Report: UK lags behind its EU peers in SDG progress

The EU is projected to fall short of achieving a third of the SDG targets by 2030.

The report, ‘Europe Sustainable Development Report 2023/24 (ESDR),’ was produced by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) in collaboration with SDSN Europe and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

The SDGs are a call for action by all governments to deliver 17 common objectives that promote economic and social prosperity while protecting the planet by 2030.

In the report, Finland secures the leading position on the SDG index for Europe, with Sweden, Denmark, Austria and Norway following closely, while the UK holds the 16th position.

The report underscores that, based on the current pace, the EU is projected to fall short of achieving a third of the SDG targets by 2030.

It cautions that within the EU, Member States and partner countries, urgent measures are imperative to avert critical negative environmental and social ’tipping points’.

These actions are crucial to uphold the commitment to attain SDGs outlined in the 2030 Agenda and meeting the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.

SDSN’s vice president Guillaume Lafortune said: “Political parties campaigning for the European elections and the future leaders of the EU have historic responsibilities. The SDGs adopted by all UN Member States in 2015 are not being achieved in Europe and globally, yet they remain the future Europe and the world want.

“Decisive actions must be taken during this decade.  This is not the time to backtrack or water down what has been achieved and agreed onto support the implementation of the SDGs and Paris Climate Agreement. Long-term investments and regional cooperation are required to boost skills and innovation and provide equal opportunities for all.”

According to the report, the EU’s major SDG challenges include responsible consumption and production, climate and biodiversity, sustainable land-use and diets, and promoting alignment across its Member States.

‘Leave no one behind’

The report also underscores challenges related to the ‘Leave No One Behind’ principle in the 2030 Agenda.

The principle signifies the unwavering pledge of every UN Member State to eliminate all forms of poverty, eliminate discrimination and exclusion, and mitigate inequalities and vulnerabilities that hinder progress and diminish the potential of individuals and humanity at large.

The ‘Leave No One Behind’ Index measures inequalities within countries across dimensions like extreme poverty, income, gender and access to services.

The index has revealed minimal progress and even reversals in three of the four dimensions for most European countries since 2020, while highlighting the concerning lack of progress in access to and quality of services for 32 out of 34 European countries.

The report emphasises that the effective functioning of European democracies and institutions depends on the EU’s leadership and Member States providing equal opportunities, protecting the vulnerable and enhancing education and skills for all.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead to June 2024, when the EU will elect a new European Parliament, the report calls for a new ‘European Deal for the Future’.

It outlines ten priority actions, including addressing social tipping points, achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, strengthening regional and local authorities for SDG implementation, and curbing negative international spillovers.

The EU has been urged to lead global efforts in reforming the financial architecture, refocusing international partnerships on the SDGs, mobilising financial resources for sustainability, and integrating the SDGs into strategic planning and policy instruments.

On this latter point, it calls for establishing permanent mechanisms for engaging civil society and youth in shaping SDG pathways and policies within the European Parliament.

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