The Europe Sustainable Development Report 2021 is the third edition of our independent quantitative report on the progress of the European Union and European countries towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The report was prepared by teams of independent experts at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP).
Ending the COVID-19 pandemic everywhere is a prerequisite for restoring and accelerating SDG progress in Europe and globally. The pandemic halted progress towards achieving the SDG goals in Europe and elsewhere in 2020, reducing life expectancy and increasing poverty and unemployment rates in many countries. As of early November 2021, 65% of people in high-income countries (close to 70% in the EU27) were vaccinated, against 2% in low-income countries for which data is available. The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the grave inadequacy of global public health emergency preparedness and inequity in responses. Increased financial resources for health in the Multiannual Financial Framework and EU4Health work programme 2021-2027 and the strengthened mandate of the European CDC and the European Medicines Agency should augment health preparedness and coordination in the EU in line with SDG 3 (Good health and well-being). As emphasized under SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals), Europe must continue to work with the United Nations, the G20, the G7 and other key partners to accelerate the roll-out of vaccines everywhere and to address the lack of fiscal space to finance emergency expenditures and recovery plans in low and middle-income countries.
The pandemic is a setback for sustainable development in Europe, but the SDGs should remain the guideposts. For the first time since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015, the average SDG Index score of the EU did not increase in 2020 - in fact it slightly declined in the EU27 on average mainly because of the pandemic’s negative impact on life expectancy, poverty and unemployment. Despite geopolitical tensions and calls to scale back SDG ambitions, the SDGs remain the only integrated framework for economic, social and environmental development adopted by all UN Member States. The EU should continue to play a leadership role in implementing the goals internally and internationally in the run-up to the SDG Summit in September 2023 and beyond. Coordinated efforts to effectively implement EU recovery plans and the ambitious policy and financial instruments adopted in 2020 and 2021, including the Recovery and Resilience Facility, can provide strong support for the UN Decade of Action for the SDGs. The SDG Index across the EU27 countries has declined slightly in 2020 for the first time since 2005 due to COVID-19.
The Europe Sustainable Development Report 2021 was made possible with financial support from the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union, the European Network of Political Foundations, and the General Commission for Sustainable Development (Commissariat général au développement durable) of the French Government.