

However in 2021 we have incredible access to technology, resources, skills, and knowledge that could provide innovative and applicable answers to the world’s existing issues. All that is needed is determined leadership, advocated political decisions, and funding to make these urgent changes a reality. 

That is why Global Citizen Live, a once-in-a-generation global campaign that will culminate in a 24-hour concert taking place in September, aims to unite everyday citizens, world leaders, activists, leading artists, and more to amplify the call for necessary change.

What needs to happen to get the world back on track? 

The UN’s SDG Report points to collaboration being the answer. World leaders, their governments, businesses, corporations, and industries need to use their COVID-19 recovery plans to simultaneously tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues — such as committing to lower carbon emissions, conserving natural resources, creating employment opportunities, advancing access to education, reducing income inequality, and advancing gender equality.

With the UN’s Food Systems Summit in September, the G20 Summit in October, and the world’s largest climate conference, COP26, in November, 2021 represents a crucial opportunity for global leaders to address poverty, hunger, and climate change. Ahead of these key global moments, the Global Citizen Live campaign will see Global Citizens all around the world raising their voices in a united call to world leaders to take real, determined action to drive change. 

What actions can Global Citizens take? 

You can take action with us now to support the Global Citizen Live campaign, bringing together some of the world’s most influential artists, global leaders, activists, philanthropists, and Global Citizens in a united effort to defeat poverty and defend the planet, to culminate in a 24-hour global broadcast event. 

Just some of the actions you can join us in taking include: calling on world leaders to provide vaccine access for all, which you can do here; telling us in a video what good food means to you, which you can do here to help influence global conversations about food systems; helping to make sure that more women are represented on Wikipedia here; and calling on world leaders by signing this petition to take urgent action against the climate crisis. You can find lots more actions you can take now to support the campaign here

You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defeat poverty and defend the planet by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.

Global Citizen Explains

Demand Equity

Why 2021 Is the Moment to Push to Defeat Poverty and Defend the Planet

By Khanyi Mlaba