Progress on some Goals has been faster than in others, whilst in some areas for certain goals there has been no progress or a movement away from the objectives.
“It is encouraging to see that overall, the EU Member States are making progress towards the SDGs,” EU Commissioner for the Economy Paolo Gentiloni said. “We will collectively need more sustainable and resilient societies. The progress achieved so far is important, but only a starting point.”
Gentiloni warned, however, that the COVID-19 pandemic would strongly challenge the positive developments made.
“We are living in difficult times. Perhaps this crisis has shown us more than ever the importance of interdependence and the need to link our economic, social and environmental efforts,” he added.
Safer place to live
Most progress was achieved towards Goal 16, ‘Peace, justice and strong institutions’. Life in the EU has become safer, as deaths due to homicide or assault have decreased and fewer Europeans report crime, violence and vandalism in their area.
Considerable progress has also been made towards Goal 1, ‘No poverty’ and Goal 3, ‘Good health and well-being’, followed by Goal 2, ‘Zero hunger’ and Goal 8, ‘Decent work and economic growth’.
Since 2013, the EU has managed to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by 12.5 million. Fewer people face problems related to their homes, such as overcrowding, poor dwelling conditions, a lack of sanitary facilities, or the inability to keep their homes adequately warm.
Real GDP per capita has increased considerably between 2014 and 2019; the employment rate increased from 68% to 73%, and long-term unemployment decreased from 5.5% to 2.8%.
Challenges remain on Climate Action
In contrast, progress towards the EU’s climate and energy targets (SDG 7 and SDG 13) has in part stalled, as has the shift towards a circular economy (SDG 12).
EU countries are increasingly facing the impacts of global climate change. The surface temperature in Europe between 2009 and 2018 was 1.6 °C above pre-industrial times, an increase of 0.2 °C on the preceding decade.
Pressures on ecosystems and biodiversity (SDG 15) have also been increasing in some areas. There have been declines in numbers of common birds and grassland butterflies.
Negative progress on gender equality
“As regards Goal 5, ‘Gender equality’, the EU has unfortunately moved away from the sustainable development objectives,” Gentiloni said. Women are still less likely to be employed than men. Caring responsibilities are the main reason why women are not part of the labour force.
The goals on education (SDG 4), innovation (SDG 9) and global partnerships (SDG 17) show an equally mixed picture.
There was an increase in the number of people aged 30-34 receiving higher education, but there are greater numbers of young people underachieving in reading, maths and science in 2018.
The slow progress towards reducing inequalities (SDG 10) also reflects a growing divide between EU nationals and non-EU citizens in relation to poverty and employment.
In the case of two goals — SDG 6 ‘Clean water and sanitation’ and SDG 14 ‘Life below water’ — overall EU trends cannot be calculated due to insufficient data for the past five years.
Global progress needed
Across the globe, a significant improvement on the SDGs is required in many areas, according to a 2020 progress report by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. He warned that the COVID-19 crisis risks hampering progress towards the Goals.
“It is essential that recent gains be protected as much as possible and that a truly transformative recovery from COVID-19 be pursued, one that reduces the risk of future crises and brings much closer the inclusive and sustainable development required to meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change,” he urged.