An elderly woman from the Mae Tao River basin shows a patient card of the Cadmium Project after suffering from kidney degeneration. Photo: ©Roengrit Kongmuang for the Photo Essay series: SDGs I The Depth of Field

Halfway to 2030, Sustainable Development Goals are seriously “off track”: Jeffrey Sachs

Thailand, meanwhile, sees its SDGs performance slightly improve from last year’s index_+0.6 point with the rank at 43rd

The new Sustainable Development Report 2023 and Index launched at the mid-point of the SDG implementation this week has revealed that based on the current pace of progress since 2015 when the concept was first introduced to the global community, none of the goals will be achieved by 2030. And on average, less than 20% of the SDG targets are on track to be achieved, according to the same report produced by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).

Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs are a collection of 17 interlinked development goals agreed upon in 2015 at the UN General Assembly by the UN member States to serve as a shared blueprint for a better and more sustainable future by calling for their action to address global challenges together in their national policies and agendas. They were formulated as part of the Post-2015 Development Agenda or known as Agenda 2030, which sought to create a future global development framework to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which ended that year.

The SD report notes that while from the first halfway, 2015 to 2019, the world was making some “modest” progress on the SDGs, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and simultaneous global crises and setbacks, progress has stalled and is one full point below the projected level based on pre-pandemic trends.

For the third year in a row, global progress on the SDGs has been static, and there is a risk that the gap in SDG outcomes between high-income countries (HICs) and low-income countries (LICs) will be larger in 2030 (29 points) than when the goals were universally agreed upon in 2015 (28 points). This, it said, underscores “the danger of losing a decade of progress” towards convergence globally.

Some of the indicators that experienced the most significant reversals in progress include subjective well-being, access to vaccination, poverty, and unemployment rate, the report highlights.

SDG goals related to hunger, sustainable diets and health outcomes (SDG 2 and SDG 3) are particularly off-track, as well as terrestrial and marine biodiversity (SDGs 14 and 15), air and plastic pollution (SDG 11 and SDG 12), and strong institutions and peaceful societies (SDG 16), the report notes.

On average, the report further notes, since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015, the world 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).

Chronic shortfalls of SDG financing

At their core, the SDGs are investment agenda, and the current global financial architecture (GFA) is failing to channel global savings to SDG investments at the needed pace and scale, the report has revealed.

The report cites Moody’s and World Bank that in 2023 investment per person in the LICs averaged a meagre US$175 per person, compared with US$11,535 per person in the HICs. Most LICs and LMICs lack the credit ratings to borrow on acceptable terms, making them highly vulnerable to self-fulfilling liquidity and balance of payments crises and nearly impossible for these countries to implement long-term sustainable investment strategies. 

Coupled with these challenges are private capital markets that continue to direct large flows of private savings to unsustainable technologies and practices and an international system that is impeded by outdated frameworks to ensure large-scale SDG financing. 

“Halfway to 2030, the SDGs are seriously off track – with the poor and highly vulnerable countries suffering the most,” remarked Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, President of the SDSN and a lead author of the report. “The international community should step up at this month’s Summit for a New Global Financing Pact in Paris, and at the key upcoming multilateral meetings, including the G20 meeting in New Delhi, the SDG Summit New York in September, and COP28 in Dubai, to scale-up international financial flows based on SDG needs. It would be unconscionable for the world to miss this opportunity, especially for the richest countries to evade their responsibilities. The SDGs remain fundamental for the future we want.”

The halfway momentum

Countries are urged to use this halfway momentum to self-critically review and revise their national SDG strategies and long-term investment frameworks.

At the mid-point of the SDGs, the report said that government effort and commitment to the SDGs is too low, and no country is close to obtaining a perfect score. There is significant variation across countries, with some developing and emerging economies including Benin, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Senegal showing quite remarkable commitment for the SDGs, the report notes. 

Notably, LICs and LMICs obtained a higher average score than HICs on political and institutional leadership for the SDGs, it further notes. Since the adoption of the SDGs, five countries have never submitted their SDG action plan to the UN for a Voluntary National Review; these include Haiti, Myanmar, South Sudan, Yemen, and the United States.

“This year’s report also shows that despite most governments having signalled “soft” SDG integration into their public management practices and procedures, “hard” SDG integration is missing in most countries, including the use of the SDGs to support long-term budget and investment frameworks.

“In a survey of 74 countries and the European Union, only one-third of governments mention the SDGs or use related terms in their latest official budget document, with even fewer including the SDGs in a dedicated section, budget lines, or allocation,” the report underlines.

The report also highlights some other key findings. It said rich countries continue to generate negative international spillovers. When considering consumption patterns, one of the most substantial sectors for negative international spillovers of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is textiles and clothing. The 2023 International Spillover Index included in this report highlights that 59% of GHG emissions are emitted along the supply chain of different countries than where the final textiles and clothing products are consumed.

Science-based instruments are needed at all levels to guide SDG action and strengthen accountability, the report notes.

The SDG Index

The SD report also includes the SDG Index and Dashboards ranking the performance of all UN Member States on the SDG. It cites that Finland holds the top spot on this year’s 2023 SDG Index, followed by Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and Austria.

European countries, meanwhile, continue to lead in the SDG Index – holding the top 10 spots – and are on track to achieve more targets than any other region, with Denmark, Czechia, Estonia, Latvia, and the Slovak Republic as the top five countries that have achieved or are on track to achieving the largest number of SDG targets this year, the report notes of the index.

By contrast, Lebanon, Yemen, Papua New Guinea, Venezuela, and Myanmar have the largest number of SDG targets moving in the wrong direction, it said.

For Thailand, as studied by SDG Move, an academic think tank on SDGs, it has been ranked in this year’s SDG index at 43rd, having slightly improved from last year’s performance by 0.6 points. The country is placed as the first in ASEAN and the third in Asia with a total score achieved at 74.7.

Among the 17 SDG goals, the country has managed to successfully address two of them; SDG 4 (Quality Education) and 1 (No Poverty). SDG Move has remarked that this assessment is based on a few indicators and a more detailed assessment is needed to help confirm the country’s accomplishment. Other goals have been achieved at various levels, ranging from “being challenging” (Orange), and “highly challenging” (RED).

Graphic courtesy of SDG Move

Also read: SDG Index 2023 ไทยรั้งอันดับ 43 ของโลก อันดับ 3 ของเอเชีย พบ SDG1 และ SDG4 อยู่ในสถานะบรรลุเป้าหมายแล้ว