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Progress review on implementing the Agenda 2030: Briefing on the outcomes of the UN HLPF 2020

AUTHORS: David Watts – Marianne Kettunen

This briefing paper by IEEP shows that not enough progress is being made on the SDGs to achieve the targets of Agenda 2030 by its deadline. To make matters worse, the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to reverse existing positive trends.

The briefing paper, produced in the follow up to this year’s UN High-level Political Forum, is informed by official and independent reports that measure, through different methodologies and with a different focus, global progress towards the SDGs:

Key messages

Despite widespread disruptions caused by the global pandemic, monitoring of the SDGs has not stalled. So far official and independent progress reports released in 2020 have illustrated a global shortfall in efforts to achieve the targets of the SDGs, despite some apparent short-term successes. SDGs 12-15 – those which most address climate change, biodiversity and the environment – have been particularly poor performers.

When it comes to the EU, the 2020 Eurostat report states that it has made progress in the last five years towards almost all of the SDGs. However, progress does not necessarily mean that the status of the goal is satisfactory, given the need to achieve the goals by the 2030 deadline. Furthermore, the EU continues to create negative spillovers on a global scale, which undermine both its internal progress and the ability of other countries to accomplish the targets of the SDGs.

Encouragingly and true to the urgency of Agenda 2030, the Covid-19 pandemic did not derail the 2020 UN High-level Political Forum as it had for so many other political events throughout 2020. Most HLPF delegates agreed that the SDGs and Agenda 2030 presented the best framework for recovery and that the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to accelerate strategies to achieve them. ‘Building back better’ was a reoccurring theme of the meeting. However, by the end of the two weeks, it remained unclear what ‘better’ exactly meant, leaving this key question to be answered by the future recovery strategies of individual states.

The European Semester process – a framework for the coordination of economic policies across the Union – has made some promising inroads towards further implementing SDG targets in 2020. The Commission has specifically stated that it views the European Semester as the key means for putting SDGs at the heart of EU’s policymaking and action in the future.

The Country-Specific Recommendations (CSRs) in the 2020 Spring Package explicitly highlight the “interconnectedness of economic, social and environmental spheres and the need for a holistic approach to recovery”. The semester, together with mainstreaming SDGs in the EU’s better regulation agenda, could present an achievable way for the EU to work concretely towards the targets of SDGs 12-15, and Agenda 2030 holistically, in the future1.


1. See Delivering the Green Deal through the European Semester and European Semester Spring Package: Towards green shoots of sustainability?

Files to download

Progress review on implementing the Agenda 2030 (IEEP 2020)

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