Sustainable Development Report 2019 Transformations to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

We are pleased to launch the Sustainable Development Report 2019 including the SDG Index and Dashboards. This is the fourth edition of the annual review of countries’ performance on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals prepared jointly by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). The Report covers all 193 UN member states and presents data on changes over time in SDG indicators, as well as calculations for trajectories until 2030.

We hope you will find this report informative and useful for your work on the SDGs. We greatly welcome suggestions for further deployment, development, and improvement of these tools.

The Report

The Sustainable Development Report 2019 presents an updated SDG Index and Dashboards with a refined assessment of countries’ distance to SDG targets. The report has been successfully audited for the first time by the European Commission Joint Research Centre. New indicators have been included, primarily to refine the indicator selection on agriculture, diets, gender equality and freedom of speech. We have also added more metrics for international spillovers, including on fatal work accidents. A new website and data visualization tools are available www. sustainabledevelopment.report.

The Rankings

Once again, Nordic countries – Denmark, Sweden, and Finland - top the SDG Index. Yet, even these countries face major challenges in implementing one or several SDGs. No country is on track for achieving all 17 goals with major performance gaps even in the top countries on SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 14 (Life Below Water) and SDG 15 (Life on Land). Income and wealth inequalities, as well as gaps in health and education outcomes by population groups also remain important policy challenges in developing and developed countries alike.

The Sustainable Development Report 2019 generates seven major findings

High-level political commitment to the SDGs is falling short of historic promises

In September 2019, heads-of-states and government will convene for the first time in person at the UN in New York to review progress on their promises made four years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. Yet, our in-depth analyses show that many have not taken the critical steps to implement the SDGs. Out of 43 countries, including all G20 countries and countries with a population greater than 100 million, surveyed on SDG implementation efforts, 33 countries have endorsed the SDGs in official statements since January 1st, 2018. Yet in only 18 of them do central budget documents mention the SDGs. This gap between rhetoric and action must be closed.

The SDGs can be operationalized through six SDG Transformations

SDG implementation can be organized along the following Transformations:

  1. Education, Gender, and Inequality
  2. Health, Wellbeing, and Demography
  3. Energy Decarbonization and Sustainable Industry
  4. Sustainable Food, Land, Water, Oceans
  5. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  6. Digital Revolution for Sustainable Development

The transformations respect strong interdependencies across the SDGs and can be operationalized by well-defined parts of governments in collaboration with civil society, business, and other stakeholders. They must be underpinned and guided by the principles of Leave No One Behind and Circularity and Decoupling of resource use from human wellbeing.

Trends on climate (SDG 13) and biodiversity (SDG 14 and SDG 15) are alarming

On average, countries obtain their worst scores on SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 14 (Life Below Water) and SDG 15 (Life on Land). No country obtains a “green rating” (synonym of SDG achieved) on SDG 14 (Life Below Water). Trends on greenhouse gas emissions and, even more so, on threatened species go in the wrong direction. These findings are in line with the recent reports from the IPCC and IPBES on climate change mitigation and biodiversity protection, respectively.

Sustainable land-use and healthy diets require integrated agriculture, climate and health policy interventions

Land use and food production are not meeting people’s needs. Agriculture destroys forests and biodiversity, squanders water and releases one-quarter of global greenhouse-gas emissions. In total, 78% of world nations for which data are available obtain a “red rating” (synonym of major SDG challenge) on sustainable nitrogen management; the highest number of “red” rating across all indicators included in the report. At the same time, one-third of food is wasted, 800 million people remain undernourished, 2 billion are deficient in micronutrients, and obesity is on the rise. New indicators on nations’ trophic level and yield gap closure highlight the depth of the challenge. Transformations towards sustainable land-use and food systems are required that balance efficient and resilient agriculture and forestry with biodiversity conservation and restoration as well as healthy diets.

High-income countries generate high environmental and socio-economic spillover effects

Domestic implementation of the SDGs should not undermine other countries’ ability to achieve the goals. International demand for palm oil and other commodities fuels tropical deforestation. Tax havens and banking secrecy undermine other countries’ ability to raise the public revenues needed to finance the SDGs. Tolerance for poor labor standards in international supply chains harms the poor, and women in particular, in many developing countries. The latter is supported by new evidence presented in this report which shows that high-income countries generate negative impacts on fatal accidents at work, typically by importing products and services from low- and middle-income countries with poor labor standards and conditions.

Human rights and freedom of speech are in danger in numerous countries

Under SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions), fair and transparent institutions are recognized as objectives in themselves but also as important levers for sustainable development. Yet, conflicts in many parts of the world continue to lead to reversals in SDG progress. Modern slavery and the share of unsentenced detainees in prison remain high, in particular in low-income countries. Trends on corruption and freedom of press are worsening in more than 50 countries covered in the report – include in a number of middle income and high-income countries.

Eradicating poverty and strengthening equity remain important policy priorities

Eradicating extreme poverty remains a global challenge with half of the world nations not on track for achieving SDG 1 (No Poverty). More timely data is needed to inform policy interventions. In middle- and high-income countries rising income inequalities and persisting gaps in access to services and opportunities by income or territorial areas remain important policy issues. Women in OECD countries continue to spend on average more than 2 hours than men a day doing unpaid work.

The SDG Index

The SDG Index tracks country performance on the 17 SDGs as agreed by the international community in 2015. As such, all 17 goals are weighted equally in the Index. The score signifies a country’s position between the worst (0) and the best or target (100) outcomes. Sweden’s overall Index score (84.8) suggest that the country is on average 84.8% of the way to the best possible outcome across the 17 SDGs. To ensure transparency and encourage further analyses, all underlying data is made available publicly.

The index scores and ranks are not comparable to previous editions primarily due to changes in the basket of indicators. The SDGs are part of a dynamic agenda including inside the statistical community. Therefore, the number of indicators evolves when new evidence become available. In certain cases, the methodology for certain indicators, including among indicators that are produced by international institutions, is also revised based on efforts at the global level to improve the quality of the measures to monitor the SDGs. The SDG Index and Dashboards results are not directly comparable from one year to another in light of slight adjustments made this year to the methodology and conclusions drawn from the independent statistical audit.

The SDG Dashboards

The SDG Dashboards highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each country on the 17 SDGs. As described further in the methodology section, they focus on the two worst indicators under each goal. This year, the Dashboards include population-weighted for each region. While the SDG Index includes the same basket of indicators for all countries (with only a few exceptions), the OECD Dashboards includes more indicators than the other Dashboards owing to more data available for these countries. The SDSN is promoting regional editions of the SDG Index and Dashboards, e.g. for Africa, the Arab States, Europe, and Latin America.

Country Profiles

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Cheyenne Maddox


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