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Sustainable Development Report Europe 2021

The Sustainable Development Report Europe 2021The report, produced by a team of independent researchers from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), in collaboration with SDSN Europe and the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), ranks Spain 20th out of 165 countries in terms of sustainable development.  

Our country has moved up several places since the 2018 report, ahead of other European countries such as Portugal, Italy, Greece, Malta and Hungary, but behind France, Croatia and the United Kingdom. Once again this year, the ranking is headed by three Nordic countries: Finland, Sweden and Denmark. 

The report takes as its basis the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by UN member states in 2015. These global goals aim to improve people's lives and move towards sustainable development that takes into account the interconnection between environmental protection, social inclusion and economic growth. 

What does the Sustainable Development Report Europe 2021 highlight?

Among the main findings and analyses, the report highlights several milestones

  • For the first time since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, progress on the SDGs is stalled as a result of the global pandemic crisis. 
  • Developing countries need greater fiscal facilities for recovery efforts. There are four ways to achieve this goal: improving monetary mechanisms, improving tax collection, boosting financial intermediation through multilateral development banks, and debt relief. 
  • The pandemic reinforces the 2030 Agenda as the international consensus guide for inclusive and sustainable global recovery, which implies maintaining and reinforcing commitments to the SDGs to accelerate the necessary transformations. 
  • The "Decade of Action" (the 10-year period to reach the SDG deadline) requires a strong multilateral system, so international spillovers, such as unsustainable supply chains or import gas emissions, must be addressed. 

Situation in Spain 

In the 2021 report, Spain ranks 20th in the global ranking for sustainable development, up two places from the previous year and slightly improving its performance from 78.1% to 79.5% (considering the total scope of the SDGs at 100%). 

In the SDG Index, the best results correspond to SDG 1 (Zero poverty), SDG 3 (Health and well-being), SDG 4 (Quality education) and SDG 7 (Affordable and clean energy). In other goals, challenges such as the prevalence of obesity, dietary mismatches and CO2 emissions remain in place in our country. However, the number of critical indicators is significantly reduced from 7 in 2019 to 3 in 2021. 

The report also includes a trend analysis that indicates whether or not we are on the right track. Here, the development forecasts for Spain are mixed. On the one hand, development is positive in SDG 1 and SDG 5 (gender equality), which are on track to be achieved. But on the other hand, Spain doubles the SDGs in which it is stagnating, mainly affecting the reduction of inequalities (SDG 10) and underwater life (SDG 14). SDG 15 (Terrestrial Ecosystems) has suffered the greatest regression. Persistent challenges under this goal include the protection of aquatic and terrestrial areas with high levels of biodiversity and species survival. 

In 2020, for the first time, Europe will fall behind in meeting the SDGs 

The pandemic halted progress towards achieving the SDG targets in Europe and elsewhere by 2020, reducing life expectancy and increasing poverty and unemployment rates in many countries.  

For the first time since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015, the average SDG index score in the EU did not increase in 2020; in fact, it decreased slightly mainly due to the negative impact of the pandemic on life expectancy, poverty and unemployment.  

Sustainable Development Europe 2021

The big challenges for Europe 

Europe faces its greatest SDG challenges in the areas of sustainable food and agriculture, climate and biodiversity (SDG 2, 12-15), in strengthening the convergence of living standards in its countries and regions, and needs to accelerate progress on many goals, the report acknowledges.  

Finland tops the SDG 2021 index for European countries (and the world), as it was less affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than most other EU countries. It is followed by two northern European countries: Sweden and Denmark. However, like the rest of Europe, these countries face significant challenges in achieving the SDG targets in the areas of sustainable food and agriculture, climate and biodiversity.  

The pace of progress on many targets is generally too slow to achieve the SDGs by 2030 and the Paris Climate Agreement by 2050. Candidate countries are performing well below the EU average, even though they were already making progress before the pandemic. 

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