European sustainability in progress: latest concise report

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Present multiple and simultaneous crises covering European continent, including health, security, climate and financial issues, as well as the post-covid syndrome during last couple of years, have led to a general slowdown of SDG progress among the EU member states. These negative trends also coped with a slow socio-economic growth, Ukraine-Russia military conflict and need for active resilience efforts in the states. Although the report was released a month ago, it is still a vital source of valuable information on regional sustainability and SDGs implementation.   

In September 2015, the international community adopted the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): all 193 UN member states signed to implementing the 17 goals to promote socio-economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. Meeting the SDGs is largely an investment agenda into human capital (including health, education and social protection) and physical infrastructure (such as clean energy or digital technologies).
Globally, about $17 trillion was mobilized for the post-covid recovery, mainly in rich countries, yet it remains an open question as to what extent recovery funds supported SDG-transformations, including green, digital transitions and circular economies.
The latest in a row, the 2022-report shows that, seven years after the SDG’s adoption by the international community and amid multiple crises, the EU`s progress on the SDGs has stalled. Based on trend data available since 2015, the EU is still on track achieving around two-thirds of the targets. Yet, a third of the targets show insufficient progress (or are heading in the wrong direction), specifically those related to responsible consumption, climate and biodiversity, i.e. SDGs 2, and 12-15. Through unsustainable consumption and trade the EU generates large negative spillovers on the rest of the world.
General reference to report in: Lafortune, G., Fuller, G., Bermont-Diaz, L., Kloke-Lesch, A., Koundouri, P., Riccaboni, A. (2022). Achieving the SDGs: Europe’s Compass in a Multipolar World. Europe Sustainable Development Report. 2022. – SDSN and SDSN Europe. France: Paris

European Sustainable Development Report-2022
The fourth independent quantitative report on the EU-wide progress towards implementation of the UN SDGs is a special edition in support of the coming in June 2023 the EU Voluntary Review and the next United Nations’ Heads of State Summit on the SDGs in September. Besides, the 2022-edition also presents 10 contributions from scientists and practitioners on ways to strengthen the internal EU’s SDG leadership at internationally.
The 4th edition of the European Sustainable Development Report is part of the larger global Sustainable Development Report (SDR) series. Since 2015, the SDR provides the most up‐to‐date data to track and rank the performance of Europe and other UN member states on the SDGs. The methodology was peer-reviewed by Nature Geoscience, Cambridge University Press, and statistically audited by the European Commission.
The European SDG-report builds on several rounds of public consultations and on inputs received by numerous scientists and practitioners, notably members of the SDSN network – the largest global network of scientists and research institutions dedicated to the SDGs; the report was prepared by a group of independent experts at SDSN Global and SDSN Europe.
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The report assesses the SDGs progress of 38 European countries: the EU-27 member states, European Free Trade Area (EFTA) countries, some candidate countries, and the UK. The 2022-edition includes also experts and practitioners from numerous international organisations, like e.g. OECD, IEEP and EESC, SDSN (see the note below), etc.

EU’s global leadership in SDGs: practical outcomes
This year’s report makes five practical outcomes concerning the ways to strengthen the EU’s SDG global leadership:
1. The EU 2023 Voluntary Review to be presented at the UN in July 2023 would cover three research sectors: a) internal priorities, b) international spillovers, and c) international partnerships and diplomacy for the SDGs.
2. Publishing a joint political statement from the three main EU legislative institutions (the European Council, European Parliament and European Commission) has reaffirmed their strong commitment to the UN-2030 Agenda in the context of multiple crises and a renewed momentum towards achieving the SDGs in a multi-polar world.
3. The European Commission’s recent Communication has clarified the ways the EU would achieve the SDGs in Europe including such parameters as targets, timelines, and roadmaps.
4. Implement commitments made at the G20 Summit in Bali/Indonesia and at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh/Egypt, in support of the UN Secretary-General initiative on “SDG Stimulus”; the latter should address fiscal and financial issues in developing countries. It is expected that the EU would push for adoption of a global mechanism to share fairly and globally the burden of financing for human-induced adaptation, as well as loss and damage costs among responsible countries.
5. Set up a new mechanism or renew the mandate of the EU’s SDG Multi-Stakeholder Platform for a structured engagement with civil society, youth organizations, the business community, trade unions and scientists on SDG policies and monitoring.

Other outcomes of international importance include the following issues:
• Through unsustainable consumption and trade the EU generates large negative spillovers on the rest of the world. The EU’s consumption is associated with 1.2 million people in forced labor and more than 4,000 fatal accidents at work each year. 40% of greenhouse gases to satisfy consumption of goods and services in the EU are emitted abroad. The EU has adopted or is in the process of adopting major instruments to curb negative international spillovers.
• To a large extent, multiple crises and EU’s responses have clarified the way forward for sustainable development in Europe: accelerate the implementation of the European Green Deal through a massive scale-up of renewable energy and integrated and digital power grids.
Partnerships between the EU and neighboring countries, including in the Western Balkans and
North Africa can help advance the energy transition in the EU. The report describes how an integrated approach that aims to achieve six key SDG-transformations (one of them being energy decarbonization) can help advance the SDGs in the EU.
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Note about SDSN Europe. Among several sub-regional and sectoral “sustainable solution networks”, the SDSN Europe, which was established in 2020, coordinates innovation, science and research among the countries in the European continent to support sustainable growth and resilient recovery. With 15 national and regional networks –both of universities and knowledge institutions in the EU, and over 360 member organizations across the entire continent – this sub-regional SDSN is heading the evidence-based policy development in Europe.
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European SDGs account: pros and cons
The EU-SDG Index-2022 shows that the EU-27 has made, generally, very little progress on the Goals since 2020. The covid-pandemic and other international crises have in fact led to reversals in progress in many European countries, notably on SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 3 (good health and well-being) and SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth). The EU has achieved, or is on track to achieve, around 66% of the SDGs targets reviewed; progress has been limited on 20% of the indicators and about 13 percent is heading in the negative direction.
The EU faces biggest problems in implementing such goals as those of consumption/production and sustainable food systems (SDG 2 and SDGs 12–15); there are also important gaps in the SDG performance on SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure).
Inequalities among the EU-27 have increased in several EU states during past two years, e.g. the lack of progress is seen on many dimensions of the “leave no one behind” index.
Finally, the report concludes, while the European states are on top the global SDG Index due to better performance on socio-economic SDGs, these countries generate significant spillover effects on the rest of the world, notably through unsustainable supply chains. Thus, achievement of SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals) also faces significant challenges, partly because only four EU member states have met the target of dedicating 0.7% of their GDPs to official global development assistance.
It was noted that in the report-2022, that such European countries as Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Norway, Germany, Czech Rep., Slovenia, Switzerland and Estonia were in 10-top best performing and ranking states. Other ten “best countries” include France, Island, Poland, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, Croatia, Portugal, Italy and the UK (Latvia is on the 24 place and Lithuania on the 26 among 34 states reviewed).
In addition to overall scores, the report also features a special spillover index and “leave-no-one-behind” index.

Nevertheless, as the report acknowledges, the EU needs to show the global SDG-community how it plans to achieve the SDGs and demonstrate this by realizing main SDG-transformative goals. The EU has shown remarkable leadership in the SDGs implementation, both before and since their adoption; however, it still lacks clarity on how it plans to get on during the final seven years until 2030, as the EU, according to the report, still lacks “politically agreed targets for many SDG indicators”.

It has to be noted in the conclusion that the SDSN community is going to have a complicated year: it is going to be a tough period for the national and international governance. Thus, in July 2023, the EU will present for the first time a EU-wide “voluntary review” at the United Nations concerning the SDGs implementation. The main idea behind this summer review is of sending a “very strong signal” to the international community about the EU’s commitment and leadership on the SDGs. Then, in September 2023, at the UN General Assembly a second SDG Summit will take place; the last one was in 2019. Following the UN SDG Summit, there will be another summit in September 2024 which intends to adopt a “Pact for the Future” including major reforms of multilateral institutions and sustainable development finance.



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