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IPW: governments are creating an unsustainable future, warns SDG index

27 June 2023

The annual Sustainable Development Report warns that governments are “seriously off track” to meet all 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

IPW: governments are creating an unsustainable future, warns SDG index
There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Beneath these are 169 targets that guide how to achieve them. Image credit: Shutterstock

The 2023 Sustainable Development Report has found that, on current progress, none of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be met at the global level.

The implications of failing to build a more sustainable world are becoming more and more apparent:

  • soaring food prices
  • protests and strikes over wages
  • extreme weather events
  • mass migration between countries
  • increasing political instability
  • more global pandemics and country epidemics

ICE President Keith Howells’s inaugural address set out the importance of delivering for the next generation, with real examples of how infrastructure and the SDGs are interconnected.

The Sustainable Development Report notes that, averaging across countries, not a single SDG is projected to be met by 2030. The poorest countries are struggling the most.

Last year’s report found that geopolitical crisis and the pandemic had stalled progress for two years.

One of the reasons progress is stalling, is national governments “on all continents have fallen short in integrating the SDGs into national policies and public investments.”

Integrating the SDGs into policies and public investments will tip the balance towards sustainable development and away from unsustainable “business as usual”.

This year’s report notes that, at current trends, there is a “risk that the gap in SDG outcomes between high-income countries and low-income ones will be wider in 2030 than it was in 2015.”

Such an outcome would represent a failure of responsibility by the G20, the leading group of industrial nations.

Some countries have achieved one or more of the SDGs, but there needs to be more consistency

There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Beneath these are 169 targets that guide how to achieve them.

The SDG Index monitors progress on both the goals and targets, the report includes progress for each country.

Looking at the countries we monitor as part of the ICE’s Infrastructure Policy Watch series, the results show:

  • Australia is on track to achieve 46% of the SDG targets. But for 31%, things are becoming worse: notably, eliminating poverty, reducing inequalities, and improving life on land.
  • The UK is on track to achieve 60% of the targets, but is sliding backwards on 30%, including those around eliminating poverty. The UK has achieved the targets under SDG 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure).
  • New Zealand is on track to achieve 54% of the targets, 33% are worsening, but there is no goal where the overall trend is decreasing. New Zealand has achieved SDG5 (gender equality).
  • Malaysia is on track to achieve 37% of the targets. The situation is worsening for 31%. For SDG1 (no poverty), Malaysia has achieved all targets and is on track to maintain this progress.
  • Singapore is on track to achieve 61% of the SDG targets. For 21%, things are worsening. SDGs 4 (quality education) and 9 have been achieved, but SDG 15 (life on land) is going backwards.
  • South Africa is on track to achieve 35% of the targets, 28% are worsening. The index flags that major challenges remain for South Africa to achieve 9 of the 17 SDGs. SDG 4 is going backwards.
  • Canada is on track to achieve 49% of the SDG targets. Things are becoming worse for 31%. Canada has achieved SDGs 1 and 4.
  • The UAE is on track to achieve 55% of the targets. For 25%, things are becoming worse. The UAE has met SDGs 1 and 4.

The SDGs are still achievable

It isn’t all doom and gloom. The report highlights that the SDGs are still achievable.

Governments are committed to the SDGs. The technology and know-how necessary for success is in place and, in most cases, has advanced. And there’s “growing regional cooperation” to achieve the goals.

But this needs more than “normal politics” and putting the SDGs at the heart of the continuing recovery from the pandemic.

The ICE’s view

The report makes recommendations on how to get the SDGs back on track.

This includes improving finance flows, the G20 getting their own house in order, and countries adopting sustainable development pathways or ‘missions’ to focus on goal ‘clusters’.

Examples include striving for zero-carbon energy and prioritising sustainable cities.

When it comes to infrastructure development in support of the SDGs, one of the main barriers is government capacity and capability for developing stable infrastructure pipelines. Fixing this can help unlock investment.

The ICE-led Enabling Better Infrastructure programme is designed to address this barrier.

It does this by supporting governments, departments, and senior political advisors with the knowledge and hands-on support to strengthen the processes needed to create a stable, sustainable and investable infrastructure project pipeline.

The Sustainable Development Report also calls on countries to produce Voluntary National Reviews at least once every three years (and calls on the US to get off the fence and produce theirs first).

Understanding social, economic, and environment needs is critical for producing a robust infrastructure strategy, and the ICE echoes this recommendation.

We want to hear from you

How can the SDGs better inform governments’ processes for infrastructure planning and development? Let us know by emailing your thoughts to [email protected].

Don’t forget, you can sign up to ICE Informs to keep up to date on the ICE’s policy and influencing activities.

  • Chris Richards, director of policy at Institution of Civil Engineers