The Sustainable Development Report 2019 including the SDG Index and Dashboards that has been released recently presents the fourth edition of the annual review of countries’ performance on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 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 and includes the data and analyses provided by international organizations, civil society organizations, and research centres. Also, the Report lays out frames of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in terms of six broad transformations that need to be adopted and implemented so that the SDGs can be achieved. Yet, the overall tone of the Report is a bit negative and it conveys the message that the world has not achieved much in four years since the adoption of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.

The seven key takeaways of the Report

Although this year’s Report form is similar to the previous ones, new indicators have been added, as well as more metrics for international spillovers. The 2019 the SDG Index and Dashboards have been successfully audited for the first time by the European Commission Joint Research Centre. In the Executive Summary of the Report, the following key findings are presented:

  1. High-level political commitment to the SDGs is falling short of historic promises- ‘‘Out of 43 countries surveyed on SDG implementation efforts, including all G20 countries and countries with a population greater than 100 million, 33 countries have endorsed the SDGs in official statements since January 1st, 2018.’’
  2. The SDGs can be operationalized through six SDG Transformations– ‘‘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.’’
  3. Trends on climate (SDG 13) and biodiversity (SDG 14 and SDG 15) are alarming– ‘‘Trends on greenhouse gas emissions and, even more so, on threatened species are moving in the wrong direction.’’
  4. Sustainable land-use and healthy diets require integrated agriculture, climate and health policy interventions-‘‘ 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.’’
  5. 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.’’
  6. Human rights and freedom of speech are in danger in numerous countries– ‘‘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 – including in a number of middle and high-income countries.’’
  7. Eradicating poverty and strengthening equity remain important policy priorities– ‘‘Eradicating extreme poverty remains a global challenge with half of the world’s nations not on track for achieving SDG 1 (No Poverty). Women in OECD countries continue to spend an average of 2 hours more than men a day doing unpaid work.’’

The key findings prove that the world is going nowhere fast regarding the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda. Four years after the adoption of the SDGs “no country is on track for achieving all the goals”. World nations obtain their worst performance on SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 14 (Life Below Water), and SDG 15 (Life on Land). This year again, Nordic countries – Denmark, Sweden and Finland – top the SDG Index even though these countries face major challenges in implementing one or several SDGs. Yet, the Report outlines 6 SDG transformations ‘‘that can help governments develop a clear-eyed implementation strategy’’.

Six Transformations to achieve the SDGs

The report highlights the fact that even the richest and developed countries face serious challenges and are far from meeting all goals. That is why achieving the 17 SDGs and the underlying 169 targets asks for deep systemic transformations in every country that ‘‘require careful design to ensure technical feasibility and efficient investments, promote policy coherence, and ensure buy-in from all parts of society’’. According to the Report, many governments are in doubt how to organize the implementation of the SDGs and how to design and deploy effective strategies for achieving the SDGs by creating improved policies, public and private investments, and regulations. In response to this critical challenge, direct transformations are required and the Report proposes Six Transformations that ‘’group SDG interventions in ways that promote effective implementation strategies by governments, business, and civil society’’. These six Transformations are underpinned by two crosscutting principles of leaving no one behind, and circularity and decoupling, and are:

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


The only way forward

The Report details progress by countries on their achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the general conclusion is that the efforts made so far for achieving of the SDGs have been insufficient and a great chunk of work is left to be performed. Deep changes to policies, investments, and technologies, social activism that mobilizes all stakeholders, international diplomacy and international collaboration and political will, are all crucial and critical for delivering the Sustainable Development Agenda. The gap between rhetoric and action must be closed at all levels-from national, regional, local to individual. We are running out of time and the planet does not need our words, it needs our actions.

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