Even within a wealthy region like the European Union, it turns out that no country is on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and one of the goals in most need of improvement is No Hunger. That’s according to the new Europe Sustainable Development Goal Report published Tuesday.
The report is based on data from before the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning it presents a more optimistic outlook than what is likely the current reality. The pandemic, the report says, is a “serious setback” for sustainable development in the region and globally. Nevertheless, the SDGs are a “global affirmation of European values” and are achievable with strong political leadership.
The report also ranks the progress of every EU country toward the SDGs (with the exception of Liechtenstein for which there was insufficient data to calculate a score and ranking). At the top of the index is Finland, with an overall score of 81.1, which the report says can be interpreted as the percentage of SDGs the country has achieved. Still, even for the number one country in the region, major challenges remain for Finland toward achieving No Hunger (SDG 2), Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12) and Climate Action (SDG 13).
These challenges largely reflect the biggest challenges the EU faces as a whole: No Hunger, Climate Action, Life Below Water (SDG 14) and Life On Land (SDG 15). The report says that the EU performed especially poorly on No Hunger because of high and rising obesity rates, unsustainable diets and unsustainable agricultural and farming practices.
At the bottom of the index was Bulgaria, which earned an overall score of 55.8. On every SDG except four, it faces “significant challenges.” On the other four – Quality Education (SDG 4); Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (SDG 9), Reduced Inequalities (SDG 10); Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (SDG 16) – it faces even bigger “major challenges.”
The index also assigned countries a “Leave No One Behind” score and a “Spillover” score. Because the SDGs are guided by a principle of leaving no one behind in the pursuit of progress, the former score is based on inequalities in poverty, services, gender and income. A higher score, therefore, corresponds with fewer population groups left behind in a country. In this regard, Norway topped Finland with a score of 87.03. At the bottom, Romania scored just slightly worse than Bulgaria with a score of 47.74 to Bulgaria’s 47.97.
Finally, the “Spillover” score takes into account that in an interconnected world, every country’s actions will have an impact, whether positive or negative, on other country’s abilities to achieve the SDGs. Based on trade, economic and security policies, the index assigned each country a third score. The higher the score, the more positive and fewer negative spillover effects a country causes. Here, the rankings are very different from the previous two measurements, with Poland, Romania and Hungary securing the first three spots in that order and with Switzerland bringing up the rear.
Overall, the report says that European countries are causing serious negative environmental, social and economic spillovers outside the region. For example, clothing, textiles and leather-product imports from other regions are related to 37 fatal workplace accidents and 21,000 nonfatal accidents every year.
Negative spillovers also increase the likelihood of future pandemics, the report says. When any country doesn’t have global health security (SDG 3 target d), the whole world is at risk, as we’ve seen this year. According to the report, suppressing the pandemic should be the region’s top priority, including learning from other countries, like those in the Asia-Pacific region, that have done a better job than Europe of handling the pandemic. Once that is tackled, the report says the SDGs provide a sustainable and inclusive framework for Europe and the world to build back better.