The world has made significant progress towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, also known as the Global Goals). But many countries still lag behind when it comes to promoting gender equality, access to health and education, climate sustainability, and other essential targets of the SDGs.
This is according to the key findings from the Sustainable Development Report 2020, published in June.
Produced by experts who work at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and their partners, the report measures how far along different countries are in achieving the SDGs.
The SDGs were adopted by the United Nations — with agreement from all its 193 member states — in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.
The 2020 report found that the global community has made significant progress on the SDGs between 2015 and 2019 — with Sweden, Denmark, and Finland coming out top in the global country rankings. However, no country is on track yet for achieving all SDGs in the next 10 years.
The report also measured the impact of COVID-19 on the SDGs, in particular on Goal 3 for Good Health and Well-Being.
With the pandemic putting pressure on health systems globally, the report says that all countries remain at risk of COVID-19 and its impacts — even if some countries are doing a better job of containing and tackling the virus than others.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shed considerable light on the vulnerability of health systems, notably in high-income countries that were thought best prepared to face epidemics,” the report said.
Jeffrey D. Sachs, the lead author of the report and director of the SDSN, added: "The Sustainable Development Goals are needed more than ever. Their bedrock principles of social inclusion, universal access to public services, and global cooperation are the guideposts for fighting COVID-19, as well as for the investment-led recovery the world should adopt to overcome the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.”
Sachs added that the 2020 report focuses on both the short-term fight against COVID-19 and long-term plans for recovery, in particular how COVID-19 will impact SDG 1 for No Poverty, SDG 2 for Zero Hunger, SDG 3 for Good Health and Well-Being, and SDG 8 for Decent Work and Economic Growth.
“There was clear SDG progress before this year’s pandemic. With sound policies and strong global cooperation, we can restore that progress in the coming decade,” said Sachs.
Now, as the world marks 10 years to go until the 2030 target to end extreme poverty and achieve the ambitions of the SDGs, we’re taking a deep-dive into the progress that’s been made and what’s still needed to address the considerable global challenges we’re facing.
We’re exploring the key lessons we can learn from the report to drive further progress across geographical regions and core issues — such as gender equality, and the environment — to share with Global Citizens the important learnings from the 2020 Sustainable Development Report.
The report ranked 166 countries out of the 193 United Nations member states, which includes all 54 African countries. So, how did countries in Africa perform in the global rankings?
The top performing countries from across Africa are Cape Verde, Ghana, Mauritius, South Africa, and Gabon.
Cape Verde, ranked 92, is on track to achieve the SDG 13 for Climate Action, which calls for urgent action to combat climate change and mitigate its effects.
The country made moderate improvements towards achieving SDG 2 for Zero Hunger, SDG 3 for Good Health and Well-Being, SDG 5 for Gender Equality, SDG 6 for Clean Water and Sanitation, SDG 11 for Sustainable Cities, SDG 14 for Life Below Water, SDG 15 for Life On Land, SDG 16 for Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions, and SDG 17 for Partnership for the Goals.
However, the quality of education (SDG 4) in the country is decreasing, with fewer students completing secondary education.
Ghana — ranked at 100 — is making significant progress in combating climate change, and increasing access to decent work and economic growth.
The country has made slight improvements in reducing poverty and hunger, as well as promoting gender equality, good health and well-being, quality education, clean water and sanitation, and life below water.
However, the report found, the country is still facing major challenges despite the progress.
For example, while there has been overall progress advancing gender equality, with more girls accessing education and more entering the labour market, there hasn’t yet been an increase in the number of female parliamentarians.
Mauritius, which is ranked at 108, is on track to eliminate poverty but the country is lagging behind in reducing inequalities and combating climate action, improving access to clean water and sanitation, promoting responsible consumption and production, and protecting life on land.
There has, however, been slight growth towards achieving the rest of the Global Goals, especially quality education, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, sustainable cities and communities, and partnerships for the goals.
South Africa is ranked at 110. The country has made varying degrees of progress in all the SDGs.
However, the report said, the country is still facing significant challenges in eliminating poverty and hunger, improving access to universal quality health care, reducing inequalities, creating decent work and economic growth, and promoting peace, justice, and strong institutions.
The report added that Gabon — ranked at 111 — is on track to increase or maintain the gains made in fighting climate action, promoting life on land and providing affordable and clean energy.
However, it still lags behind on achieving zero hunger, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, decent work and economic growth, and sustainable cities and communities.
African countries that appeared lower in the global rankings on achieving the SDGs are: Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, Chad, Somalia, and Liberia.
All five countries ranked poorly in almost all 17 of the SDGs. However, the report found that they are also all on track for achieving SDG 13 for Climate Action.
Central African Republic, which is ranked at 166, has only achieved two of the 17 goals, making significant progress only on SDG 13 for Climate Action, and SDG 15 for Life On Land.
South Sudan is ranked number 165 and has only achieved SDG 13, for Climate Action. Meanwhile, the war-torn country has seen an increase in hunger, and has failed to work successfully towards creating sustainable communities, or strong institutions to promote peace and justice.
Like South Sudan, Chad and Somalia are experiencing political instability and conflict — a factor that consistently impacts a country's ability to work towards the SDGs. Chad came in at number 164 and still faces massive challenges in ending hunger and poverty, promoting gender equality, access to clean water and sanitation, education, universal quality health care, and work and economic growth.
Years of war and on-going conflict are standing in the way of development in South Sudan. United Nation/Flickr.
With regards to education, the country has seen a decline in the number of students who enrol for primary school or complete secondary education. The literacy rate has also dropped.
Somalia was ranked 163. The report found that the country is facing massive challenges in achieving 16 out of 17 SDGs. Meanwhile, Liberia, which is ranked at 162, has only achieved SDG 12 for Responsible Consumption and Production, and SDG 13 for Climate Change.
The world has made great progress in achieving the SDGs, the report found. Even so, all countries are vulnerable to COVID-19. The only way to beat the virus globally, the report suggests, is if all countries work together to bring it under control for everyone, everywhere.
Consequently, there’s an even greater need for global partnership that works towards achieving the SDGs together, stressed the SDSN.
"The current crisis, including hostilities among major powers, raises the spectre of global conflict instead of global cooperation," it highlighted in a statement.
Global partnerships are, too, needed to protect the most vulnerable people in the world from even more hunger and poverty, while also ensuring that COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines are developed and distributed fairly to stop them from being accessible only to a privileged few — and ensure that we are all able to move together towards further progress in ending extreme poverty and its systemic causes.
You can join the movement to end COVID-19 for everyone, everywhere, and to achieve the UN's Sustainable Development Goals to end extreme poverty, by taking action with Global Citizen here.
This year marks 10 years to go until the 2030 target to end extreme poverty and achieve the targets set out under the SDGs. With the release of the Sustainable Development Report 2020, we’re taking a deep dive into the successes we’ve already made — and barriers that still exist — when it comes to achieving the SDGs and ending extreme poverty by 2030. You can find our Sustainable Development Report 2020 content series here.