University of Pretoria: Global progress on UN Sustainable Development Goals stalls for second year in a row – Sustainable Development Report

Both the quantity and the quality of international development funding needs to see dramatic increase if the world is to succeed in implementing the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. This was the main finding of a high-level webinar to mark the publication of the 2022 Sustainable Development Report (SDR).

The launch took place as an official side event to the UN’s Stockholm+50 conference and was co-hosted by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD-DAC). Stockholm+50 was convened by the UN as a major international environmental meeting, five decades after the watershed 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was convened in Stockholm. The national SDSN network for South Africa is hosted by the University of Pretoria.

Since it was first released in 2015, the annual Sustainable Development Report has become both the first and one of the most widely used tools to assess the performance of countries and regions on the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. The SDG Index and Dashboards in the SDR provide the most up-to-date data on all UN member states in relation to their progress in implementing the SDGs. The SDR was authored by a group of independent experts at the SDSN, under the leadership of SDSN President Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University.

The 2022 SDR finds that, for the second year in a row, the world is no longer making progress on the SDGs. Against this backdrop Prof Sachs and Susanna Moorehead (DAC Chair of the OECD) discussed how international financing to restore and accelerate SDG progress might be mobilised as part of a global plan to finance sustainable development. This was followed by contributions from representatives of two of the world’s most challenging regions in terms of development, namely sub-Saharan Africa and Small Island Developing States.

The 2022 SDR has found that multiple and simultaneous international health, climate, biodiversity, geopolitical and military crises have halted progress on the universal goals adopted by all UN member countries during the historic 2015 summit.

“Fifty years after the first UN conference on the human environment in Stockholm in 1972, the bedrock SDG principles of social inclusion, clean energy, responsible consumption, and universal access to public services are needed more than ever to respond to the major challenges of our time,” said Prof Sachs, President of the SDSN and first author of the report. “Poor and vulnerable countries are being hit particularly hard by multiple health, geopolitical and climate crises and their spillovers. To restore and accelerate SDG progress, we need global cooperation to end the pandemic, negotiate an end to the war in Ukraine, and secure the financing needed to achieve the SDGs.”

Europe in general and especially Nordic countries occupy the leading positions on the 2022 SDG Index, with Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway comprising the top four. Despite this, even these countries face major challenges in achieving several SDGs. Overall, East and South Asia is the region that has progressed most on the SDGs since their adoption in 2015. Bangladesh and Cambodia are the two countries that have progressed most on the SDGs since 2015. By contrast Venezuela has declined the most on the SDG Index since 2015. South Africa is at 108 on the list of 193 countries, dropping one position lower from 2021.

While high-income countries (HICs) and OECD countries are closer to achieving the targets than low-income countries (LICs) and other groups, none are on track to achieve all 17 SDGs. The greatest challenges in HICs relate to climate mitigation and biodiversity protection, as well as a move to more sustainable food systems and diets. Furthermore, the significant negative socioeconomic and environmental impacts that all HICs and OECD countries generate outside their borders (known as spillovers) through trade and consumption hamper other countries’ efforts to achieve the SDGs.

Countries in the lower-income bracket, including many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Small Island Developing States, face major SDG gaps. Facing a lack of the physical, digital and human infrastructure needed to achieve the socioeconomic goals and manage environmental challenges, many of these countries are also plagued by conflict and extreme poverty, resulting in poor and worsening performance on most SDGs for several years.

Another major finding of the report points to the lack of alignment in policy efforts and commitment to the SDGs across countries. It is vital that the SDGs become the main agenda of all countries if we are to see the release of major development funding, Moorehead explained. This means greater integration of the SDGs into policies, regulations, budgets, monitoring systems, and other government policies and procedures. There is also great opportunity for partnerships and innovations that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic to be scaled up so that science, technological innovations and data systems can provide momentum to developing solutions. Again, this calls for increased and prolonged investments in statistical capacities, research and development, and education and skills.