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Executive Summary

Summary of key findings and recommendations

In September 2015, the international community adopted the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In doing so, all 193 UN member states signed off on 17 goals to promote socioeconomic prosperity and environmental sustainability. Earlier that same year, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda for financing development had been adopted, while the close of the year saw the conclusion of the Paris Climate Agreement. Yet seven years on, the world is significantly off-track to achieving most of these goals, and multiple crises have led to a reversal of SDG progress. From the outset, Heads of State agreed that a number of countries each year (around 40) should present reports on their progress towards the SDGs, in so called ‘voluntary national reviews’ (VNRs) and that leaders would meet every four years to review global SDG progress and agree on a path forward. In July 2023, the EU is to present its first Union-wide voluntary review at the United Nations. This presents a good opportunity for the EU to send a strong message to the international community and to demonstrate its commitment to and leadership on the SDGs. A few months later, in September 2023, Heads of State will again meet under the auspices of the UN General Assembly in New York for the second SDG Summit (the first was held in 2019). Following the SDG Summit, the Summit of the Future, in September 2024, will debate and hopefully lead to the adoption of a Pact for the Future to include major reforms of multilateral institutions and sustainable development finance. This year’s Europe Sustainable Development Report (ESDR 2022) aims to support both of these processes and contribute to strengthening the EU’s SDG leadership at home and internationally.

The SDGs and Europe in a world of multiple crises

In the midst of multiple health, security, climate and financial crises, the SDGs remain the future Europe and the world want. These crises represent major setbacks for the SDGs and human development globally. Already before the pandemic, progress towards the SDGs was too slow and uneven, both worldwide and in Europe. Since 2020 it has stalled. The global ramifications of the war on Ukraine are very likely to even undo progress achieved so far. Yet, in a context of increased geopolitical rivalries and fragmented multilateralism, the SDGs remain the onlycomprehensive and universal vision for socioeconomic prosperity and environmental sustainability adopted by all UN member states. Failures to implement the bedrock SDG principles of social inclusion, clean energy, responsible consumption and universal access to public services will lead to more crises. In a multipolar world, the EU should use the SDGs more than ever as a compass internally and in its worldwide dialogue and cooperation until 2030 and beyond. The 2023 United Nations' Heads of State Summit on the SDGs presents an opportunity for the EU to renew its strong commitment to the SDGs. At the mid-point in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, it is now the time for the EU to rise to the occasion and invest ‘whatever it takes’ – diplomatically, financially, and by means of cooperation and coherence – in the global common good, epitomized and documented in the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

The world needs an equitably shared fiscal space for investing in the SDGs. Meeting the SDGs is largely an investment agenda into human capital (including health, education and social protection) and physical infrastructure (such as clean energy or digital technologies). Globally, $17 trillion USD was mobilized for the COVID-19 recovery, mainly in rich countries, yet it remains an open question as to what extent recovery funds supported SDG transformations, including the green and digital transitions. The EU’s own COVID-19 recovery funds face the same coherence challenge, as does its response to the energy challenges linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Poor countries lack appropriate fiscal space to respond to crises and invest in sustainable development, due to their inability to access markets at acceptable terms. Inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and spillovers from the global North’s geopolitical and economic policies negatively affect humanitarian, social and hunger crises in the poorer countries of the global South. Furthermore, these countries are often the victims of the most severe impacts of climate change: though they bear very limited historical responsibility for climate change, they often need to spend a significant portion of their wealth to adapt and respond to climate-related shocks. Promoting policy coherence for sustainable development is key to demonstrating and furthering the EU’s credibility on the 2030 Agenda.

The EU should lead international efforts to implement the ‘SDG Stimulus’, promote climate justice, and live up to the commitments of SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals). Building on the G20 Bali Leaders’ Declaration and the agreement reached at COP 27, the EU and the G20 must work together to support the UN Secretary-General’s call for an ‘SDG Stimulus’ to accelerate SDG progress up to and beyond 2030 and to finance a large share of the costs of adaptation and climate-change loss and damage in developing countries. It is not the time to scale back ambitions on international solidarity, including targets on official development assistance. The cost of future conflicts, humanitarian crises and population displacement and refugee crises will exceed by far financial transfers made now for the SDGs. This year’s SDG Index shows that only two EU member states have achieved SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals) and some are moving backwards on concessional financing. Besides a massive scale-up in SDG financing, the EU should push for a major reform of global governance and international institutions including the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF. This would contribute to the run-up to the Summit of the Future in September 2024 (and the preparatory ministerial meeting in September 2023) which should lead to the adoption of a Pact for the Future and to significant reforms of how the world is run. If confirmed, the Paris Conference on climate financing, organized under the auspices of the President Macron of France in cooperation with the Prime Minister of Barbados and tentatively scheduled for June 2023, may provide strong impetus for a new financial pact for sustainable development. By taking bold actions to strengthen international SDG financing, climate justice and the UN system, the EU can rally other countries to its values centred on human dignity, freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

Diplomacy, peace, and global cooperation are fundamental preconditions for making any progress on sustainable development. Geopolitical rivalries between superpowers and military conflicts in Europe, as well as in Africa and the Middle East, have had huge direct humanitarian costs. The war inflicted on Ukraine has caused tremendous indirect effects on the SDGs globally, including triggering food and energy price hikes and debt crises. Military conflicts and geopolitical tensions are also major distractions from the adoption of bold policy and financing commitments for the SDGs in Europe and globally, even though history shows that the international community has successfully used critical junctures to promote lasting change. The ground-breaking Brundtland report of the World Commission on Environment and Development,Our Common Future (1987) and the ensuing Rio de Janeiro ‘Earth Summit’ in 1992 (the first UN Conference on Environment and Development) benefitted from the years of Soviet UnionPerestroïka and the end of the Cold War. Similarly, the first UN Conference on Human Development, held in Stockholm in 1972, which gave birth to international environmental governance and the UN Environment Programme, was achieved during the Cold War détente — not ten years earlier amidst the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The EU should ensure a proactive and SDG-oriented foreign and security policy. The EU should avoid the trap of aligning all its external policies with the threats-oriented approach of its new Strategic Compass for Security and Defense, adopted in 2022, which makes no reference to the universal sustainable development agenda and fails to provide an adequate concept of partnership. In a multipolar world, peace cannot be assured solely through‘defense against’ thinking, it also needs a‘cooperation for’ approach: for a peaceful, sustainable future. The non-extension of military conflicts globally, a negotiated peace process between Russia and Ukraine (as called for by UN General Assembly Resolutions ES-11/1. and ES-11/4.), and global cooperation between the EU and other major powers are fundamental conditions for successful SDG and climate negotiations, and for strengthening the UN and the rules-based international system. The EU should also be vocal and rally support in the coming years around the importance of pursuing goal-based global development beyond 2030.

The EU must develop and lead multilateral SDG and Green Deal diplomacy through multiple alliances and coalitions. The EU played a leading role in the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement, and in 2019 it became the first regional organization to adopt a bold commitment to achieving net zero emissions domestically by 2050. Today, 128 countries have some form of net-zero target. The EU has the capacity to steer and influence others, yet it still falls short of its potential. Unfortunately, the EU did not bring significant international initiatives to COP 27 regarding key issues such as climate finance, loss and damage, and adaptation. However, EU leadership and diplomacy remains critical to advancing key multilateral processes towards achieving the SDGs, including at the Heads of State SDG Summit in September 2023. Up to now, the EU has not had a strategic Green Deal or SDG diplomacy. Yet, successful, global alliances for the SDGs cannot be forged solely from within the EU and the G7. Instead, the EU and its member states should work together to strengthen and reform more diverse and universal formats like the G20 and the UN. As members of both the G20 and the G7, the EU, France, Germany, and Italy should form a dedicated ‘Team Europe for the SDGs’ to work closely with the incoming presidencies of both groups to get the SDG agenda back on track (2023, G20 India and G7 Japan; 2024, G20 Brazil and G7 Italy; 2025, G20 South Africa and G7 Canada). The G20 Summit commitments made in Bali, Indonesia in November 2022 to achieve and finance the SDGs provide a good starting point for concrete and jointly designed next steps.

The EU should strengthen its cooperation on the SDGs with large emerging economies. Open dialogue and cooperation with China in areas ranging from the production and distribution of medical supplies and vaccines to infrastructure in Eurasia, as well as trilateral dialogue among the EU, China and Africa will be particularly critical for global SDG progress. For demographic and economic reasons, but also to achieve global climate objectives, strengthening the alliance with India is also of utmost importance, notably by adopting a free-trade agreement in 2023. The same applies to Brazil, with a particular view on saving the Amazon rainforest and ratifying the new EU-MERCOSUR trade agreement. Large infrastructure investment efforts led by the EU (Global Gateway), China (Belt and Road) and the US (Build Back Better World) should work together to support cleaner energy and production systems along with access to digital infrastructure in Africa and around the world. Partnerships between the EU and neighbouring countries, including in the Western Balkans and North Africa, would help advance the energy transition in the EU. The EU should not perceive multipolarity as a threat, but value it as an opportunity.

Transforming the EU to achieve the SDGs

SDG progress in Europe has stalled since 2020. The SDG Index provides a measurement of human welfare that by design goes beyond GDP, by including 110 indicators covering social and economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. It also penalizes countries for outsourcing negative social and environmental impacts to the rest of the world through unsustainable supply chains and consumption or profit shifting and tax evasion. This year’s SDG Index for Europe shows that the EU has made on average very little progress on the Goals since 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic and other international crises have in fact led to reversals in progress in many European countries, notably on SDG 1 (No poverty), SDG 3 (Good health and well-being) and SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth). The EU has achieved, or is on track to achieve, around 66% of the SDG targets included in the Europe Sustainable Development Report, yet progress has been limited on 20% of the indicators and is heading in the wrong direction on 13%. The EU faces its biggest challenges in the areas of responsible consumption and production and sustainable food systems (SDG 2 and SDGs 12–15). There are also important gaps in performance across countries on SDG 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure). Inequalities within countries have increased in several countries over the past two years, as shown by the lack of progress at EU level on many dimensions of the ‘leave no one behind’ Index presented in this report. Finally, while they top the global SDG Index due to better performance on socioeconomic SDGs, European countries generate significant spillover effects on the rest of the world, notably through unsustainable supply chains. Achievement of SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals) also face significant challenges in Europe, partly because only four EU members have met the target of dedicating 0.7% of their gross national income to official development assistance.

Figure E.1 | SDG Index Score at EU 27 level (2015-2021)

Figure E.1 | SDG Index Score at EU 27 level (2015-2021)

Note: Projected values are based on annual growth rate over the period 2015–2019. From 0 (worst) to 100 (best).

Source: Authors

The EU needs to show the world how it plans to achieve the SDGs and demonstrate this by realizing six key SDG Transformations. The EU has shown remarkable leadership on the SDGs both before and since their adoption. Yet it still lacks clarity on how it plans to achieve the SDGs. Seven years after their adoption, the EU lacks politically agreed targets for many SDG indicators. Thus, Eurostat in its annual SDG report tracks progress towards quantified targets for only 22 of the 101 indicators. It can therefore only present a partial evaluation of whether the EU is on track to achieve major economic, social and environmental transformations. As emphasized by the SDSN, the European Parliament and other organizations, the EU needs to develop an integrated and comprehensive approach to implementing the SDGs and must communicate clearly on them. It can build on the 2020 European Commission staff working document and the conclusions published by the Council of the European Union on 22 June 2021. The SDGs may be the right compass to reduce the complexity of EU policies and instruments for sustainable development and to better engage with citizen and scientists to define pathways at various levels. The concept of key SDG transformations can help provide a more operational narrative and pathway to achieve the SDGs. SDSN and partners have identified Six Transformations that the EU needs to implement in parallel with its efforts to achieve the SDGs. Some of these transformations are well covered in the European Green Deal, others are covered at least partly in other policy documents. Put together and amended, these transformations could form the core of an EU SDG implementation strategy around which policy action can be organized.

Figure E.2 | Halfway into the SDGs, progress towards targets varies across European countries and goals

Figure E.2 | Halfway into the SDGs, progress towards targets varies across European 
countries and goals

Note: Percentage of indicators achieved or on track to be achieved by 2030, showing limited progress (insufficient to achieve target by 2030), and heading in the wrong direction. Population-weighted averages for each subregion. Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Candidate Countries: Albania, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Türkiye. Central and Eastern European Europe: Bulgaria, Czechia, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic and Slovenia. Northern Europe: Denmark, Finland and Sweden. Southern Europe: Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain. Western Europe: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. EFTA Countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. ‘European Union’ represents the population-weighted average of the 27 EU member states.

Source: Authors

Deep SDG transformations within the EU require broad-based public support. Special attention is needed in Europe to address inequalities within countries and boost education and skills for sustainable development. Transformations 1 (‘education, skills, decent work and innovation’), 3 (‘sustainable communities, mobility and housing’) and 6 (‘digital transformation’) focus on access to and quality of key services and infrastructure. The EU is the most equal continent in the world, with among the most advanced social protection and universal health coverage systems. Yet, the LNOB Index shows that multiple crises have impacted particularly vulnerable groups and increased poverty in some European countries. The return of high inflation in Europe requires special attention to be given to its impact on the poorest and most vulnerable. The LNOB Index also shows persisting gaps in access to and quality of key services within and across countries, notably education and training. According to major international studies, few 15-year-old students can make the distinction between a fact and an opinion. These are problematic challenges in a context where STEM education is key for the twin green and digital transformations. The ability to navigate an information-rich environment is crucial for sustainable development and peace in a post-truth and social-media era. The effective functioning of European democracies and institutions, which are at the heart of the sustainable development transition, depend on the capacity of governments to provide equal opportunities, protect the most vulnerable, and boost education and skills for all.

Figure E.3 | Collective EU action for sustainable development must address persisting inequalities within countries and inequalities in innovation capacity across EU member states

Figure E.3 | Collective EU action for sustainable development must address persisting 
inequalities within countries and inequalities in innovation capacity across 
EU member states

Note: The LNOB Index (Leave No One Behind Index) measures within countries’ inequalities based on 32 indicators. These indicators are clustered in terms of gaps (i) Extreme poverty and material deprivation; (ii) Income inequality and the respect of fundamental labour rights; (iii) Gender inequality; (iv) Access to and quality of services for all. The max and min values correspond to the average scores of the top 3 and bottom 3 EU member states on each Index and scores. From 0 (worst) to 100 (best).

Source: Authors

Boosting innovation capacities, living standards and the convergence process across and within EU member states remains important for collective SDG actions in the EU and to strengthen the EU’s industries and competitiveness in world. SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals) call for reducing inequalities across countries and for increased partnerships. This is generally referred to as ‘convergence’ in Europe and by EU leadership. Yet the SDG Index for Europe continues to show gaps in performance across European countries and regions, with a notably large spread in performance on SDG 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure). There is widespread recognition that the convergence process across EU regions and between the EU and neighbouring countries has been uneven and too slow over the past two decades, and possibly driven by convergence in capital cities with other regions lagging behind. New approaches to regional and industrial policies combined with the more effective use of major budget tools, including the Cohesion Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy, may help enhance productive capacity throughout Europe. While short-term measures might be needed to strengthen the EU’s competitiveness in a context of rising energy prices, in the long run, the EU’s capacity to attract key industries and investments largely depends on clean energy, digitization and investments in cutting-edge technologies and skills. The European Skills Agenda, Horizon Europe and the REPowerEU Plan, via ERASMUS + and the Clean Hydrogen Joint Undertaking all rightly emphasize the importance of skills and training. The European Commission proposal to make 2023 the European Year of Skills is very timely. In its interaction with member states and with neighbouring countries, the EU should not compromise on its core values of solidarity, equality, openness and effective rule-based institutions.

Multiple crises and EU’s responses have clarified the way forward: accelerate implementation of the European Green Deal through a massive scale-up of renewable energy and integrated and digital power grids. Transformation 2 calls for ‘sustainable energy’. The European Green Deal and Climate Law set a clear pathway for decarbonizing the energy system in the EU: cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. At COP 27 this year, the EU announced it would increase the already ambitious goals of its Nationally Determined Contribution by committing to a 57% reduction in emissions by 2030. The energy crisis is largely due to increased prices and bottlenecks in the supply of fossil fuels. It is therefore crucial, as emphasized in the Commission’s REPowerEU Plan, to double down on implementing the European Green Deal by investing in renewable energy (mainly solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower) and energy-efficiency measures. Collective borrowing to finance the Recovery and Resilience Facility in response to COVID- 19, along with the EU-wide vaccine strategy, demonstrated that the EU and its member states can act decisively together to boost their resilience. The EU action plan to digitize its energy system (presented by the European Commission in October 2022) and its other actions to support the implementation of an integrated and smart energy grid in the EU are welcome steps. A mix of different types of renewable energy combined with integrated and digital power grids can support a clean, efficient and reliable energy transformation in the EU – one that addresses the base-load issue and promotes the EU’s strategic interests and security. Measures that delay or work against decarbonization of the energy system in the EU weaken its position internationally and potentially hamper global efforts to achieve the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement.

The EU should not delay the implementation of ambitious supply- and demand-side measures to transform food systems and diets. Transformation 4 calls for ‘sustainable food production, healthy diets and biodiversity protection’. Globally, food systems are responsible for about a third of total greenhouse gas emissions and are projected to increase by 60–90% by 2050 if current trends continue. The SDGs similarly call for sustainable agriculture, biodiversity protection and responsible consumption. The EU has adopted a package of ambitious policies to transform its food systems – notably via the European Green Deal and its farm-to-fork and biodiversity strategies – and will likely soon adopt a Nature Restoration Law. To the extent possible, implementation of these instruments should not be delayed. Any derogations to deal with the consequences of the war in Ukraine and increased food prices should be temporary. National Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) strategic plans should be aligned with EU’s biodiversity and sustainability targets. Yet, at this stage, CAP strategic plans alone are unlikely to achieve the EU biodiversity strategy target of 10% of EU land being under strict protection, notably due to insufficient protection of wetlands and peatlands. The Parliament and Council’s adoption of the EU Due Diligence Regulation and its transposal into national laws is needed urgently to make large companies accountable for negative impacts generated through food and other supply chains. SMEs and farmers need support to learn the ‘grammar’ of sustainability and to integrate sustainability principles at the management level. An EU-wide front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme could also help address excesses and deficiencies in European diets. Finally, the EU must curb its exports of toxic pesticides that damage health and soils abroad, involve farmers from developing countries in regulatory processes, and pursue its efforts to develop alternative overland routes to help Ukraine export its agricultural products to mitigate food insecurity and shortages, notably in Africa.

The EU and member states perform poorly on the International Spillover Index. Transformation 5 calls for ‘clean and circular economy with zero pollution’ and minimizing the environmental impact of European industry and consumers. Yet 40% of the greenhouse gases caused by the EU are emitted abroad. The EU's consumption can be linked to 1.2 million people in forced labour and more than 4,000 fatal workplace accidents each year. Biofuel mandates in Europe and other major economies have accelerated tropical deforestation and land displacement in other parts of the world. Growing demand in the EU for raw materials, notably for renewable energy and other technologies, fuels greenhouse gas emissions and forced labour internationally, while the shipment of waste to countries and regions that cannot manage it has profound ecological and health impacts. The war in Ukraine and energy crises in Europe and other regions have rebalanced public discussion and awareness, which was until recently overwhelmingly dominated by production-side measures towards sustainable consumption and energy efficiency. This shift might help accelerate actions to curb negative spillovers.

Figure E.4 | The EU leads on the SDGs globally, but it generates large negative spillovers, notably through unsustainable consumption

Figure E.4 | The EU leads on the SDGs globally, but it generates large negative spillovers, 
notably through unsustainable consumption

Source: Sachs et al., 2022

Figure E.5 | Europe’s demand for minerals amplifies greenhouse gas emissions and workplace accidents abroad, with no signs of structural decline in these consumption-based impacts

Figure E.5 | Europe’s demand for minerals amplifies greenhouse gas emissions and 
workplace accidents abroad, with no signs of structural decline in these 
consumption-based impacts

Source: Malik, Lafortune et al. 2022

There are also concerns about the impacts that macroeconomic policies in the EU and the US have on emerging markets and developing countries, especially as interest rates are rising. In her 6 October 2022 address to the Center for Global Development, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen pointed out that ‘emerging markets and developing countries are often most acutely affected both by global shocks and by spillovers from the policies of advanced countries’.

The EU has adopted or is in the process of adopting major instruments to curb negative international spillovers, but important loopholes remain. The European Parliament has recently passed a bill to ban imports of deforestation-linked commodities and is discussing a similar instrument for forced labour. Negotiations related to the EU due diligence regulation (obliging companies to respect human rights and environmental issues in global value chains) and the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism are still on-going. In April 2022, the Swedish government announced its intention to become the first country in the world to set a target on consumption-based carbon emissions. Ensuring strong and transparent data systems at the international, national, industrial and corporate levels will be key for effective enforcement of such policies. Border regulations – especially import bans and tariffs – must be part of a larger package of efforts to support investment in cleaner production systems and digital technologies in developing countries. A comprehensive approach to curbing negative spillovers should build on SDG/Green Deal Diplomacy, coherent trade and external policies, and strengthened tax cooperation and transparency (to help developing countries raise revenue) along with applying EU standards to exports (including toxic pesticides), and eliminating trade in waste. Finally, efforts to bolster energy efficiency, recycling, technology, social innovations and sustainability standards can relieve the pressure and footprint of primary mineral supplies. The European Parliament’s October 2022 call on the European Commission to prepare a Communication on Policy Coherence before the end of its mandate, including quantitative and qualitative indicators, is a step in the right direction.

Making it work: The EU should maintain its ambition to institutionalize the integration of the SDGs into macroeconomic coordination, budget processes and other policy instruments. The integration of the SDGs into the European Semester, the EU’s main process for macroeconomic coordination, is a major step forward in terms of monitoring member state performance over time. As regards the Commission’s own legislative and non-legislative proposals, the Better Regulation system explicitly states that every legislative proposal must contribute to the SDGs. In addition, other EU organizations such as Eurostat and the Joint Research Centre have integrated the SDGs in their work programs for many years. There are many good examples of how the SDGs can be used in policy processes at the member states level, as well as in cities and regions, while the European Parliament has monitored the EU’s progress and commitments on the SDGs via a resolution adopted in June 2022. By themselves, however, these and other integration reforms do not guarantee a stronger focus on the SDGs. For example, European Commission guidelines to member states on how to prepare their National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs) do not explicitly mention the SDGs. The SDSN has identified gaps in NRRPs between the measures and budgets they propose and the SDG challenges member states face. Also, the somewhat watered-down EU taxonomy for sustainable investment sends a mixed message to the rest of the world.

The EU needs to invest in facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogue on the 2030 Agenda to promote joint learning and accountability. There is considerable societal demand in the EU citizenry for a stronger focus on SDGs. The citizen-led series of debates that took place as part of the Conference on the Future of Europe between April 2021 and May 2022 resulted in 49 proposals and 300 measures, many of them related to the SDGs. To avoid mistrust and disappointment in such processes, the EU now needs to show how this process leads to concrete revisions of EU policies and how EU politics are run. In principle, this can strengthen the EU’s implementation of the SDGs and inclusive institutions, as called for in SDG 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions). Civil society and scientific work may further inform EU actions on this matter. Under the Juncker Commission, a multi-stakeholder platform was set up to enable structured engagement with civil society, youth organizations, business community, trade unions and scientists on SDG policies and monitoring. However the platform’s mandate was not renewed by the von der Leyen Commission, leaving a void for constructive dialogue with civil society, the business community, trade unions, youth organizations and scientists on SDG implementation. The comprehensive, goal-based and time-bound vision for sustainable development that the SDGs and 2030 Agenda provide, supported by strong multistakeholder partnerships and science-based pathways, should remain at the heart of European policymaking. Renewing the mandate and increasing the ambition of the multi-stakeholder platform would help bolster public support, promote inclusive institutions and provide key inputs to the future SDG priorities of the EU leadership.

Making it count: The EU is well positioned to support international discussions on measuring the economic value of natural capital and revisions to the System of National Accounts (SNA, used to compute GDP) expected to be completed by 2025. Ecosystem services provided by the natural capital such as food, water, shelter or climate regulation result in a flow of benefits for both the people and the economy. Metrics like GDP fail to capture benefits such as pollination, climate and biodiversity regulation or nature’s ability to mitigate disasters. The next revision of the SNA is expected to be completed by 2025 (these revisions take place every 15 years). As part of this process, a wellbeing and sustainability task team has been established, and hopefully this will be an opportunity to enrich the SNA framework by incorporating a standard range of accounts for the environment, natural capital, health, education, and time use (among others). Technical agencies in the EU including Eurostat, the Joint Research Centre, the European Environment Agency and the UN Economic Commission for Europe have a lot to offer in these discussions. Eurostat, for instance, has developed advanced satellite environmental accounts (physical and monetary accounts) consistent with the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting and the SNA framework. Natural capital, and the non- market value of other SDGs, should not only be addressed in policy decisions but should also be a crucial factor in financial decisions and the appraisal of private-sector investments.

Box 1. Practical recommendations

We propose five priority actions to accelerate the SDGs in the EU and internationally. These are jointly directed at the European Commission and Council leadership, the European Parliament and member states.

1. Ensure that the 2023 EU voluntary review includes three important elements: (1) internal priorities, (2) international spillovers, and (3) international partnerships and diplomacy for the SDGs.

2. Release, by July 2023, a joint political statement from the three pillars of EU governance – the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission –complementing the EU-wide voluntary review and reaffirming their commitment to the 2030 Agenda in the context of multiple health, security, climate and financial crises, along with a renewed commitment towards achieving the SDGs in a multipolar world.

3. Prepare a communication, to be issued by the European Commission, clarifying how the EU aims to achieve the SDGs in Europe including targets, timelines and roadmaps for environmental and social issues (particularly those not captured in the European Green Deal). This communication, or ‘high-level EU SDG implementation strategy’ (as the European Parliament has called for) could be updated regularly. It could also identify areas where existing policies need to become more ambitious or coherent as well as areas where additional policies are needed. It could rely on a more operational SDG framework, such as the Six Transformations.

4. Implement and reinforce the commitments made at the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia and COP 27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt supporting the UN Secretary-General’s call for an SDG Stimulus to address fiscal-space issues in developing countries and push for the adoption of a global mechanism to share fairly the burden of financing human-induced climate-change adaptation and loss and damage costs among countries most responsible.

5. Develop a new mechanism or renew the mandate of the Multi-Stakeholder Platform to foster a structured engagement with civil society, youth organizations, businesses, trade unions and scientists on SDG policies and monitoring. This would also complement efforts to engage civil society at large in the Conference on the Future of Europe and contribute to strengthening the inclusivity of EU institutions and policy-making while bolstering public support for the SDGs.


The Europe Sustainable Development Report 2022 is the fourth edition of our independent quantitative report on the progress of the European Union and its member states towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The report was prepared by teams of independent experts at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and SDSN Europe.

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Lafortune, G., Fuller, G., Bermont-Diaz, L., Kloke-Lesch, A., Koundouri, P., Riccaboni, A. (2022). Achieving the SDGs: Europe’s Compass in a Multipolar World. Europe Sustainable Development Report 2022. SDSN and SDSN Europe. France: Paris.

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