Sustainable development goals in Europe: new progress assessment

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Implementing sustainability goes hand-in-hand with transformations in the EU’s economic model: the member states have to take necessary measures in boosting resilience and recovery. In this liaison, the national and the EU-wide efforts, coped with the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), are becoming both the “compass and measure of success” in perspective socio-economic growth, argued the Commission. Present European SDG-report for the first time makes public the member states’ status and progress in the SDGs implementation.

Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, published at the end of May a report on SDGs-progress in the EU-27 called “Sustainable development in the EU-2022 monitoring report on progress towards the SDGs in an EU context”, which provides a statistical overview of the states’ progress towards achieving SDGs. Data included in the report show that the EU has made progress towards most goals over the last five years, in line with Commission’s priorities in key policy areas such as the European Green Deal, the Digital Strategy and the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan.
While progress towards reaching some goals was faster than for others, movement away from the sustainable development objectives occurred only in few specific areas.
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The UN-2030 Agenda for sustainable growth and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations Assembly in the fall-2015, have given a new impetus to national efforts for achieving sustainable development, which has to balance social, economic and environmental “sustainability aspects”. During 2014-19, the Commission set out the EU-wide approach to SDG implementation in three major policy documents: a) in communication on “Next steps for a sustainable European future”, b) in the reflection paper “Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030” and, for the EU external action, c) in the European Consensus on Development (adopted in 2017).
Thus, sustainable development objectives have been already at the center a European policy-making for the recent decade through the “legal connections” to the EU Treaties and consequential inclusion in main Commission’s projects, sectoral policies and initiatives. Hence, the EU has been fully committed to delivering on the global 2030-Agenda and its implementation, as is outlined, for example, in the European “green deal” and in the Commission’s staff working document “Delivering on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: comprehensive approach”, adopted in November 2020.

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Monitoring SDGs progress
Present Eurostat’s publication is the sixth in a series of annual monitoring reports initially launched by Eurostat in 2017; it is based on the set of the EU-SDG indicators designed to monitor progress concerning the SDGs implementation in the member states. Generally, the SDG-monitoring report aims to present an objective assessment of progress towards SDGs over two periods: a) past five years (“short-term” analysis) and over the past 15 years (the “long-term” analysis) according to elaborated indicators. The set of EU-SDGs indicators comprises around 100 items structured along the global 17 SDGs; for each SDG, the report focuses on implementation aspects that are relevant from an EU perspective.
The EU-SDG-22 monitoring report provides a statistical presentation of trends relating to the SDGs in the EU over a set of specific quantitative calculations; besides, this edition also analyses the post-pandemic’s impacts on SDGs during 2020-22. Specifically, progress is assessed for the 22 SDGs indicators with quantitative EU targets, which mainly concentrate on areas of climate change, energy consumption and education; all other indicators are assessed according to the developmental direction and speed of change.
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The set of the EU-SDG indicators is reviewed every year: the set for 2022 was aligned with the 8th Environment Action Program, EAP (entered into force in May 2022) and the new targets included into the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan. Besides, there are also analytical data on e.g. spillover effects covering CO2 emissions, land and material production’s footprint, as well as gross value added generated outside the EU, and consumption inside the EU.
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Key EU-SDG-22 findings
The report shows that, over the last five years, the EU has made significant progress towards five SDGs and moderate progress toward most others. In particular:
= The EU continued to make progress in SDG 16, i.e. towards fostering peace and personal security in the Union, improving access to justice as well as trust in public institutions. The share of the EU population reporting crime, violence and vandalism has fallen from 13.2% in 2015 to 10.9% in 2020. Moreover, the share of the EU population considering the justice system in their country to be sufficiently independent, increased by 4 percentage points between 2016 and 2021 (from 50% to 54%).
= Significant progress was also made towards the goals of reducing poverty and social exclusion (SDG 1), on the economy and the labour market (SDG 8), clean and affordable energy (SDG 7), as well as innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9). In the area of poverty (SDG 1), the data also refer to the pre-pandemic period and therefore do not yet fully capture the pandemic’s impact.
= Positive assessment of SDG 7 was strongly influenced by a remarkable reduction in energy consumption in 2020 (minus 8 % compared to 2019) as a result of pandemic-related restrictions on public life and lower economic activity. Therefore, the EU was able to reach its 2020 energy efficiency target and, based on the progress achieved so far, was on track towards its 2030 target. Moreover, the use of renewable energy has grown continuously, with its share doubling since 2005: in 2020, renewable energy accounted for over 22 percent of gross final energy consumption; however, imports of fossil fuels still cover more than half of the EU’s energy demand, and lower energy consumption recorded in 2020 is likely to be temporary.
= Progress toward SDG 8 on the economy and labour market (with the latest available data for 2021) was positively influenced by strong economic growth and labour market performance; e.g. employment rate went up to 73.1 % in 2021, even exceeding its pre-pandemic level.
= Progress has been quite moderate in EU-27 towards the goals in such areas as health and well-being (SDG 3), life below water (SDG 14), gender equality (SDG 5), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), reduced inequalities (SDG 10), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), quality education (SDG 4), climate action (SDG 13) and zero hunger (SDG 2).
= The overall assessment of progress for partnerships (SDG 17) and clean water and sanitation (SDG 6) was neutral, which means that the SDGs were characterised by an almost equal number of sustainable and unsustainable developments.
= Finally, a slight movement away from respective SDGs’ objectives over the past five years (short term) has been found for life on land (SDG 15), indicating that ecosystems and biodiversity remained under pressure from human activities. While both the EU’s forest area and the terrestrial protected areas have slightly increased, pressure on biodiversity continued to intensify. As an example, the occurrence of common birds is an indicator of biodiversity because many of them require specific habitats to breed and find food, which are often also home to many threatened plant and animal species. Since 2000, the number of common birds declined by 10 percent; however, after many years of decline, it appears that the numbers of common birds have started to stabilise.
Besides, major contribution to achieving the SDGs in the EU in the future is made by the NextGenerationEU program aimed at adequate reforms and re-oriented investments in the member states in their recovery and resilience plans.

More information in the following Commission’s weblinks: = Sustainable development in the European Union — 2022 monitoring report on progress towards the SDGs in an EU context; = Sustainable development in the European Union. Overview of progress towards the SDGs in an EU context; = Digital publication “SDGs & me”; = Visualisation tool “SDG country scores”; = Statistics Explained articles on Sustainable development in the EU; = Dedicated section on the EU Sustainable development indicators; = Database on the EU Sustainable development indicators. There are two other vital documents: = Communication from the Commission: “Next steps for a sustainable European future – European action for sustainability” and Commission staff working document ‘Delivering on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – A comprehensive approach’.


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