The Europe Sustainable Development Report 2022 provides a quantitative assessment of SDG priorities for the EU, EFTA countries, the UK and candidate countries. Due to their recent accension to candidate-country status and lack of data in European databases, Moldova and Ukraine are not covered in this year’s report. Future editions of this report may include these two countries. The 2022 SDG Index and Dashboards for Europe includes 110 indicators, including 98 that permit an evaluation of progress over time. The same indicator set is used for all countries to generate comparable scores and rankings. Data are also presented as population-weighted averages for the European Union and subregions, including the Baltic States, Central and Eastern Europe, Northern Europe, Southern Europe and Western Europe, in addition to EFTA countries and candidate countries.
The SDG Index and Dashboards for Europe builds on the methodology of the Sustainable Development Report developed by SDSN and Bertelsmann Stiftung to track countries’ performance on the 17 SDGs. The report was first published in 2016 and is updated annually. The methodology has been peer-reviewed by Cambridge University Press (Sachs et al., 2022b) and Nature Geoscience (Schmidt-Traub et al., 2017) and statistically audited by the European Commission Joint Research Centre (Papadimitriou, Fragoso Neves and Becker, 2019). It is not an official report of the United Nations. Regional and subnational editions and databases, including for European cities, are accessible on our website: www.sdgindex.org.
This European edition builds on the findings of the 2018 SDSN-EESC study which called for independent monitoring of SDG performance in Europe (Lafortune,and Schmidt-Traub, 2018). The report is co-designed by civil society and aims to complement the European Commission’s reporting on the SDGs. Since 2016, the European Commission, via Eurostat, has released a SDG dataset and published the annual report Sustainable Development in the European Union (Eurostat, 2022), which is the lead SDG monitoring report in the EU. The SDG Index and Dashboards for Europe complements the official SDG reporting conducted by the European Commission, via Eurostat, in five principal ways:
1. It measures distance to predefined performance thresholds.
2. It monitors both current performance (latest year available) and trends over time
3. It presents results on each of the 17 SDGs for all 27 EU member states, as well as for EFTA countries, the UK and candidate countries.
4. It uses more non-official data from peer-reviewed papers and civil society.
5. It covers extensively the issues of international spillovers and ‘leave no one behind’ principles (including via dedicated indices).
Differences in the methodologies used and results obtained by the SDSN and the publishers of other SDG monitoring reports in Europe (including Eurostat, OECD and ASviS) have been documented in the literature (Lafortune et al., 2020).
The selection of indicators and performance thresholds benefited from inputs submitted in various rounds of stakeholder consultations. A kick-off workshop was organized with all partners on 1 July 2022, followed in October with an online public consultation of preliminary data and results. A virtual workshop was hosted by the EESC on October 22 to discuss the preliminary findings. Numerous informal consultations were also conducted with various services of the European Commission and members of the EESC and SDSN networks and other strategic partners. The list of contributors is presented in the acknowledgement section.
Another purpose of this report is to identify data gaps in tracking the SDGs. Compared to other regions, Europe is a data-rich environment. This is due in large extent to the work of the European Statistical System, the collaboration across National Statistical Offices, and the leadership of the European Commission, via Eurostat. The EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), which has provided longitudinal multidimensional microdata on income, poverty, social exclusion and living conditions since 2003, is an example of a powerful instrument anchored in the European Statistical System. EU-SILC is extremely useful for tracking the ‘leave no one behind’ principle of Agenda 2030, as it provides disaggregated data on key metrics by gender, income, location (rural vs. urban), age etc.
Despite the strengths of the EU and partner countries in data and statistics compared with other regions, there are gaps that need to be filled to track the SDGs at the national level in a comprehensive and timely way. In particular, more geospatial data and real-time estimates are needed. Better estimates of biodiversity losses generated by Europe within the continent and around the world are also needed. Some comparative social datasets (for instance on issues such as homelessness or crimes against women) and timely data on students’ knowledge of sustainable development would also be beneficial. Table A1 summarizes these main data gaps. These are based on extensive consultations with the European Commission and non-governmental organisations.
As documented by the SDSN in the 2019 SDG Index and Dashboards for European Cities (Lafortune et al., 2019) there are also important SDG data gaps at the subnational level in the EU, including at Nuts 2 and Nuts 31 (Nomenclature of territorial units for statistics) and at the municipal level.
SDSN and Bertelsmann Stiftung developed the SDG Index and Dashboards to track country performance and identify policy priorities for the SDGs. The global report has been updated annually since 2016. This is an unofficial process that complements ongoing efforts in UN committees to track government commitments to the SDGs and harmonize data.
The SDG Index Score can be interpreted as expressing a country’s achievement on the SDGs as a percentage. The difference between a country’s overall score and 100 is therefore the distance in percentage points that needs to be achieved to attain optimal performance on the SDG targets as a whole. Scores by goal similarly express each country’s percentage achievement towards optimal performance on each goal.
Approximately 70% of the indicators come from official statistics (primarily services of the European Commission) and 30% from non-official data sources (NGOs, academia). Owing to the quantity and quality of data available in the European Statistical System (ESS) this assessment includes additional measures to track sustainable agriculture, gaps in access to and quality of key services across population groups and the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems. The difference in focus and data sources may lead to some differences compared to the results presented in the global SDG Index and Dashboards.
Five major criteria were used to inform the final indicator set for the Europe Sustainable Development Report:
1. The total number of indicators was limited to 100 (plus or minus 15%)
2. Simple, single-variable indicators were preferred, with straightforward policy implications
3. Indicators must allow for high-frequency monitoring
4. Indicators must be statistically valid and robust
5. Indicators must allow measurement of distance to targets (What is best performance and what is worst performance?)
Performance thresholds (or the ‘upper bound’) for each indicator were determined using the following decision tree:
1. Use absolute quantitative thresholds in SDGs and targets: e.g. zero poverty, universal school completion, universal access to water and sanitation, full gender equality. Some SDG targets propose relative changes (Target 3.4: […] reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases [...]) that cannot be translated into a global baseline today. Such targets are addressed in step 5 below.
2. Where no explicit SDG target is available, apply the principle of ‘leave no one behind’ to set the upper bound to universal access or zero deprivation. This includes, for instance, zero performance gap across population groups in self-reported health or unmet care needs.
3. Where science-based targets exist that must be achieved by 2030 or later, use these to set the 100% upper bound (e.g. reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from energy by 2050 to stay within 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels, 100% sustainable management of fisheries, 80% yield gap closure).
4. For all other indicators, use average top performers. Either based on performance thresholds identified in the global edition of the SDG Index and Dashboards or, when not possible, the average of the top two performers included in this European edition.
This approach is similar to that used by the OECD for their report on Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets (OECD, 2019d). These principles interpret the SDGs as ‘stretch targets’ and focus attention on those indicators on which a country is lagging behind. The lower bound (0%) was defined at the lowest 2.5th percentile either from the global Sustainable Development Report, or when not possible, from the European countries included in the Europe-specific datasets. Global values were sometimes adjusted to make them more relevant to the European context. Each indicator distribution was censored, so that all values exceeding the upper bound scored 100, and values below the lower bound scored 0.
To make the data comparable across indicators, each variable was rescaled from 0 to 100 with 0 denoting worst performance and 100 describing the optimum. After establishing the upper and lower bounds, variables were transformed linearly to a scale between 0 and 100 using the following rescaling formula for the range [0; 100] where x is raw data value; max/min denote the bounds for best and worst performance, respectively; and x’ is the normalized value after rescaling. The rescaling equation ensured that higher values indicated better performance. In this way, the rescaled data became easy to interpret and compare across all indicators: a country that scores 50 on a variable is halfway towards achieving the optimum value; a country with a score of 75 has covered three quarters of the distance from worst to best.
Image A.1 | Rescaling equation
To compute the SDG Index, we first estimate scores for each goal using the arithmetic mean of indicators for that goal. These goal scores are then averaged across all 17 SDGs to obtain the SDG Index score. As a normative assumption, we opted for fixed, equal weight to every SDG to reflect policymakers’ commitment to treat all SDGs equally and as an ‘integrated and indivisible’ set of goals (United Nations, 2015, para.5). At the indicator level equal weighting was retained because all other alternatives (mathematical weights, expert weights or user-driven weights) were considered as being less satisfactory (Lafortune et al., 2018). This implies that to improve their SDG Index score, countries need to place attention on all goals with a particular focus on goals where they are furthest from achieving the SDGs and where incremental progress might therefore be expected to be fastest.
Averaging across all indicators for an SDG might hide areas of policy concern if a country performs well on most indicators but faces serious shortfalls on one or two metrics within the same SDG (often called the ‘substitutability’ or ‘compensation’ issue). As a result, the SDG Dashboards is based only on the two variables on which a country performed worst – except for Goal 3, where the three worst indicators are used due to the large number of indicators for that goal. The dashboards use a ‘traffic light’ colour scheme (green, yellow, orange and red) to illustrate how far a country is from achieving a particular goal. We applied the added rule that a red rating was applied only if both the worst-performing indicators score red. Similarly, in order to score green, all indicators under the goal must be green. At the indicator and goal level, the green value corresponds to SDG achievement. Where there are targets agreed at the EU level (for instance 9% NEET Rate by 2030 or 60% of municipal waste recycled by 2030) a country that performs at the target level or better will obtain a green score. Similarly, a country that is on track to achieve the EU agreed target by 2030 will obtain the best possible arrow. However, the perfect score on a scale of 100 (optimum value) might be set higher to capture differences even among top performers. Our methodology rewards countries that exceed EU targets.
Using historic data, we estimate how fast a country has been progressing towards an SDG and determine whether – if continued into the future – this pace will be sufficient to achieve the SDG by 2030. The difference in percentage points between the green threshold and the normalized country score denotes the gap that must be closed to meet that goal. To estimate SDG trends, we calculated the linear annual growth rates needed to achieve the goal by 2030 (2015–2030) which we compared to the average annual growth rate over the most recent period starting from the year of the adoption of the SDGs (e.g. 2015–2021). A system of four arrows was developed. A green arrow going up denotes ‘on track or maintaining performance above goal achievement’, the intermediate yellow and orange arrows denote insufficient progress, and a red arrow indicates movement away from the target. In this year’s edition, we added the rule that countries that have already achieved an SDG target, but whose performance has worsened over period since 2015 will no longer receive a green arrow. Instead, we now assign these countries an orange arrow ‘stagnation,’ to denote the fact that they remain within the SDG achievement bounds but also draw attention to the fact that, if the current trend continues, the country might leave the SDG achievement bound.
The EU aggregate includes the 27 EU member states and is a population-weighted average. To calculate aggregate values for the European subregions, countries are grouped as shown in Table A2 (the United Kingdom is not included in the subregional averages, nor is Bosnia and Herzegovina, given its status as a potential candidate country). Each of these aggregates is population weighted.
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.