The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs) was adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action, with two ambitious missions: to end poverty and “achieve sustainable development in its three dimensions - economic, social and environmental - in a balanced and interconnected way".

The concept of sustainable development to which the 2030 Agenda refers is a process aimed at achieving the objectives of improving the overall quality of life of present generations without compromising the overall quality of life of future generations. For this condition to be met, it is essential to ensure an adequate level of intergenerational equity concerning access to resources (reproducible and non-reproducible) and opportunities. This challenge is seemingly utopian but is certainly exciting, difficult and very courageous.

A particularly qualifying element of the strategy adopted by the UN General Assembly is that this challenge is addressed by explicitly placing people at the center of attention. A very clear reference to the notion of human development originally proposed by Amartya Sen and endorsed by the United Nations Development Program (Undp).

A challenge that may appear utopian, but which is certainly exciting and very courageousl

Human development, on the assumption that people are the true wealth of nations, consists in creating an environment in which everyone may realize their full potential and lead a productive and creative life in accordance with their needs and interests.

Consistent with this approach, therefore centered on the binomial human and sustainable development, the 17 SDGs prompt a "supremely ambitious and transformative" vision, as stated in the Introduction to the UN Declaration. These SDGs further divided into 169 targets, are strongly interconnected and as a whole they balance, to varying degrees and proportions, the three main aspects of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental.

Goal 8, which we deal with, mainly but not exclusively, concerns the economic element of "human and sustainable development". It outlines a multi-objective mission, aimed at achieving three fundamental strategic results: (I) establishing higher growth rates, especially in less developed countries, (II) creating employment, focusing mainly on increasing productivity, (III) guaranteeing decent working conditions for all.

Four of the 12 targets pertaining to Goal 8 refer to the aim of encouraging "lasting, inclusive and sustainable economic growth", directed principally towards intervention, also structural, which would operate in terms of supply: (I) increase productivity by focusing on innovation and diversification of production, (II) make banking, insurance and financial services more efficient and inclusive, (III) support the expansion of trade in developing countries, (IV) intervene on the structure of production and consumption in order to contain the trade-off between growth and environmental protection. However, there is a lack of: (I) adequate attention to policies to support domestic demand, which could be supported by infrastructure investment programs or expansion of public spending; (II) sufficient attention to a more balanced distribution of income, possibly pursued through the tax lever.

As regards the intention to create "abundant and productive employment", the basic strategy is to focus above all on the link between growth and employment, with perhaps I might add too little attention given to active labour policies, whose aims should be precisely those of increasing the number of jobs in relation to growth. Among the four targets referring to this end, we note in particular that of "reducing the percentage of young people unemployed and not involved in any study or training cycle by 2030" (the so-called NEETs). However, the most appropriate strategies necessary to achieve this goal - investment in education and training to improve the quality and availability of the human capital of young people - are not indicated here but are instead defined within Goal 4 ("Providing quality, fair and inclusive education, and learning opportunities for all »).

The goal of providing decent work is based on three objectives: (I) "by 2030, guarantee abundant, productive and decent employment, ensuring equal pay and working conditions for all" (8.5), (II) to end, in the world "forced labour and human trafficking, and by 2025 child labour in all its forms" (8.7); (III) protect "workers' rights and promote safe working environments for all" (8.8). A strategy which, as we can see, is realistic and courageous but which however, does not take into account the need to combat undeclared labour, which constitutes a structural factor of precariousness of workers the world over.

With regard to the degree of accomplishment regarding the goals of the 2030 Agenda, several periodic monitoring reports have been developed in recent years. Examples are: the UN Sustainable Development Goals Report (2018); on a regional level the report on Sustainable Development in the European Union - Overview of Progress towards the SDGs in an EU Context (Eurostat); the Sustainable Development Report, (Cambridge University Press).

The data from the Sustainable Development Report shows that overall the Covid-19 pandemic has marked a significant setback. In fact, in 2020, for the first time since 2015, the global index that measures the degree of performance relative to the SDGs decreased in value compared to the previous year, largely due to an increase in the rate of poverty together with unemployment.

Human development consists in creating an environment where everyone may realize their full potential

Unfortunately, Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) is among those goals for which results achieved worldwide have been less than satisfactory, with very slight progress of just 0.8 percentage points until 2019. Furthermore, the effects of the pandemic have slowed down growth enormously with a strong negative impact on the labour market, creating the conditions for the most dramatic increase in global unemployment since the Second World War. This increase is affecting and will affect, in particular, self-employed workers, day workers and those employed in the sectors most exposed to restriction policies, unfortunately significantly compromising the prospects of "abundant, productive and decent employment for all"

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020, published by the UN in 2021, offers more detailed information on this. The annual growth rate of real GDP per capita between 2015 and 2019 remained around 2% in industrialized countries and just over 4% in less developed countries. In 2020, due to the pandemic, there is a reduction of more than 4% globally, with a probable recovery of 4.5% in 2021. An overall figure that is very far from the expected goal of a constant growth in real GDP of at least 7% in the less developed countries indicated in the 2030 Agenda.

In 2020, the pandemic had a devastating impact on global unemployment, which in several areas should have reached an all-time high as a result of the policies adopted. The reduction in working hours was 14% in the second quarter of 2020, equivalent to the working hours of around 400 million full-time workers. Finally, despite some improvements in some countries, the prospect of guaranteeing decent work for all still seems a long way off. With reference, for example to occupational safety, in 9 of the 71 countries with available data, more than 10 work-related fatalities have been recorded for every 100,000 workers since 2010. The same data shows that migrants are exposed to more risks and dangers at work.


Adalgiso Amendola, University of Salerno

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