Meeting global sustainable goals: still bumpy road ahead

Global EU-2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015 by all the UN member countries, included an unprecedented ambition to implement complex and integrated growth patterns with 17 Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. Recent UN-OECD report presents countries’ achievements in reaching the SDGs and their efforts in meeting specific global sustainable growth patterns by 2030. It is seen that some states are moving towards, others are quite away from the goals/targets. 

The findings of the report with a pretentious title “Short and Winding Road to 2030: Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets”, represent the latest assessment of the global community’s ways in reaching SDGs in just seven years. Based on the Global indicator framework for the Sustainable Development Goals, and leveraging UN and OECD data, this report provides a high-level assessment of OECD member countries’ performance across the Goals and Targets of the 2030 Agenda.
This report’s aim is to attract government representatives from OECD countries to the SDGs implementation, which have taken action to put the 2030 Agenda at the top of the national policy agenda. The ongoing progress towards achieving the SDGs reaffirms the relevance of this important agenda in the context of the national growth in post-pandemic period and recovery phases.
The new report “The Short and Winding Road to 2030: Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets” also aims to assist countries, in their implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
General reference and source: https://sdg.iisd.org/news/oecd-report-measures-distance-to-sdg-targets-on-the-short-road-to-2030/

Methods and outcomes
Using a unique comparative methodology, which allows closely watching progress across SDGs’ goals and targets during almost half-way to the final goal, the report evaluates the optimal outcomes for the states in reaching the SDG targets. The report also identifies the long-term trends and considers how these may be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
By providing a high-level overview of countries’ strengths and weaknesses in performance across the SDGs, it aims to support member countries in navigating the SDGs and in setting their own priorities for action within the broad 2030 Agenda.
Grouped under 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the targets are clustered into five themes – people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships. For example, in hunger (Goals 1 and 2), the goals are towards ensuring that all human beings can fulfill their potential, in particular in terms of health and education (Goals 3 and 4), and without being penalised because of their inabilities and exclusion.
According to the report, OECD countries have met or are close to meeting 25% of the targets for which performance can be measured. The report also highlights the current “blind spots” in SDG statistics for OECD countries. The report finds that progress towards 21 targets is “way off track”.
Thus, ten targets have been met, and another 18 are close to being fulfilled.
The report makes particular attention to the so-called “basic needs”, covering areas such as: – access to sanitation,- fresh water and energy; – reducing maternal and infant mortality; – access to early childhood education; – providing modern education facilities, and – affording legal identity to all citizens.

Some achievements
– On environment-focused targets, the report finds progress in many areas, such as energy intensity, water use, and municipal waste management. But some of this progress has come from shifting production abroad in resource-intensive and pollution-intensive sectors. In addition, “the use of material resources to support economic growth remains high, and many valuable materials continue to be disposed of as waste”.
– On climate action (SDG 13), greenhouse gas emissions have been somewhat decoupled from GDP growth, but total emissions are not decreasing at the necessary pace.
– On biodiversity (SDGs 14 and 15), the report notes rising threats, and says none of the biodiversity targets that should have been fulfilled by 2020 have been met by OECD countries.
– Generally, the report finds that 136 of the 169 SDG targets are covered by available data, but even these may have some gaps: thus, they do not sufficiently provide a gauge of current outcomes or performance over time. To inform decisions towards 2030, governments need to accurately track their progress on the SDGs, but in many cases data are still inadequate. As the authors write, “if the SDG reporting framework is incomplete or not up to date, or fails to represent all segments of the population, any inference about the efficiency of policies risks being flawed. The same is true if diagnostic tools cannot provide a comprehensive assessment of the most recent trends, especially in times of uncertainty.”
Source: https://www.oecd.org/wise/the-short-and-winding-road-to-2030-af4b630d-en.htm

The report also suggests some initial lessons to spur thinking about the framework for global action that will succeed the SDGs. It highlights the need to consider how a new framework could capture the interlinkages between different goals, targets and indicators and their overall coherence. Global monitoring and assessment instruments such as the System of Environmental Economic Accounting, SEEA should be promoted as crucial “public goods”, and measures of policy instruments and measures of ultimate outcomes should be separated, to better identify the causal chain from inputs to processes, outputs and outcomes in evaluations and assessments of the framework.
The report suggests that “implementation needs to be sensitive to national needs and priorities, as well as limited resources,” with national dialogues undertaking the task of selecting targets and indicators.
Despite progress made since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Goals (SDGs), OECD countries have met or are close to meeting only a quarter of the targets for which performance can be gauged, according to the OECD report.
Source: https://www.oecd.org/newsroom/oecd-countries-advancing-slowly-on-sustainable-development-targets-by-2030.htm

Examples: SDG-9 and SDG-11
One of the main SDGs vital for national growth perspectives and wellbeing is SDG-9, which includes such key words as industry, innovation and infrastructure. A simple enumeration of the goals and targets shows ambitious and complex task facing national governance.
The SDG-9 includes five goals and several targets; among the goals are: – developing quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and transborder infrastructure, to support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for al; – promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and, by 2030, significantly raise industry’s share of employment and gross domestic product, in line with national circumstances, and double its share in least developed countries; – increasing access of small-scale industrial and other enterprises, in particular in developing countries, to financial services, including affordable credit, and their integration into value chains and markets; – by 2030, upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes, with all countries taking action in accordance with their respective capabilities; – enhancing scientific research, upgrade the technological capabilities of industrial sectors in all countries, in particular developing countries, including, by 2030, encouraging innovation and substantially increasing the number of research and development workers per 1 million people and public and private research and development spending.
Among three SDG-9 targets are the following: – facilitating sustainable and resilient infrastructure development in developing countries through enhanced financial, technological and technical support to African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States; – supporting domestic technology development, research and innovation in developing countries, including by ensuring a conducive policy environment for, inter alia, industrial diversification and value addition to commodities; and – significantly increasing access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.
Another vital for growth and wellbeing SDG is that of “sustainable cities and communities”, SDG-11; in includes seven goals and three targets. Among the goals are; by 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums; – by 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons; – by 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries; – strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage; – by 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations; – by 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management; and – by 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.
Among three targets are: – supporting positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning; – by 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the global Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels; and – supporting least developed countries, including through financial and technical assistance, in building sustainable and resilient buildings utilizing local materials.

Information sources for some EU states: -for Latvia in: https://www.oecd.org/wise/measuring-distance-to-the-SDG-targets-country-profile-Latvia.pdf ; for Denmark in: https://www.oecd.org/wise/measuring-distance-to-the-SDG-targets-country-profile-Denmark.pdf. For Germany in: https://www.oecd.org/wise/measuring-distance-to-the-SDG-targets-country-profile-Germany.pdf. For Estonia in: https://www.oecd.org/wise/measuring-distance-to-the-SDG-targets-country-profile-Estonia.pdf.
As to the OECD member states, there are a series of OECD reports ‘Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets’ is part of the OECD’s action plan on SDGs aiming to help member countries implement the 2030 Agenda. The report is based on the IAEG Global Indicator List and uses data from the UN SDG Database and OECD databases.
Source to “The Short and Winding Road to 2030: Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets”, in: https://www.oecd.org/wise/the-short-and-winding-road-to-2030-af4b630d-en.htm

Conclusion: the EII’s opinion
Presently, when governance institutions acquire the UN-OECD report, questions will appear on the reasons of bad SDGs performance: half-way to completion, only three SDGs reached 50 percent; the rest are of “now progress” or “no data available”.
The report mentioned that: most OECD states have not made any progress during last decade in e.g. poverty reduction; major economies still support the production and consumption of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, etc. Finally, the report made a very pessimistic acknowledgment: “no country is expected to meet all targets”, and “the momentum shall be kept beyond the 2030”. Is it recognition of a failure?
What could be the explanations for such a bad performance in nations’ efforts?
Only three goals in “people theme” have been accomplished by half, i.e. SDGs 1”now poverty”, SDGs 5 “gender equality” and SDG 6 “clean water and sanitation”; is it so that these items are most important for governance and/or they are so easy to accomplish?
One could think that the pandemic that has covered all regions in the world was the main disadvantage; partially it is true! But on the other side, the pandemic was, actually, a “blessing”: factories and production was stopped, followed by long-term lockdowns, people were not traveling, etc. which in several facets were good for environment and other sustainability factors.
Of course, there is a need for stronger actions: although covid-pandemic significantly deteriorated public finances, still monitoring and reporting can be improved. However, looking at the most active and progressive countries in reaching SDGs one can see that these are states with solid socially oriented political economies, like e.g. the Nordic European states. Isn’t just better to emulate the best examples?

 

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