The SDG Index and Dashboards
The SDG Index and Dashboards track the annual progress of all 193 UN Member States towards the SDGs (Box 1). At the midpoint of the 2030 Agenda, however, the SDGs are far off track. Despite the world improving on average half a point per year on the SDG Index between 2015 and 2019 (which was already too slow) progress has stalled since the outbreak of the pandemic and the onset of other overlapping crises. And while most high-income countries (HICs) were able to mitigate the socioeconomic impacts of these multiple crises through automatic stabilizers, emergency expenditures, and recovery plans, there has been limited progress on environmental and biodiversity goals, including SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 14 (Life Below Water) and SDG 15 (Life on Land), including in countries that are largely responsible for the climate and biodiversity crises. The disruptions caused by these multiple crises also aggravated fiscal-space issues in low-income and lower-middle-income countries (LICs and LMICs), leading to a reversal in progress on several related goals and indicators.
Based on the pace of progress since 2015, none of the goals is on track to be achieved globally by 2030. Figure 2.1 provides a summary of the population-weighted world average performance by goal. Those related to hunger, sustainable diets, and health outcomes are particularly off-track, as are the goals concerning terrestrial and marine biodiversity, urban pollution, housing, strong institutions, and peaceful societies. Although on average the world has made some progress in strengthening access to key infrastructure, covered notably under SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), this varies extensively across countries, and the world average remains too slow to achieve these SDGs globally by 2030. The education dashboard focuses on access to pre-primary and primary education, as well as on lower-secondary education completion rates. Due to limited data availability at the global level, it does not track the quality of education, equity in learning outcomes, or lifelong learning. The dashboard for SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) focuses on production-based nitrogen emissions, imported nitrogen emissions, and export of plastic waste, however we lack time series for several other indicators for this goal. Country-level information and regional averages are available in the country profiles.
We estimate that on average only around 18 percent of the SDG targets are on track to be achieved globally by 2030. These are notably related to basic health outcomes, such as neonatal mortality and under-5 mortality rates, as well as access to basic infrastructure and services – such as targets on mobile use, internet use, and the share of adults with a bank account. Other recent findings at the global and regional levels similarly suggest that less than 20 percent of the SDG targets are on track (United Nations 2023; UNECE 2023).
The SDG Index is an assessment of each country’s overall performance on the 17 SDGs, giving equal weight to each Goal. The score signifies a country’s position between the worst possible outcome (score of 0) and the target (score of 100). The dashboard and trend arrows help identify priorities for further actions and indicate whether countries are on track or off track to achieve the goals and targets by 2030, based on latest trend data. The 2023 SDG Index edition includes 97 global indicators. Two-thirds of the data come from official statistics (typically United Nations custodian agencies) with one third from non-traditional statistics, including research centers, universities, and non-governmental organizations. Published since 2015, the SDG Index and Dashboards has been peer-reviewed and the global edition has been statistically audited by the European Commission in 2019 (Schmidt-Traub et al. 2017; Papadimitriou, Neves, and Becker 2019). More detailed information is available in the Methods Annex, in the detailed methodology paper (Lafortune et al. 2018), and on our website (www.sdgindex.org).
Table 2.1 | The world's top five countries in terms of SDG targets achieved or on track, and those with the greatest percentage of targets showing a reversal in progress
There is significant variation in progress by regions and income groups. Overall, European countries top the SDG Index and are also on track to achieving more targets than any other region. Denmark, Czechia, Estonia, Latvia, and the Slovak Republic are the five countries that have achieved, or are on track to achieving, the largest number of SDG targets. By contrast, Lebanon, Yemen, Papua New Guinea, Venezuela, and Myanmar present the largest number of SDG targets for which there has been a reversal in progress.
Overall, Finland tops the 2023 SDG Index, followed by Sweden and Denmark. All top 20 countries on the SDG Index are in Europe, most of them European Union member states. Yet none of these countries obtains a perfect score. The dashboards presented in section 2.4 illustrate that even the highest-performing countries on the SDG Index still face major challenges in achieving several SDGs, especially those related to climate, biodiversity, and sustainable diets and food systems. As detailed in the Europe Sustainable Development Report 2022, trends on several leave-no-one-behind indicators are not heading in the right direction in many EU member states (Lafortune et al. 2022).
Chad, Central African Republic, and South Sudan obtain the lowest 2023 SDG Index scores. As a result of missing data, we were unable to compute SDG Index scores for many Small Island Developing States (SIDS), although their country profiles provide an overview of their performance by goals and targets, and highlight where data are missing for these countries.
Multiple and overlapping health and geopolitical crises have led to stagnation in SDG progress globally since 2020. At the global level, the SDG Index has stalled since 2020 – and in 2022 is one full point below the projected level based on pre-pandemic trends (Figure 2.4). In LICs, the preliminary estimated average SDG Index score for 2022 is lower than it was for 2021, a shift driven partly by estimated declines in life satisfaction and feelings of safety (Figure 2.5). Extreme poverty rates in LICs remain above pre-pandemic levels, while the percentage of surviving infants who have received 2 WHO-recommended vaccines has dropped significantly (Figures 2.6 and 2.7). In HICs and LICs, the pandemic and other crises have led to substantial declines in subjective well-being, which remains below pre-pandemic levels (Figure 2.8). Unemployment rates in both HICs and LICs is above pre- pandemic levels, although it has increased much more in LICs (Figure 2.9). From a simple linear projection of past growth rates, the gap between SDG outcomes in HICs and in LICs is expected to be greater in 2030 than it was in 2015. This is in sharp contrast to the pre-pandemic trend, where there was some convergence in SDG outcomes (Figure 2.10).
Above all, the SDGs represent an investment agenda: to develop physical infrastructure (including renewable energy, electrification, broadband access, public transport) and human capital (health, education, social protection). Yet many LICs and LMICs face major fiscal-space constraints that represent significant barriers to investing in the SDGs, and which the COVID-19 pandemic and other international crises have aggravated. The dashboards highlight persisting gaps between LICs, LMICs, and HICs in access to physical infrastructure and human capital. As one example, this year’s SDG Index includes a new indicator related to access to all-season roads, based on geospatial information. Figure 2.11 presents the 11 countries in which less than 50 percent of the rural population has access to all-season roads, and shows the gap between the world average and that of the HICs.
Figure 2.11 | Countries where 50% or more of the rural population has no access to all-season roads, and comparison with HICs and World average (%)
The climate and biodiversity crises are driven by domestic action, but they are also impacted by activities that extend beyond national borders: through trade and other cross-border activities. In addition to environmental spillovers, which are driven by international trade and domestic policies, countries also generate economic, financial, social, and security spillovers. These spillover effects are captured in the SDG Index.
The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs recognize the importance of international spillovers in several crucial ways. SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals) calls for ‘policy coherence’ for sustainable development, SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) stresses the need for more sustainable production and consumption, and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) demands the eradication of child labor and modern slavery. The SDSN, working with partners, has from the start incorporated international spillovers in our assessment of countries’ progress towards the SDGs. This can explain certain differences in SDG Index results compared with those of other SDG monitoring instruments (Lafortune et al. 2020).
Overall, HICs tend to generate the largest negative spillovers, due to unsustainable consumption, financial secrecy, and the presence of tax havens. Spillover indicators are included in calculating the SDG Index and individual goal scores and dashboards, and are also aggregated in a stand-alone international spillover index. Figure 2.12 compares international spillover index results by income level. This year, we included an additional indicator that tracks cases of modern slavery embodied in international supply chains, building on a study published in 2022 (Malik et al. 2022). Major updates to indicators related to financial secrecy have also been integrated, building notably on the work of the Tax Justice Network.
Environmental spillovers are driven to a large extent by inadequate pricing of environmental externalities, particularly natural capital. One step in the right direction is the growing adoption of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) – an international statistical standard for natural capital accounting (UN DESA 2022). A second major driver of such spillovers is the fact that countries design their national policies to meet national objectives that may not incorporate the need to reduce spillovers and to safeguard the global commons. This makes environmental spillovers hard to address. SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals) calls on all countries to enhance policy coherence for sustainable development (PCSD), yet we still lack a robust and comparable headline indicator of countries’ efforts to implement PCSD, despite the efforts of UNEP and the OECD to develop a methodology (UNEP and OECD 2022). A recent analysis led by SYSTEMIQ, the University of Tokyo, and SDSN identifies four major national policy levers to curb international spillovers: target setting, public management, regulation, and fiscal policy and financing.
Supply chains can stretch through multiple countries, and spillover impacts accumulate as they are embodied at multiple steps along the journey to the final destination country. Figure 2.13 illustrates a simplified example using three countries (SDSN, University of Tokyo, and Yale University 2023). Water stress in Country A and air emissions in Country B count as domestic impacts within those countries. Because the final demand is in Country C, these impacts both count as spillovers in Country C. Spillovers thus include more impacts than those embodied only in the last segment of the supply chain.
As one example: when considering consumption patterns, the textiles and clothing sector is one of the most substantial generators of spillovers of GHG emissions. Figure 2.14 indicates that, of GHG emissions due to global final demand for textiles and clothing, 59 percent are emitted along the supply chains of countries other than those where the final products are consumed (i.e., spillovers), while 41 percent are emitted in the countries in which the final products are consumed (i.e., non-spillovers). These GHGs originate from a variety of sectors along the textiles and clothing supply chains of countries on the left side of the diagram, including the textile sector itself, electricity production, chemical production, and more. Of the spillover GHG emissions caused by the final consumption of textiles and clothing, the two largest destinations are the EU27 and the United States, each accounting for 21 percent. Among countries whose supply chains contribute to producing these goods for consumption abroad, China generates 40 percent of the spillover GHG emissions. The textiles and clothing sector is also associated with negative socioeconomic spillovers, including accidents at work and child labor (Malik et al. 2021).
Curbing trade-related spillovers is a matter of making trade more sustainable and more consistent with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, the Global Biodiversity Framework, the High Seas Treaty and the SDGs – rather than simply restricting trade, which plays such a massive role in enabling developing countries to generate employment and socioeconomic development. Success requires a combination of better metrics and policies in importing countries that must be coupled with support to exporting countries, particularly tropical forest countries, to transition towards more environmentally sustainable technologies and development paths. Both sides – importers and exporters – must work closely together in partnership to tackle this shared challenge (University of Tokyo, Systemiq, and SDSN, 2023).
The SDG dashboards highlight each country’s strengths and weaknesses in relation to the 17 goals, presenting performance in terms of levels and trends. As described in the methodology section, dashboard ratings for each goal are based on data for the two indicators on which the country performs worst. Good performance on five of seven indicators, for example, does not compensate for poor performance on the other two. In other words, our methodology assumes low substitutability or compensation across indicators in the construction of our composite index. The arrow system focuses on structural trajectories since the adoption of the SDGs (and less on year-on-year changes). As in previous years, the dashboards include population-weighted averages for each region and income group, using the same set of indicators as the SDG Index. The OECD dashboards incorporate more indicators than others, owing to the greater availability of data for these countries. We also find that 17 “headline” indicators tend to be very good predictors of the overall SDG Index, which uses 97 indicators (Box. 2).
The SDG Index is an accountability tool, but it is also a tool to highlight data gaps and areas where further effort is needed to strengthen data availability and timeliness. Overall, this year’s edition includes 97 indicators. Yet the SDG Index score and rankings can be explained through a handful of key indicators. Using 17 “headline” indicators that cover SDSN’s Six SDG Transformations and other major principles, including leave no one behind, good governance, and the concept of international spillovers, we find a very high and statistically significant correlation (both in terms of scores and ranks) with the overall SDG Index. These indicators are: (1) Poverty headcount ratio at US$2.15/day, (2) Prevalence of undernourishment, (3) Life expectancy at birth, (4) Lower secondary completion rate, (5) Share of women parliamentarians, (6) Population using at least basic sanitation services, (7) Population with access to electricity, (8) Unemployment rate, (9) Population using the internet, (10) GINI coefficient, (11) Annual mean concentration of particulate matter of less than 2.5 microns in diameter, (12) Imported SO2 emissions, (13) CO₂ emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production, (14) Ocean Health Index: Clean Water, (15) Red List Index of species survival, (16) Corruption perception index, and (17) Statistical Performance Index. There are no signs of collinearity among these indicators.
The Sustainable Development Report (formerly the SDG Index & Dashboards) is a global assessment of countries' progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. It is a complement to the official SDG indicators and the voluntary national reviews.
All data presented on this website are based on the publication Sachs, J.D., Lafortune, G., Fuller, G., Drumm, E. (2023). Implementing the SDG Stimulus. Sustainable Development Report 2023. Paris: SDSN, Dublin: Dublin University Press, 2023. 10.25546/102924
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