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Top 10 Countries Improving on the SDGs as Global Progress Stalls Due to COVID-19


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The United Nations urges countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals to ensure improved quality of life for everyone in the world. You can join us in taking action on the SDGs here

Sweden, Finland, and Denmark came out on top of a new report from the United Nations that ranks how countries are progressing on the Sustainable Development Goals, while the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Chad scored near the bottom. 

Sweden, for its part, has improved on nearly all 17 SDGs since last year — from education to gender equity to food and nutrition — except environmental targets. The country, however, plans to become the first fossil fuel-free welfare state. 

The Central African Republic made progress on several goals including life on land, decent work and economic growth, and climate action, but has struggled to make meaningful progress on goals such as water access and poverty reduction.

The new report reflects the uneven progress that has been made on the SDGs since they were launched in 2015 as a way to “to end poverty and set the world on a path of peace, prosperity and opportunity for all on a healthy planet.”

Although the world has made gains in areas such as school attendance, communicable diseases, and access to quality water, various indicators have declined. 

World hunger has increased in recent years, the global environment is rapidly deteriorating, and inequality both within and between countries has worsened. 

The world’s billionaires, for instance, own as much wealth as 4.6 billion people, according to Oxfam. This inequality has only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, as industries have consolidated amid economic contractions. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has “erased” or suspended progress on nearly all the SDGs, according to the UN’s latest report. 

“Although the novel coronavirus affects every person and community, it does not do so equally,” António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, wrote in the report’s foreword. “Instead, it has exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities and injustices." 

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An estimated 71 million people will be thrown into poverty by the end of the year, the first time global poverty has increased in decades. The pandemic has destabilized food systems around the world, threatening an additional 270 million people with extreme food insecurity this year. Many health care systems, meanwhile, have nearly fallen apart under the pressure of the coronavirus. 

Global school closures have kept 90% of students globally — 1.57 billion youth — out of the classroom, potentially derailing their education

The health impact of the pandemic has predominantly fallen on already marginalized and vulnerable communities around the world, including Indigenous populations. Women and girls, meanwhile, are facing a “shadow pandemic of violence” and lack access to sexual and reproductive health care.

The UN report is not all bad news, however. The authors say that countries can embark on green economic recoveries in the months ahead that put the world on a path toward mitigating climate change and protecting the planet’s resources. 

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“Our collective response to the pandemic can serve as a ‘warm-up’ for our preparedness in preventing an even larger crisis — that is, global climate change, whose effects are already becoming all too familiar,” wrote Liu Zhenmin, the UN’s under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs. 

The very setbacks caused by the pandemic should serve as motivation to achieve the SDGs by 2030, the UN argues. 

“Far from undermining the case for the SDGs, the root causes and uneven impacts of COVID-19 demonstrate precisely why we need the 2030 Agenda, the Paris agreement on climate change, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and underscore the urgency of their implementation,” Guterres wrote. 

See the top 10 and bottom 10 countries based on the report below. The rankings are based on an overall score out of 100 in terms of progress on all 17 SDGs, where a score of 100 would represent a country achieving all of the Global Goals.

The full rankings can be found here (29 countries are not included due to a lack of data).


Top 10

1. Sweden (84.72)

2. Denmark (84.56)

3. Finland (83.77)

4. France (81.13)

5. Germany (80.77)

6. Norway (80.76)

7. Austria (80.70)

8. Czech Republic (80.58)

9. Netherlands (80.37)

10. Estonia (80.06)


Bottom 10 

157. Niger (50.15)

158. Democratic Republic of Congo (49.71)

159. Sudan (49.56)

160. Nigeria (49.28)

161. Madagascar (49.14)

162. Liberia (47.12)

163. Somalia (46.21)

164. Chad (43.75)

165. South Sudan (43.66)

166. Central African Republic (38.54)