G20 countries ranked on progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
The latest index of countries’ progress against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) makes for grim reading. No country is on track to achieve the targets, set out by the UN and ratified by its member states in 2015 as a plan to end poverty, protect the planet, and deliver peace. The SDGs include goals for clean energy (goal 7), industry and innovation (goal 10), and sustainable cities (goal 11), among others, which are informed by the deployment of the latest digital technologies.
For the first time, the annual index also reveals the rate of implementation (‘action’, in the table below) of SDG policies and mechanisms by the G20 countries. Brazil, Mexico and Italy come out on top of this ranking; Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States, in descending order, come bottom, taking the least vigorous action on implementing the goals. Only India and Germany have undertaken an assessment of investment needs, says the UN. No G20 country has fully aligned its national budget with the SDGs.
“The United States and the Russian Federation show low levels of political leadership and institutionalisation of the SDGs, characterised notably by the absence of public statements made by the head of state on how the country plans to implement the SDGs,” the UN says.
Sweden, Denmark and Finland top the 2018 Index, overall. However, even they need to “significantly accelerate” progress towards achieving certain goals, notably ‘sustainable consumption and production’ (goal 12) and ‘climate action (goal 13). Germany, France and the United Kingdom top the G20 mini-league, comprising the 20 richest nations, representing two-thirds of the world population and three quarters of its greenhouse gas emissions.
The index scores each nation on a traffic light system, where ‘green’ denotes they are on track, and every other measures says there is progressively more work to do. Every country scores ‘red’, for drastic under performance, on at least one SDG.
In general, high-income countries perform poorly on ‘spillover’ indicators, where their excessive environmental, economic, and security effects undermine other countries’ efforts. Every G20 country faces major challenges in achieving some SDGs. In some instances, trends have to be reversed in order to achieve the goals by 2030, the UN says.
Our survey results show considerable variations among G20 countries regarding the institutionalization of the SDGs (Figure 2). On one hand, countries such as Brazil, Italy, and Mexico demonstrate relatively high levels of institutionalization. This is characterized, for instance, by the existence of SDG strategies and action plans, coordination units in government tasked with spporting the implementation of the goals, and stakeholder engagement tools such as SDG web platforms and portals.
“The implications are clear: The social-market philosophy of a mixed economy that balances the market, social justice and green economy is the route to the SDGs. Countries trapped in extreme poverty need more help from the rest of the world”, says Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
“Rich countries need to act as role models and must reduce their negative spillover effects while providing effective means to integrate the goals into national action plans,” says Aart de Geus, chief and chairman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, responsible for compiling the index.