The Sustainable Development Solutions Network released its annual Sustainable Development Report, which includes the 2021 SDG Index and Dashboards. The yearly resources provide data to track and rank the performance of all UN Member States on the 17 SDGs. The 2021 report also includes the International Spillover Index.
The first-ever global decline in SDG progress has been driven by increased poverty rates and unemployment related to COVID-19.
SDSN works to mobilize expertise for problem solving for sustainable development. The report was written by Jeffrey Sachs, SDSN President, as well as Christian Kroll, Guillaume Lafortune, Grayson Fuller, and Finn Woelm.
The 2021 report shows the first-ever reversal in progress since the SDGs were adopted in 2015. This reversal is revealed by a decrease in the global average country score on the SDG Index. The authors explain the decline as driven “to a large extent by increased poverty rates and unemployment” related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report also links SDG progress to fiscal space, noting that developing countries have limited capacity to access market financing, which inhibits emergency response and investment-led recovery plans. “While the governments of high-income countries have borrowed heavily in response to the pandemic, [low-income developing countries] have been unable to do so because of their lower market creditworthiness.” As a short-term result, “rich countries are likely to recover from the pandemic more quickly than poor countries.” The report makes recommendations for increasing fiscal space for developing countries.
Sachs explains that the COVID-19 pandemic has created “not only a global health emergency but also a sustainable development crisis.” The way to restore SDG progress is to significantly increase fiscal space in developing countries, utilizing both global tax reform and expanded financing from multilateral development banks (MDBs).
On spillover effects, the authors stress that each country’s strategy to achieve the SDGs must avoid generating negative impacts on other countries. According to the index, high-income countries and OECD countries tend to generate the largest negative spillovers. These can occur through unsustainable supply chains, base erosion, and profit shifting.
Among the country-specific findings released on 14 June 2021:
- Finland, Sweden and Denmark are ranked first, second and third, but even they are not on track to achieve all for the SDGs by 2030, given major challenges on several SDGs;
- The most progress is found in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Côte d’Ivoire; the authors add that some of the countries that progressed most also started from lower baselines;
- On a regional level, the region with the most progress has been East and South Asia; and
- Countries with the sharpest declines in SDG scores since 2015 include Brazil, Venezuela, and Tuvalu.
The Sustainable Development Report is one of several SDG assessments released each year in the lead-up to the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) meeting. The UN Secretary-General’s 2021 SDG Progress Report, which was released in May, includes several paragraphs on the status of each SDG, based on available data on the global indicators as of April 2021. The report highlights that for the poorest countries, SDG progress is being pushed back a full ten years because of the pandemic (SDG 10, reduced inequalities), and foreign direct investment is expected to drop by 40% (SDG 17, partnership for the Goals), adding to a shrinking ability for countries to make critical investments in recovery, climate change, and the SDGs. [SDSN press release] [Publication: Sustainable Development Report 2021: The Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals] [SDG Index website]