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The United Nations’ Global Goals have the progessive vision of ending poverty and hunger, making education universal, restoring the natural world, and so much more by the year 2030.

But, based on today’s trends, it looks like countries won’t achieve them until at least 2082, according to a new report

The 2020 Social Progress Index, which was published on Sept. 10 by the nonprofit Social Progress Imperative, argues that if countries fail to take meaningful action to prevent backsliding due to the COVID-19 pandemic, achieving the goals could be set back by another decade.

The UN has already warned that the pandemic has removed more than 1.3 billion children from the classroom, that an additional 130 million people could experience food insecurity this year, and that the world’s most vulnerable people are facing the harshest impacts

The Social Progress Index looks beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, considering it a catastrophic blip on the horizon toward achieving global development goals. 

In that framework, the report argues that the world has made meaningful progress on various issues over the past decade.

Access to water and sanitation, education, shelter, and information and communications have improved the most, while progress in areas such as environmental quality, personal rights and inclusivity, and personal safety has declined.

Kyrgyzstan and Ghana have improved the most relative to their gross domestic product (GDP) class, while Saudi Arabia and Equatorial New Guinea have improved the least relative to their GDP class.

The United States, which ranked 28th in the world in the report, is the only G7 country to have deteriorated in its social progress score, largely due to declining personal rights and inclusivity. 

While reports like these reflect the current state of global development, it’s important to situate them in the broader context of history. It’s no surprise that countries in the Global North — countries that have benefited from colonialism — rank the highest, while countries in the Global South — countries that have been heavily exploited by colonialism — rank the lowest. 

With that in mind, here are the top 10 countries in the 2020 Social Progress Index. 

1. Norway 

Score: 92.73 out of 100

Norway secured the top spot in this year’s index because of its remarkable investments in human well-being. The country ensures every citizen has access to clean water and quality sanitation, shelter, nutritious food, and education. 

Norway received its lowest marks on property rights for women, discrimination and violence against minorities, and women with no schooling.

2. Denmark

Score: 92.11 out of 100

Denmark has a similar report card to Norway, ranking high on the provision of basic human rights that allow people to flourish, while struggling on early marriage, deaths from infectious diseases, and greenhouse gas emissions. 

3. Finland

Score: 91.89 out of 100

Finland also has high scores on nutrition, basic medical care, shelter, and water and sanitation. The country received its lowest scores on religious freedom, biome protection, primary school enrollment, and early marriage.

4. New Zealand

Score: 91.64 out of 100

New Zealand scored high on political rights, corruption, gender parity in secondary attainment, and basic human needs. The country received its lowest scores in the areas of greenhouse gas emissions, early marriage, child and maternal mortality rates, and access to quality health care. 

5. Sweden

Score: 91.62 out of 100

Sweden ranked first in access to electricity, prevalence of undernourishment, gender parity in secondary education, and political killings. The country scored poorly on greenhouse gas emissions, access to quality education, and access to online governance.

6. Switzerland

Score: 91.42

Switzerland is the safest country for pedestrians, having received the best score for traffic deaths. The country also received high scores for general health and wellness, access to electricity and clean cooking fuels, and personal rights. 

Switzerland received low scores on greenhouse gas emissions and women with no schooling. 

7. Canada

Score: 91.40 out of 100

In Canada, citizens have safeguarded political expression, easy access to electricity, and high primary and secondary school enrollment. The country scores abysmally on greenhouse gas emissions and biome protection, and has worse water and sanitation access than its economic peers.

8. Australia

Score: 91.29 out of 100

Australia received strong scores on the prevalence of undernourishment, access to essential health care services, and mobile telephone subscriptions. The country scored terribly on greenhouse gas emissions, and underperformed on access to water and sanitation and access to basic knowledge.

9. Iceland

Score: 91.09 out of 100

Iceland overperformed in access to basic knowledge, water and sanitation, shelter, and personal safety. The country underperformed across the board on political rights metrics. 

10. Netherlands

Score: 91.06 out of 100

The Netherlands scored high on access to advanced education and water and sanitation, while underperforming in the areas of shelter, health and wellness, and access to basic knowledge. 


Demand Equity

Here Are the Top 10 Countries for Social Progress in 2020

By Joe McCarthy