Global Goals ‘Going Into Reverse’ – Report


The COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine and other global crises have left UN poverty, hunger and health goals seriously off track, with progress in some countries going into reverse.

That’s according to the latest in a string of reports evaluating progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – Sustainable Development Report 2023 published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN)

The SDGs were adopted by United Nations member states in September 2015, and call for concerted government and organisational efforts to achieve targets such as ending poverty, eradicating hunger and ensuring everyone has access to clean, affordable energy by 2030.

“Halfway to 2030, the SDGs are seriously off track, with the poor and highly vulnerable countries suffering the most,” Jeffrey Sachs, president of SDSN and lead author of the report, said in a statement.

The report says that less than a fifth of the goals were currently on track to be achieved by 2030.

It follows a long line of similar reports raising the alarm over SDG progress, such as the UN Secretary-General’s report Towards a Rescue Plan for People and Planet released in April this year, and the International Science Council’s report published in May 2022.

Today’s report (Wednesday) shows a deteriorating situation where at the current rate, the gap between rich and poor countries on SDGs might be wider in 2030 than in 2015.

According to the report, progress on the goals has slipped into reverse for 15 per cent of the targets, with the five worst countries being Myanmar, Venezuela, Papua New Guinea, Yemen and Lebanon.


Sachs urged the international community ahead of this month’s New Global Financing Pact in Paris and key upcoming meetings, including the G20 meeting in New Delhi, the SDG summit in New York in September, and COP28 in Dubai to increase financial investments towards SDGs.

Poverty, access to vaccination and unemployment rates were some of the SDG indicators that experienced significant reversals in the period under review, according to the report.

Guillaume LaFortune, Vice President and head of the Paris Office at SDSN and one of the report’s lead authors, said limited political leadership, the lack of ambition and implementation of long-term budget and policy frameworks combined with fragmented multilateralism are slowing down implementation of the SDGs leading to reversals in progress in most parts of the world.

“The differences in countries’ level of engagement and commitment for the SDGs are quite surprising,” LaFortune told SciDev.Net.

He notes that there was no expectation in 2015, when the SDG agenda 2030 was adopted, that all the goals and targets would be achieved at their midpoint.

“However, by 2023, one would expect that most countries would have adopted and implemented ambitious policy, regulatory and investment frameworks compatible with achieving major SDG transformations,” LaFortune said.

“Unfortunately this is not the case.”

Lost decade

This means a lost decade for convergence in sustainable development — with poor and vulnerable countries particularly hit by multiple health, geopolitical and climate-related crises.

For instance, extreme poverty rates, hunger, well-being, unemployment, and many other social outcomes got worse during the pandemic and in many cases are still not back to pre-pandemic levels in the poorest and most vulnerable countries, the report says.

Compared with rich countries that have comprehensive automatic stabilizers, and that managed to mobilize additional funding for emergency expenditure and COVID recovery plans, poor countries face significant fiscal issues which represents a huge barrier to investing in the physical infrastructure and human capital needed to achieve the SDGs, the authors say.

Florencia Soto Nino, UN Associate Spokesperson in New York, observed that the report’s suggestion that the SDGs might not be met by 2030 was a cause for concern.

“However, the report also highlights the urgency of taking corrective actions and puts forward a series of recommendations to get back on track at the midway point to meeting the goals,” she told SciDev.Net.

“The Secretary-General is reiterating the call for an SDG stimulus to give developing countries the resources they need,” Nino said.

She noted that the SDG summit will provide a platform for world leaders to collectively address the challenges, mobilize resources and commit to accelerated action towards achieving the SDGs by 2030.

Key among them would be to urge the international community to commit this September to giving developing countries a fair shot at achieving the SDGs by endorsing and delivering an SDG stimulus to the tune of US$500 billion per year between now and 2030.

Mohga Kamal-Yanni, Senior Policy advisor to UNAIDS and The People’s Vaccine Alliance, said the loss of progress on SDGs meant the goals were not being taken seriously.

“Governments, rich and poor must show serious political commitments and commit resources financially and technically to achieve the SDGs,” she told SciDev.Net.

“There is need for fundamental change in how governments and international financial institutions design the economy.

“People’s well-being should be the focus and the goal,” she added. “Economic, trade and other systems should be set up in ways to achieve this goal.”

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Global desk.

Dann Okoth

Dann Okoth writes for

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