Home » World Remains Off-Track on SDGs, SDSN Report Finds

World Remains Off-Track on SDGs, SDSN Report Finds

by Madaline Dunn

This week, the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) released its Sustainable Development Report, assessing the state of global progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Adopted back in 2015, the 2030 goals, much like the goals of the Paris Agreement, signed the same year, are woefully off-track.

The SDGs contain 17 goals and 169 targets covering everything from hunger and poverty to renewable energy. However, none of the goals are on track to be achieved by 2030, and just 16 per cent of the targets are on track to be met globally, while 84 per cent show either limited progress or reversal. 

The report states that it is now clear that the SDGs will not be achieved in the original timeframe. 

According to the report, this dismal performance has been influenced by a number of factors, including global crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic and international and civil conflicts, a lack of Global Financial Architecture (GFA) reform, and uneven global cooperation. 

ESG Mena takes a deeper look at the report’s findings and its recommendations for the path ahead. 

World Stagnates on SDG Progress

As the world approaches the halfway point to the 2030 target, the SDSN report outlines that SDG progress has been stagnant since 2020. 

In particular, SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 14 (Life Below Water), SDG 15 (Life on Land), and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) are areas for concern.

The SDGs for which the highest country proportion of regression is observed are obesity rate (under SDG 2), press freedom (under SDG 16), the Red List Index—a global biodiversity indicator (under SDG 15), sustainable nitrogen management (under SDG 2), and life expectancy at birth (under SDG 3).

However, targets related to food and land systems were also spotlighted for being “particularly” off-track. 

Big Disparities Between Countries

While the situation remains grim globally, the report found that there’s a big disparity between countries in terms of progress. 

As has been the ongoing trend, European countries topped the Index, with Nordic countries in particular seeing the most progress. Finland led, with Sweden and Denmark ranking behind in second and third place.

Comparatively, the report noted that the poorest and most vulnerable countries are not catching up with the world average score. The gap between the world average SDG Index score and that of “poor countries” and SIDS is now, in fact, larger in 2023 than it was in 2015. 

Indeed, Yemen, Somalia, Chad, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan all rank at the bottom of this year’s SDG Index. 

Demonstrating the sheer scale of the gap, Finland scored 86.4, performing well on a number of SDGs, particularly SDG 1 and 7, while South Sudan scored 40.1, with major challenges in many areas, including hunger, health, and clean and affordable energy, with poverty only getting worse. 

BRICS and BRICS+ countries, meanwhile, were found to be making “significant progress,” and since 2015, their average SDG progress has outpaced the world average. 

Regionally in the MENA, a number of countries ranked in the 60s and 70s, with Tunisia at 60th, with an overall score of 72.5, Morocco 69th, scoring 70.9, UAE 70th with a score of 70.5, and Egypt 83rd with a score of 69.1.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia came in at 102nd and 103rd, respectively, both scoring 64.9. 

Investment Lacking, Multilateralism “More Important Than Ever”

The report highlighted that sustainable development remains a long-term investment challenge and emphasised that reforming GFA is now “more urgent than ever.”

Indeed, the report noted that low-income countries (LICs) and lower-middle-income countries (LMICs) urgently need to gain access to affordable long-term capital so that they can invest at scale to achieve their sustainable development objectives. 

This, it says, requires new institutions, new forms of global financing (including global taxation), and new priorities for global financing.

It also spotlighted the importance of global cooperation and multilateralism, with peoples and nations more interconnected than ever and global challenges unable to be solved by one nation alone. 

“The world requires many essential public goods that far transcend the nation-state,” the report stated and highlighted the role of regional groupings in bolstering ecosystem protection and decarbonising regional energy systems.

When assessing where countries ranked on multilateralism, it found the five countries most committed to UN-based multilateralism are Barbados (1), Antigua and Barbuda (2), Uruguay (3), Mauritius (4), and the Maldives (5).

By contrast, the United States (193), Somalia (192), South Sudan (191), Israel (190), and the Democratic Republic of Korea (189) ranked the lowest on the UN-Mi.

Pathways to Get SDGs on Track 

With time quickly running out to achieve the SDGs, the report made a number of recommendations aimed at getting the world on track, from food systems to financing. 

On the former, the report presented new Food, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Land-Use, and Energy (FABLE) pathways, including the recommendation to limit animal-based protein consumption and increase the share of proteins derived from plants. 

The report also highlighted the importance of investing in fostering productivity, particularly for products and areas with high demand growth, as well as regulations and incentives to prevent the conversion of forest and other biodiversity-rich areas to agricultural land. 

The need for inclusive, robust, and transparent monitoring systems to halt deforestation was also underlined. 

The report also put forward five strategies to reform GFA, including increasing the scale of financing from official sources, including bilateral Official Development Assistance (ODA) and multilateral financial institutions (MFIs), including multilateral development banks (MDBs).

In addition to this, it spotlighted the need to increase the scale and performance of mission-oriented and fit-for-purpose national development banks, with global taxation on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, air and sea travel, and financial transactions, and “other international goods and “bads.””

Reform is also needed in the private capital markets and their regulation, it noted, including the system of credit ratings, in support of larger private flows of capital to low-income countries (LICs) and lower-middle-income countries (LMICs). 

Finally, it recommended restructuring existing debts, including debt-for-SDG swaps, debt-for-nature swaps, lower interest rates, and longer maturities that align with the time horizon to achieve sustainable development.

Elsewhere, the report underscored the key role of the private sector as a driver for sustainable development. 

“Profits must be the reward for contributions to the common good, not private gains achieved at the public’s expense,” it stated.

UN System Must Be “Upgraded”

However, alongside these measures, the report more broadly called for the UN system to be “upgraded.” 

Indeed, in the report’s opening chapter, endorsed by over 100 global scientists and practitioners, authors advocated for the UN to be “strengthened and empowered” to underpin the new “multi-polar world.”

“Reforms include new UN bodies, such as a UN Parliament, new forms of global financing, and new strategies to ensure observance of international law and peace among the major powers. 

Ultimately, the UN Charter itself will need to be revised and updated to reflect our 21st century needs and realities,” the report read. 

Commenting on the findings, Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, President of the SDSN and a lead author of the report, said: “Midway between the founding of the UN in 1945 and the year 2100, we cannot rely on business as usual. The world faces great global challenges, including dire ecological crises, widening inequalities, disruptive and potentially hazardous technologies, and deadly conflicts, we are at a crossroads.”

“Ahead of the UN’s Summit of the Future, the international community must take stock of the vital accomplishments and the limitations of the United Nations system and work toward upgrading multilateralism for the decades ahead,” added Professor Sachs.

The UN Summit of the Future will be hosted in September and, according to the UN, aims to reinvigorate multilateralism, boost the implementation of existing commitments, and explore solutions to emerging challenges.

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