The Impact of COVID-19 on the Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in Cyprus

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Theocharis Michail, Antonis Foukaras, Alexandra Taylor, Andreas Georgiou, Charalambos Vrasidas, Marinos Papaioakeim

CARDET

In 2015, 193 United Nations Member States, including Cyprus, adopted the monumental new agenda entitled "Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development". Cypriot Civil Society perceived this moment as a forceful declaration of intent and a developmental strategic shift in Cyprus' development policy.

Cyprus' first voluntary national review (VNR) for the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) was published in 2017. It states that while public awareness of the goals may be limited, Cyprus addresses most SDG indicators with various degrees of achievement and urgency. Cyprus did not fully subscribe to the SDG framework due to the economic crisis faced by the nation. The Cypriot Government focused on improving socio-economic spheres through its traditional growth strategy and through the automatic mechanisms of European legislations. As such, the environmental sphere was overlooked.

As acknowledged in the 2021 VNR, the issues outlined in the 2017 VNR have received mixed attention. There has been an apparent trade-off between an unrestrained focus on growth policies and an observable deprioritisation of SDGs such as:

  • 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
  • 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 10: Reduced Inequalities
  • 13: Climate Action
  • 15: Life on Land
  • 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

Delays in setting up a coordinating government body for the SDGs have stalled improvements. A much-awaited, positive development occurred when the Directorate General for European Programmes, Coordination and Development (DG EPCD) was assigned with the responsibilities, staff, and strategic vision dedicated to the SDGs.

In addition to government bodies, the other intended practitioner of the SDGs in Cyprus is Civil Society. Both formal CSOs and emerging grassroots movements have increased the utilisation of EU funds related to the breadth and depth of the SDGs, notably focusing on anti-corruption and environmental activism.

Cypriot Public Policy had to shift from responding to the economic crisis to responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the devastation caused, the urgent need for action has re-invigorated and re-energised the government. Progress has been evident as the government has explored the possibility of e-governance, actively began communicating with the public, as well as improving structural support such as online education and remote work.

This report examines the impact of Covid-19 on Cyprus' progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), capturing the expected multidimensional effects of the pandemic over the coming years on the following SDGs:

  • 2. Good Health and Well-being
  • 10. Reduced Inequalities
  • 13. Climate Action

These three SDGs may have received less support in previous years but require reprioritisation, particularly due to the pandemic. Unprecedented rates of isolation due to national lockdowns have exacerbated domestic violence, affecting SDG 2, an issue that has yet to be adequately addressed. Loss of income and a worsening refugee crisis have negatively affected SDG 10, although the government has responded to the former issue. Although societal awareness and desire for action has increased for SDG 13, this goal has been deprioritised, pushing grassroots organisations to lobby for climate action and environmental protection.

SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being

According to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), SDG 3 in Cyprus has improved. However, certain challenges remain current, as explained in the Europe Sustainable Development Report (SDSN and IEEP, 2020). According to this report, Cyprus scores around 80% for SDG 3, significantly above the EU average. This also makes it one of the country's top 3 SDGs. Cyprus performed very well in most aspects related to SDG 3. The country ranked among the top-performing EU countries for factors such as life expectancy, suicide rates (per 100,000 population), and mortality rate for under-5 (per 1,000 live births).

However, Cyprus ranked poorly for some factors such as the gap in self-reported health by income, the gap in self-reported unmet need for medical examination and care, and in the share of total health spending financed by out-of-pocket payments. This is particularly concerning as it indicated the growing health inequality gap between people from higher and lower socio-economic backgrounds.

In an attempt to combat health inequalities, the Government implemented the biggest health sector reform Cyprus has ever seen. Although the legislation was passed in 2011, it was not until 2020 that the General Health System (GESY) was made fully operational (Cyprus Mail, 2017). GESY provides free healthcare to all citizens, minimised health inequalities.

Regarding Covid-19, Cyprus has launched a National Vaccination Plan and secured a sufficient amount of vaccines for all citizens for all four vaccines approved by the EU: AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Moderna (the Republic of Cyprus, 2020). The vaccination rate has been similar to most EU countries, which also faced a delay in commencing the vaccination process. As of July 1st, 2021, 50.2% of the population has completed their vaccination dosages, while 64.6% has received at least the first dose (Press and Information Office, 2021). This is satisfactory but must increase for Cyprus to achieve immunity at a national level.

SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities

SDG 10 includes ten sub-targets including: reducing income inequalities, as well as inequalities based on age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or any other status within a country. SDG 10 also addresses inequalities among countries, including those related to migration and development assistance (UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, 2021).

According to the United Nations, Covid-19 has worsened existing inequalities, affecting the poorest and most vulnerable communities the most. A vicious cycle has become apparent, whereby economic inequalities and fragile social safety nets have left vulnerable communities to bear the brunt of the pandemic, while social, political, and economic disparities have been amplified due to Covid-19 (UN, N.D.).

The Directorate-General for European Programmes, Coordination and Development of Cyprus recently published the second voluntary National Review of Sustainable Development Goals, which provides an outline of the development and the remaining challenges in completing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) paying special emphasis to the challenges aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic (Republic of Cyprus, 2021).

Income Equality: The 2011-2013 financial crisis was one of the main reasons for income inequality in Cyprus. However, the income inequality gap decreased during 2014-2018. According to the latest data, Cyprus is ranked 15th among EU member states in regards to the purchasing power adjusted GDP per capita, and 11th in adjusted gross disposable income of households per capita.  Additionally, it is 16th in the income share of the bottom 40% of the population, and 4th in the relative median at-risk-of-poverty gap. The Cypriot average is 16% while the EU average is 24.5% (Republic of Cyprus, 2021: 79-81).

The pandemic is expected to intensify income inequalities in Cyprus. To this end, the government has already taken several actions, including implementing wage and social protection policies and enforcing the Equality Law. The government has provided financial assistance through 14 schemes such as wage compensation for affected employees and the unemployed, including the self-employed, working parents, and employees in small businesses and businesses, which had to suspend their operations totally or partially (Republic of Cyprus, 2021). The 2020 support package for employees, the self-employed, vulnerable groups, and businesses amounted to €2.6 billion.

Gender Equality: According to the Gender Equality Index 2020, Cyprus ranks 21st in the EU with a score of 56.9. Its score is 11 points lower than the EU's score of 67.9 (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2020). Cyprus's score has increased since 2017 and its position has improved by six places. According to EUROSTAT, Cyprus ranks last amongst the EU-28 regarding women's participation in administrative and managerial positions. Based on the 2018 data, the percentage of women in management positions is only 19%, while the EU average is 37%. The share of women in the boards of listed companies is only 9%, while the EU average is 28% (Forodari and Demosthenous, 2021).

Equality in Social Inclusion of Non – EU Citizens: Cyprus ranks 11th in the percentage of non-EU early leavers from education and training, with 25.7% relative to the EU's 26.9%. The country ranks 13th in the percentage of young people neither in employment nor in education and training, at 22.1% relative to 24.2% in the EU, and 11th in the employment rate, with 68.9% relative to 60% in the EU (Republic of Cyprus, 2021: 52).

Equality in Health Care Provision: As mentioned in the section on SDG 3, Cyprus introduced a national health system which has been fully operational since 2020. This system covers the entire population and provides access to outpatient and inpatient care. Beneficiaries of the new system are all Cypriot and European citizens, third-country nationals with permanent residence status (or having acquired the right of equal treatment as defined by the national legislation), their dependent family members as well as refugees and persons under subsidiary protection. The income criteria of the previous system as well as other prerequisites granting access to the public system have been abolished. Thus, for the first time in Cyprus, migrants will have the same healthcare coverage as all Cypriot and European citizens, reducing or even eliminating the disadvantages of the previous state of dependency on private insurance (Koutsampelas, Theodorou, and Kantaris, 2020).

Anti-discrimination Policies: Cyprus has adopted anti-discrimination legislation since 2004 and has established the Commissioner for Administration and Human Rights (Ombudsman). Their responsibilities include the examination of allegations of discrimination.

Government Initiatives to Combat Inequalities (Republic of Cyprus, 2021)

Income inequality via wage and social protection policies:

  • New collective agreements have been reached for the construction and tourism sectors to include provisions for a minimum wage for the hotel industry and minimum working hours, and overtime pay for both industries.
  • An inspection mechanism has been set up, so that inspections can be carried out to safeguard the enforcement of the Equality Law. Inspections also investigate issues relating to undeclared and illegal work.
  • A minimum wage legislation is in place covering a limited number of professions that struggle to unionise (sales assistants, care takers etc.).

Mitigating the Migrant Crisis via Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) projects

  • Drafting of a multidimensional Strategic Action Plan for the Integration of migrants.
  • Updating, monitoring and evaluating the National Action Plan on Integration and the national integration strategy, in general.
  • Integration measures targeting the education sector. The Greek language courses for adults and minors as well as mediation services in schools implemented under the 2014-2020 Programming Period will be continued.
  • Operation of Migrant Information Centres.
  • Language advancement programme for minor third-country nationals to improve their language skills and promote their inclusion in society.
  • Vocational orientation and training to third country nationals to facilitate their integration into the labour market.
  • An extensive awareness campaign against xenophobia, mainly targeting the young population.

SDG 13: Climate Action

The Cypriot population has demonstrated an increased level of awareness and societal approval for the purposes of SDG 13. However, there has been a national deprioritisation of this goal as a policy, due to a focus on economic growth. This deprioritisation has pushed grassroots organisations to lobby for climate action and environmental protection.

It is important to note that Cyprus did not develop a national SDG strategy or an action plan. However, the government announced its aim of developing an Action Plan and an improved Governance Structure for the SDGs.

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Institute of European Environmental Policy ranked Cyprus among the last positions, specifically 29th among 31 European countries, with an index score of 60.3/100 (2020). Specifically, for SDG13, the report highlights that major challenges remain unsolved in Cyprus and progress has been stagnant. According to the report, the score for SDG 13 is around 53/100 (even lower than the country's overall score).

A positive update is that Cyprus has submitted a national energy and climate plan (NECP) for 2021 - 2030 as a requirement by the Regulation on the governance of the energy union and climate action (EU) 2018/1999 of the EU (Ministry of Agriculture, 2020). The European Commission assessed the national targets and the NECP's contribution, making a series of comments (European Commission, 2020):

  • The binding percentage target for greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2005 under the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) is at the same ambition level as the ESR requirements.
  • The National target/contribution for renewable energy (Share of energy from renewable sources in the gross final) is slightly below 23% (Cyprus's requirement).
  • The National contribution for energy efficiency has a deficient ambition level. This is the most negative point of the Plan.

The assessment also highlights the high levels of GHG emissions in the transportation sector and the absence of measures and policies to reduce emissions from this sector. Additionally, Cyprus' plan to set objectives for energy security through liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) imports and electricity interconnections with Greece and Israel is positive.

Cyprus did not submit a National Long-Term Strategy (LTS) to meet their Paris Agreement commitments yet (European Commission, N.D.a). However, government officials announced that a LTS for the sustainable growth of the Cypriot economy is under development. According to the European Commission, "the EU Member States must develop long-term national strategies on how they plan to achieve the greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed to meet their commitments under the Paris Agreement and EU objectives" (European Commission, N.D.c).

At this point, it is important to note that the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) will play a significant role in the SDGs' progress by funding EU Member states through their Recovery and Resilience Plans (RRPs) (European Commission, N.D. b). Cyprus has submitted a Recovery and Resilience Plan and is expected to receive approximately 1.2 billion from 2021-2026. The RRP has been developed around five policy axes (Republic of Cyprus, 2021b):

  • Public health, civil protection and lessons learned from the pandemic
  • Accelerated transition to a green economy
  • Strengthening the resilience and competitiveness of the economy
  • Towards a digital era
  • Labour market, social protection, education and human capital.

A large part of this amount will be used for reforms and investments related to Climate Change. An analysis from the Cyprus Institute mentions that around 36% of the total amount will be used for approximately 29 investments/reforms related to SDG 13 (The Cyprus Institute, 2021). The analysis mentions that the Recovery and Resilience Plan is aligned in some extend with the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) which is mentioned above, however, it lacks investments/reforms on sustainable transportation, which is one of the sector with the highest GHG emissions in Cyprus.

References

Cyprus Mail (2017). Health system bills unanimously approved, 'historic day' (Update). Retrieved from: https://cyprus-mail.com/2017/06/16/health-system-bills-unanimously-approved/

European Commission (N.D. a) National long-term strategies. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/

European Commission (N.D. b). Recovery and Resilience Facility. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/

European Commission (N.D. c). 2050 long-term strategy. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/strategies/2050_en

European Comission (2020). Assessment of the final national energy and climate plan of Cyprus. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/energy/sites/default/files/documents/staff_working_document_assessment_necp_cyprus_en.pdf

European Institute for Gender Equality (2020). Gender Equality Index 2020: Cyprus. Retrieved from:  https://eige.europa.eu/publications/gender-equality-index-2020-cyprus

Forodari, C. and Demosthenous, R. (2021). Ας ξεπεράσουμε την ανισότητα στην εργασία [Let’s overcome work inequalities]. Retrieved from: https://www.philenews.com/oikonomia/apopseis/article/1145745/as-xeperasoyme-tin-anisotita-stin-ergsia

Koutsampelas, C., Theodorou, M., & Kantaris, M. (2020). Inequalities in Healthcare Provision to Third Country Nationals in Cyprus and the Prospect of a Promising Health Reform. Migration Letters, 17(1), 155-163. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/

Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment (2020). Cyprus' Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/energy/sites/ener/files/documents/cy_final_necp_main_en.pdf

Press and Information Office (2021). The effort to increase the vaccination coverage continues – The target for the vaccination of 65% of the population with the 1st dose has been achieved. Retrieved from: https://www.pio.gov.cy/coronavirus/uploads/01072021_vaccinationsEN.pdf

Republic of Cyprus (2020). National Covid-19 Vaccination Plan. Retrieved from: https://www.pio.gov.cy/

Republic of Cyprus (2021). Second Voluntary National Review: Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Retrieved from: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/282512021_VNR_Report_Cyprus.pdf

Republic of Cyprus (2021b). Cyprus Recovery and Resilience Plan 2021-2026. Retrieved from: http://www.dgepcd.gov.cy/

Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Institute for European Environmental Policy (2020). ­Europe Sustainable Development Report 2020: Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved from: https://s3.amazonaws.com/sustainabledevelopment.report/2020/europe_sustainable_development_report_2020.pdf

The Cyprus Institute (2021). Ευρωπαϊκό Ταμείο Ανάκαμψης και Συνεισφορά του στην Αντιμετώπιση της Κλιματικής Κρίσης και την Προστασία του Περιβάλλοντος [European Recovery Fund and its Co-contribution to Facing the Climate Crisis and Protecting the Environment]. Retrieved from: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1v6z0gn-wYAVu1E3J1bDNnOgF8Y6pW_zF/view

United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (2021). Sustainable Development Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities. Retrieved from: https://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/space4sdgs/sdg10.html

United Nations (N.D.). Goal 10: Reduced inequality within and among countries. Retrieved from: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/inequality/

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