The SDG Index and Dashboards
The adoption in 2015 of three major international agreements - the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, the Paris Climate Agreement, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development - represented major global breakthroughs for the international community. For the first time in history, all UN Member States agreed on a common set of goals for sustainable development (to be achieved by 2030, with mid-century goals for the Paris Climate Agreement) and established major principles and priorities for their financing. These commitments were made possible only through decades of work and advocacy by scientists, experts, governments, and civil society. In fact, 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the first world conference on the global environment - the 1972 Stockholm Conference - and of the release of the landmark report, The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al., 1972). Multiple health and security crises, amplified by the climate and biodiversity crises, are now, however, putting the sustainable development agenda at risk. As the SDG Index highlights, since 2019 these crises have halted progress on sustainable development worldwide.
Although too slow, and unequal across countries and goals, progress was made globally on the SDGs between 2015 and 2019. But on top of their disastrous humanitarian cost, recent health and security crises have shifted attention away from long-term goals such as climate action, and exposed major fragmentation in multilateralism. These successive crises have also hit low-income and vulnerable countries particularly hard, and they may take longer to recover due to more limited access to financing. Members of the Leadership Council of the SDSN have released a statement calling for peace and diplomacy in the context of the war in Ukraine (SDSN, 2022).
Despite these difficult times, the SDGs should remain our roadmap for achieving sustainable development by 2030. They remain the only common language and vision across all UN member states on the triple bottom line of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. As emphasized under SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals), peace and diplomacy are absolute prerequisites for progress on the goals. It is also crucial we learn from the COVID-19 pandemic if we are to prevent and respond in a more coordinated way to future outbreaks and pandemics and other major risks, as underscored by SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being). Achieving the SDGs is fundamentally an investment agenda, into building physical infrastructure and key services, while the bedrock principles of the SDGs of social inclusion, global cooperation, and universal access to public services are needed more than ever to fight the major challenges of our times, including security crises, pandemics, and climate change. Recovery plans, notably in high-income countries (HICs), and increased additional financing should be mobilized for restoring and accelerating SDG progress.
In September 2023, the world’s heads of state will meet at the United Nations in New York for the second SDG Summit since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. The Summit can and must be the opportunity to double down on efforts to transform societies by 2030 and beyond.
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 based on latest trend data to achieve the goals and targets by 2030. Two-thirds of the data come from official statistics (typically UN custodian agencies) and 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 (Schmidt-Traub et al., 2017) and statistically audited by the European Commission (Papadimitriou et al., 2019). More detailed information is available in the Annex (Method’s Summary and Data Tables) and on our website (www.sdgindex.org).
For the second year in a row, the world was no longer making progress on the SDGs in 2021. At 66.0 points, the average SDG Index score declined slightly from 2020: the pandemic and other crises have clearly been major setbacks for sustainable development.
From 2015 to 2019 the world progressed on the SDG Index at an average rate of 0.5 points a year. This was already too slow to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Progress also varied significantly across countries and goals, with trends for some countries and on some goals heading in the wrong direction. Poorer countries with lower SDG Index scores were progressing faster than richer countries. Since 2019, however, SDG Index scores have declined slightly: by 0.01 points per year on average. Overall, progress on the SDG Index has stagnated across all income groups.
The decline in the SDG Index score since 2019 has been driven primarily by a reversal in progress on socioeconomic goals. SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) have been especially impacted by multiple crises in this period. The share of people facing extreme poverty has increased significantly since 2019, including in low-income countries (LICs). Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are also particularly vulnerable to international crises, partly due to their dependence on the international trade system, remittances, and tourism.
As recent editions of the Sustainable Development Report (SDR) have highlighted, progress on other SDGs has also been impacted, including SDG 2 (No Hunger), SDG 3 (Health and Well-Being) and SDG 4 (Quality Education), while temporary gains observed during lockdowns on environmental goals in 2020 were rapidly offset once restrictions were lifted (IPCC, 2022). The 2020 and 2021 editions of the SDR discussed and analyzed in detail the impact of COVID-19 on key SDG metrics (Sachs et al., 2020, 2021).
Due to time lags in data reporting, the full impact of the multiple crises including the COVID-19 pandemic is not fully reflected in this year’s SDG Index. The ramifications that school closures have had on learning outcomes, as well as the pandemic’s direct and indirect effects on health (such as long COVID, mental health impacts, or repercussions of delayed interventions and screening), may have long-term development impacts that could take years to be fully reflected in international statistics. This year’s SDG Index also does not yet capture the war in Ukraine and its impact on many countries. Other studies have already documented the impacts and likely impacts of the war in Ukraine on poverty, food security, and other SDGs (FAO, 2022; Wheatley, 2022; World Bank, 2022c). The impacts of the war in Ukraine, notably on access to food and food prices, are amplified by global warming and droughts notably in South Asia and other parts of the world.
The recovery so far has been unequal, and it remains very uncertain. During the pandemic, rich countries managed to support emergency and recovery expenditures through debt, which helped avoid short-term meltdowns, but which are likely to remain visible on balance sheets for future generations to deal with. Unemployment rates (covered under SDG 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth) declined from 2020 levels in most high-income countries (HICs) in 2021, whereas they continued to increase in LICs – which do not have the same access to international financial markets. The war in Ukraine is also expected to contribute to a significant slowdown of economic growth in 2022 and beyond. Rising energy prices and disruptions of food supply chains are already having a global impact, with vulnerable populations – particularly in LICs – most affected (IMF, 2022).
Figure 2.5 | Unemployment rates (SDG 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth) by income group, 2019, 2020, and 2021 (% of labor force)
As in last year’s edition, Finland tops the 2022 SDG Index, followed by three other Nordic countries – Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Finland and the Nordic countries are also the happiest countries in the world according to the latest World Happiness Report (Helliwell et al., 2022). The top ten countries in the SDG Index are all in Europe, eight of them members of the European Union. While the detailed dashboards show that major SDG challenges remain even in these countries, especially on SDGs 12–15 (related to climate and biodiversity) and in relation to international spillovers, the European model of social democracies seems conducive to strong performance in the three major dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental.
Low-income countries tend to have lower SDG Index scores. This is partly due to the nature of the SDGs, which focus to a large extent on ending extreme poverty and providing access for all to basic services and infrastructure (SDGs 1–9). Moreover, poorer countries tend to lack adequate infrastructure and mechanisms to manage the key environmental challenges addressed by SDGs 12–15. Yet before the pandemic hit, most low-income countries, with the exception of those experiencing ongoing armed conflict or civil war, were making progress towards ending extreme poverty and providing access to basic services and infrastructure, particularly in relation to SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being) and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). As emphasized in Part 1 of this report, we interpret the performance of low-income countries (LICs) as a call to action for the world community to scale up SDG finance, especially for those countries at the bottom of the ladder.
Overall, East and South Asia has progressed on the SDGs more than any other region since their adoption in 2015, with Bangladesh and Cambodia showing the most progress of all countries. By contrast, Venezuela has declined the most on the SDG Index since 2015.
Figure 2.6 | Countries with the greatest change in SDG Index score between 2015 and 2021 (annualized point changes)
This report — the SDR 2022 — focuses on global SDG priorities and trends. For more detailed regional and subnational analyses of SDG data and policies, see SDSN’s special editions of the SDR for Africa (2019, 2020), the Arab Region (2019, 2022), Europe (2019, 2020, 2021), Latin America and the Caribbean (2019) and also for national and subnational entities in Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Italy, Paraguay, Spain, the United States and Uruguay (among others) on our website (www.sdgindex.org). These are developed and prepared in close collaboration with SDSN’s global, regional and national networks of experts and research institutions and other local partners.
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 (Figure 2.8). The OECD dashboards (Figure 2.9) incorporate more indicators than others owing to the greater availability of data for these countries. SDSN is also promoting regional editions of the SDG Index and Dashboards, including editions on Africa, the Arab Region, Europe, and Latin America as well as subnational editions – for instance looking at SDG gaps in cities in Bolivia, Brazil, Italy, Spain and the United States. These regional and subnational editions further contextualize the indicator selection and discuss more specific policy and implementation challenges. For instance, in this global assessment, performance on SDG 1 (No Poverty) only focuses on extreme poverty. In regional editions, we leverage other datasets to track material deprivation and poverty below poverty lines. Besides goal-level analyses, dashboards showing progress on each indicator are included in the country profiles and online database. Table 2.2 shows the ten SDG targets where high-income and low-income countries are facing the greatest challenges and assigns these targets to SDSN's Six SDG Transformations (Sachs et al, 2019).
Overall, high-income countries (HICs) and OECD countries are closer to achieving the targets than other country groups, yet none are on track to achieve all 17 SDGs. These countries perform better on goals related to socio-economic outcomes and basic access to infrastructure and services, including SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), and SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy). For SDG 3, the indicator set does not capture well a country’s preparedness for global health security issues (such as pandemics), due to the absence of a robust international measure. The additional indicators included for OECD countries reveal that, while extreme poverty and basic access to services is mostly guaranteed in these countries, gaps persist in health and education outcomes across population groups, with income inequalities rising in some OECD countries. Further effort is also needed to reduce gender pay gaps to achieve SDG 5 (Gender Equality) in many OECD countries. Only moderate performance on SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions), is partly driven by high homicide rates in large economies (including the United States), but also by persisting issues around access to affordable legal services and justice.
Major efforts are needed in HICs and OECD countries to accelerate progress towards climate mitigation and biodiversity protection (SDGs 12–15) and move towards more sustainable food systems and diets (covered under SDG 2, No Hunger). All HICs and OECD countries generate significant negative socioeconomic and environmental impacts outside their borders (spillovers) through trade and consumption, hampering other countries’ efforts to achieve the SDGs. Historically these countries are also responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change and hence bear a special responsibility to take actions at the national and international level. Yet their progress on SDG 13 (Climate Action) and SDG 14 (Life Below Water) is mostly stagnant or insufficient to achieve internationally agreed targets.
HICs and OECD countries have very low levels of undernourishment and among the most productive agricultural systems, yet they perform poorly on SDG 2 (No Hunger) due to high and rising obesity rates and unsustainable agricultural systems and diets. Tax havens and profit-shifting in some OECD countries continue to undermine the ability of other countries to leverage resources to achieve the SDGs.
Overall, poorer countries – low-income countries (LICs) and lower-middle-income countries (LMICs), including many countries in sub-Saharan Africa – as well as Small Island Developing States (SIDS) tend to face the largest SDG gaps. This is largely driven by a lack of the physical, digital, and human infrastructure (schools, hospitals) needed to achieve the socioeconomic goals (SDGs 1–9) and manage key environmental challenges. Ongoing conflicts in some countries have led to poor and worsening performance on most SDGs for several years, and the pandemic halted years of progress towards eradicating extreme poverty. The war in Ukraine threatens access to food globally, including in countries already facing major challenges on SDG 2 (No Hunger).
By contrast, these countries perform better than the rest of the world on SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and SDG 13 (Climate Action). Many of them emit less than 2 tonnes of CO₂ per person each year. Yet they are often the countries that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Strengthening public-sector capacities as well as statistical capacities remain major priorities in all of these countries, as emphasized under SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions).
Spillovers, both positive and negative, must be understood, measured, and carefully managed. These benefits or costs may be referred to as positive or negative externalities. Countries cannot achieve the SDGs if such negative externalities from other countries counteract their efforts (Schmidt-Traub et al., 2019). International spillover effects are said to occur when one country's actions generate benefits or impose costs on another country that are not reflected in market prices and therefore are not 'internalized' by the actions of consumers and producers (Sachs et al., 2017).
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 modern slavery and child labor.
Conceptually, international spillovers in the context of the SDGs can be grouped into four categories:
• Environmental and social spillovers embodied into trade. These cover international effects related to pollution, the use of natural resources, and social impacts generated by the consumption of goods and services. Multi-regional input-output (MRIO) models combined with satellite datasets provide powerful tools to track impacts generated worldwide by consuming countries. This category of spillovers also includes exports of toxic pesticides, trade in waste, and illegal wildlife trade. They are particularly connected to SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDGs 12–15 (related to responsible consumption, climate and biodiversity) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals). They also indirectly affect all other SDGs.
• Direct cross-border flows in air and water. These cover effects generated through physical flows – for instance of air and water – from one country to another. Cross-border air and water pollution are difficult to attribute to a country of origin, and this remains an important data gap. Unfortunately, the International Spillover Index does not currently include any indicators to track these types of spillovers. They are particularly related to SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) and SDGs 12–15 on climate and biodiversity, but also concern many other goals, including SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being).
• Spillovers related to economic and financial flows. These include unfair tax competition, corruption, banking secrecy, profit shifting, tax havens, and stolen assets – which undermine the capacity of other countries to leverage resources to achieve the SDGs. They also include positive spillovers (or handprints) such as international development finance (for example, ODA). These types of spillovers are closely related to SDG 16 (Peace, Security and Strong Institutions) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals), and indirectly to all other SDGs, notably through ODA.
• Peacekeeping and security spillovers. These include negative externalities such as organized international crime or exports of major conventional weapons or small arms, which can have destabilizing impacts on poor countries. Among the positive spillovers in this category are investments in conflict prevention and peacekeeping. These spillovers are particularly related to SDG 16 (Peace, Security and Strong Institutions) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals), but also indirectly connected with most of the SDGs – including poverty, hunger, and health, as well as other socioeconomic goals.
The 2022 International Spillover Index includes 14 indicators. Each indicator is included in the total SDG Index score, and also used to generate a stand-alone International Spillover Index.
Rich countries tend to generate the largest negative spillover effects, undermining other countries’ efforts to achieve the SDGs. While member states of the European Union and many OECD countries top the SDG Index and the World Happiness Report, they are among the worst performers when it comes to international spillover effects. Approximately 40 percent of the European Union’s carbon footprint relating to its consumption of good and services takes place in other countries (SDSN et al., 2021).
The European Union’s consumption of good and services is responsible for 16 percent of the world’s tropical deforestation (WWF, 2021), its imports of textile products are associated with 375 fatal and 21,000 non-fatal accidents at work, and its food demand contributes to 16 percent of the particulate matter emissions outside its borders (Malik, Lafortune, Carter, et al., 2021; Malik, Lafortune, Dahir, et al., 2021). Focusing on trajectories: while the European Union has managed to decouple economic growth from domestic CO₂ emissions in recent years, there are no signs of structural decline in its imported CO₂ emissions (CO₂ emissions generated abroad to satisfy EU consumption). Overall, HICs are responsible for more than 80% of cumulative imported CO₂ emissions over the period 2010-2018.
Figure 2.18 | Growth rate of GDP, production-based CO₂ emissions and imported CO₂ emissions, EU27, 2000-2019
Figure 2.19 | Imported CO₂ emissions by country income groups, cumulative average per person per year, 2010-2018
To ensure international legitimacy, the European Union and other rich countries must address negative international spillovers, including those embodied into unsustainable supply chains. The European Union and its member states are taking action. The current President of the European Commission has called for “zero tolerance” of child labor and has proposed using trade to export European values throughout the world (von der Leyen, 2019). The European Union is developing various regulations and tools to strengthen policy coherence and due diligence across supply chains. In 2022, Sweden became the first country in the world to announce its intention to define a target to reduce consumption- based CO₂ emissions (Naturskyddsföreningen, 2022).
Finland’s latest Voluntary National Review (VNR) includes a section on measuring and addressing international spillovers (Prime Minister’s Office of Finland, 2020). Finally, EU technical agencies including the Joint Research Centre, Eurostat, and the European Environment Agency have developed tools and indicators to monitor international spillovers.
We have identified four major priority areas in addressing international spillovers:
1. SDG Financing: Rich countries bear a special responsibility when it comes to climate adaptation and mitigation and safeguarding the Global Commons. They should push for major reforms to the international development finance system to support key SDG Transformations (see Part 1). In 2021, only five OECD Development Assistance Committee member countries (Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden) achieved the target of dedicating 0.7 percent of their gross national income to official development assistance. Multiple crises are putting further pressure on development finance. Rich countries fell short too in delivering on their commitment to mobilizing US$100 billion each year by 2020 to mitigate further rises in temperature and help poorer countries adapt to climate change. Several positive moves were made at COP26 in November 2021, including the US and European Union's pledge to slash methane emissions and the European Union's commitment of €1 billion to protect world forests. Rich countries must also lead the way in combating illicit financial flows, unfair tax competition, and profit shifting – all of which undermine other countries' capacity to leverage resources towards realizing the SDGs. The international agreement to implement a global minimum corporate tax rate by 2023 is a step in the right direction but will require effective implementation.
2. Technical Cooperation and SDG diplomacy: Technical cooperation and knowledge transfer can support greater sustainability in producing countries. In the European Union, SDG/Green Deal diplomacy can help to achieve sustainable development worldwide while advancing the region’s geopolitical interests. It is critical that major international infrastructure investment programs – including the United States’ Build Back Better plan, the European Union’s Global Gateway strategy, and China’s Belt and Road Initiative – align with the SDGs and modernize production systems and connectivity in developing countries. Rich countries must leverage diplomacy to advance key multilateral processes towards achieving the SDGs: at the UN General Assembly, the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, the G7 (under German presidency in 2022), the G20 (under Indonesian presidency in 2022), and the Annual Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank.
3. National targets and instruments: In 2022, Sweden became the first country to commit to setting a national target to curb its imported consumption-based CO₂ emissions. National targets can help catalyze action. Due diligence regulations and other monitoring and regulatory instruments must be leveraged to hold businesses accountable for the impacts generated through their value chains. If well designed, measures such as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism or mirror clauses currently under discussion in the European Union could boost policy coherence and encourage other countries to align with the European Green Deal goals and requirements. Yet these same measures might arguably be considered protectionist – since they will inevitably impact trade partners, including poorer countries that are not historically responsible for climate change. To counter this, they must be implemented alongside increased commitments to international financing and development cooperation. Rich countries should also curb trade in waste and toxic pesticides and reduce unsustainable consumption, including through improved diets and lower material consumption.
4. Accountability, data, and statistics: Robust data systems are paramount at the international, national, industrial, and corporation levels: to track negative impacts throughout the entire supply chain and to inform global action to address spillovers. Over time, consumption-based metrics should become part of official statistics. International spillovers must also be included more systematically in voluntary national reviews (VNRs) presented by rich countries, following the example of Finland.
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 et al. (2022): From Crisis to Sustainable Development: the SDGs as Roadmap to 2030 and Beyond. Sustainable Development Report 2022. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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