‘My Country First’ Approach Threatens Achievement of Global Goals

Two years after the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by all UN member states, leaders at the G20 summit in Hamburg must strengthen the commitment towards these historic global goals. A rising “my country first” approach by many heads of government threatens the realization of the goals. Even worse: International spillover effects caused by many industrialized countries impede many developing countries from fulfilling their obligations.

World leaders need to strengthen their joint efforts to realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), our newly published SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2017 illustrates ahead of the G20 meeting in Hamburg. Not only does a rising trend of nationalism and protectionism impede the implementation of the goals, but as the report shows, industrialized countries are not serving as role models. Many of the richest countries in the world are nowhere near achieving the global policy objectives but also deteriorate the implementation process for poorer countries because of negative spillover effects.

The study was written by experts of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Bertelsmann Stiftung, under the lead authorship of UN Special Advisor and world-renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs. The SDG Index and Dashboard collect available data for 157 countries to assess where each country stands in 2017 with regard to achieving the SDGs. The SDG Index ranks countries based on their performance across the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The SDG Dashboards use a traffic-light chart to assess where a country stands on each of the 17 SDGs. It helps countries identify priorities for early actions and shows that every country faces major challenges in achieving the SDGs.

Even the richest countries fall short on their promises

The countries which are closest to fulfilling the goals are not the biggest economies but comparably small, developed countries:  Sweden, Denmark and Finland are the top three performing countries.  Among the G7 countries, only Germany and France can be found among the top ten performers. The United States ranks 42nd on the Index, while Russia and China rank 62nd and 71st respectively.

Still every country faces particular, often major challenges: One of the greatest obstacles to achieving the global goals for high-income countries are poor performances regarding sustainable consumption and production. All countries that score lowest on electronic-waste generation, for example, are high-income countries. Sweden, the frontrunner for the overall SDG index ranking is, alongside the United States, Germany and France, one of the countries that produces the most electronic waste: an average of 23.7 kilograms per person each year. In comparison, Burundi, Congo or Malawi, which are among the poorest countries in the world and perform badly overall, only produce 0.2 kilograms. Low and middle-income countries from Africa are moreover among the top ten performing countries when it comes to municipal waste. They tend to produce only half the amount of municipal waste that high-income countries such as the United Kingdom or France produce.

Even more striking is the finding that high-income countries owe their good performance in part to negative spillover effects. These effects occur when the actions of one country, or the lack thereof, affect the ability of others to fulfill their obligations under the SDG Agenda. The bottom 20 performers on spillover effects are rich countries which generally do better than poor countries in the overall ranking. This suggests that good SDG outcomes are often associated with negative spillover effects. The report is a first attempt to measure these processes, which include unsustainable consumption patterns that externalize environmental and social costs to other countries, as well as unfair tax competition and opaque financial systems that foster money laundering and insufficient financing for public global goods. Altogether only six countries (Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, Netherlands and UK) spend the committed 0.7% of GDP on official Development Assistance.

Agenda 2030 in danger? World leaders need to act now

Poor and developing countries understandably score lowest on the SDG Index as they still face significant challenges in tackling poverty and providing basic services, while often having comparably little resources at their disposal. The Central African Republic, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo–all hard-line autocracies and/or failing states according to the Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI)–are at the bottom of the SDG Index and still have the longest way to go in achieving the SDGs. The complete SDG Index and Dashboards report provides full details for each country.

“Protectionism rather leads to 1930 than to fulfilling the Agenda 2030. The G20 nations should send out a strong signal towards the achievement of the global goals.”

Aart De Geus, Chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung

“Our findings show that politicians, businesses and society altogether must urgently intensify their efforts and commit themselves to this agenda”, says our chairman and CEO Aart De Geus, adding that “protectionism rather leads to 1930 than to fulfilling the Agenda 2030. The G20 nations should send out a strong signal towards the achievement of the global goals.”

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the SDSN, highlights the need for “urgent action on the part of G20 countries in making sustainable development a reality both within and beyond their borders. If the world is to achieve the SDGs, all countries must take up the goals as part of their national development strategies, and ensure that they take responsibility for their impact on the rest of the world.”

The SDG Index is published for the third time as a large global movement continues its efforts to develop a widely shared set of indicators for progress on the global goals. This effort involves a multitude of stakeholders from international organizations, national governments, civil society and business worldwide. UNDP’s illustrative work to pilot governance in the context of the SDGs offers a glimpse at the opportunities involved in this process. Five governments–Albania, Indonesia, Rwanda, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom–volunteered to address the question of how to strengthen peace, justice and institutions (SDG 16). They concluded that, difficult as it may be, working with goals, targets and indicators at the national level is certainly not an impossible task. The participating countries each presented numerous indicators, and the abundance of data that they came up with was surprising even to insiders.

Mainstreaming relevant, measurable and action-oriented sub-targets and indicators for all members of the international community however is quite another task. It involves agreement on major principles and the joint development of additional statistical capacities for a limited number of indicators. The SDG Index may serve as a source of inspiration to focus on some of the major indicators at the early stage of the 15-year global effort. The Bertelsmann Stiftung will continue to share and engage with international partners, and lobby for the adequate consideration of principles of democratic governance and social justice in the SDGs.

Christian Kroll is Project Manager at the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Sustainable Governance Index (SGI).

Robert Schwarz is Project Manager at the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI).



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