Photo credit: The United Nations
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been a significant setback for countries’ achievement of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their 169 targets. This was one of the main takeaways from the virtual launch of the Sustainable Development Report 2021: The Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals on June 14.
Released annually, the Sustainable Development Report is a key resource for tracking countries’ progress towards achievement of the SDGs which are part of the 2030 Agenda for Development agreed to by UN Member States, including those in the Caribbean, in 2015. The goals are ambitious, balancing all three elements of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. Countries agree to achieve these goals by 2030 and this decade has been declared the ‘Decade of Action’ for the SDGs.
A country’s rank on the SDG Index is determined by its overall score. This overall score measures a country’s total progress towards achieving all 17 SDGs, with a score of 100 being a perfect score, that is, complete achievement of all 17 SDGs. The score can be interpreted as a percentage of SDG achievement. The report also contains dashboards showing countries’ trends on the individual goals, subject to data availability.
Top performers globally
This year’s report ranked 165 countries. Overall, member states of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are nearer to achieving the targets than any other country group, according to the Report. Finland tops the SDG Index 2021 with an overall score of 85.90, followed by Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Belgium to round out the top 5 performing countries. However, no country in the world has a perfect score nor is on track for achieving all the goals by 2030.
Bangladesh has registered the most progress towards SDG achievement, followed by Afghanistan and Cote d’Ivoire. Indeed, East and South Asia was revealed to be the region which has progressed the most on the SDGs. Brazil, Venezuela and Tuvalu were the countries which registered the most marked declines.
Caribbean countries’ performance
Many SIDS, including from the Caribbean, are not ranked on the SDG Index due to insufficient data. For those Caribbean countries ranked, Cuba was the highest with a rank of 49 followed by the Dominican Republic (67). Among countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Jamaica is the highest ranked at 81 out of 165 countries and a score of 69, a modest improvement from its score of 68.7 on the 2020 index.
Jamaica is followed in rank by Barbados (83), Suriname (91), Belize (104), Trinidad & Tobago (108), Guyana (128) and Haiti (150). Jamaica and Barbados were the only two CARICOM countries to see an improvement in their overall score compared to 2020 levels. Suriname, Belize, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana and Haiti saw declines in their overall scores towards SDG progress.
Country profiles are however included even for those countries which are unable to be ranked on the index due to data shortages.
Some key take-aways from the report
The authors described 2020 as a ‘major setback for sustainable development’. For the first time since the SDG Index has been published, there has been a global decline in goal achievement driven in great part by an increase in extreme poverty and unemployment largely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report noted that there remains a gap between countries’ SDG commitments and implementation/mainstreaming. This must be addressed if the goals are to be achieved by 2030. The Report called for strong multilateral action to make the ‘Decade for Action’ count. The authors further pointed to the need for a significant increase in fiscal space, global tax reform and expanded financing by multilateral development banks and debt relief to restore SDG progress in developing countries.
The Report also contained a 2021 International Spillover Index which demonstrated how rich countries can generate negative socioeconomic and environmental spillovers undermining poorer countries’ ability to mobilise the financial resources needed to achieve the SDGs. Indeed, it highlighted how unsustainable trade and supply chains and tax havens and profit shifting in many rich countries undermine other countries’ ability to mobilize needed financial resources to achieve the SDGs.
The report was prepared by teams of independent experts at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Bertelsmann Stiftung and was authored by Jeffrey Sachs, Christian Kroll, Guillaume Lafortune, Grayson Fuller and Finn Woelm.
The full SDG Report 2021 may be accessed here.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. All views herein expressed are her personal views and should not be attributed to any institution with which she may from time to time be affiliated. You can read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.