Progress in the UNECE region

More data have become available

The present progress assessment comes close to the halfway mark between the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 and their 2030 finish line. Data on the several years that have passed since the adoption provide a solid basis for estimating the trend, and there is still time for course correction in areas where this is needed.

The availability of statistical data for monitoring the SDGs is improving. Progress for the UNECE region can now be measured towards 105 targets, which is up from 89 that were available for last year’s assessment. The strength of evidence has improved for most goals. Still, data gaps remain. Forty per cent of targets cannot be measured for the region due to insufficient data or other measurement challenges (see Technical notes on the progress assessment). For five goals (2, 5, 11, 12, 13), progress can be assessed for half or fewer targets. Recently-collected data make it possible to evaluate changes in trends since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic for 54 out of the 142 indicators used in this assessment. For the majority of targets and indicators, the impact of the pandemic is thus not yet reflected in the available data.

How is progress assessed?

Making use of all the available data, anticipated indicator values were estimated for 2030 for each country, based on the pace of progress thus far. These anticipated values were compared to the desired target values.

The results are presented at the regional level, based on the median indicator values across all countries. It is acknowledged that variation among countries can be significant and the situation in an individual country may differ from the assessment given to the entire region. For more information on the methodology, see Technical notes on the progress assessment.

The chart in the next page presents the anticipated progress in the region towards the 105 measurable targets. Each target is coloured according to the gap between anticipated and required progress. The colour is green if the pace of progress is sufficient to reach the target value by 2030; yellow if progress needs to accelerate to reach the target value; and red if the currently observed trend runs counter to the desired direction. If the target cannot be assessed it is shown in grey colour.

How many targets would be achieved?

Based on this assessment, the region will achieve only 26 targets (25 per cent of measurable targets) by 2030. For 64 targets, progress has to accelerate, and for 15 targets, the current trend needs to be reversed

Which targets are on track for 2030?

Which targets would be achieved?

With the exception of extreme poverty that is rare in the UNECE region, targets to reduce poverty and income inequality are not on track to be achieved by 2030.

One in five individuals experience multidimensional poverty across UNECE countries (indicator 1.2.2). Access to social protections is improving, and many countries have expanded social assistance and insurance programmes to help offset the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. The share of individuals covered by at least one social protection benefit (indicator 1.3.1) was higher in 2020 than in any other year since 2000 in more than half of countries with data. Still, progress across the region is uneven and income inequality is worsening in many countries: the share of individuals living below 50 per cent of their country’s median income level (indicator 10.2.1) is increasing in half of UNECE countries with data as measured before the pandemic.

Regional progress on nutrition and a sustainable food supply has been insufficient.

Malnutrition still affects some young children in the region, and the pace of progress in countries with datais too slow to eliminate stunting by 2030 (indicator 2.2.1). Efforts are required across the entire region to reduce more rapidly the prevalence of anaemia in pregnancy (indicator 2.2.3). Evidence on the sustainability, resilience and fairness of agricultural practices is limited. Available data indicate that the region must reverse trends to maintain a diverse food supply (target 2.5) and improve agricultural productivity and efficiency (target 2.a).

All targets related to health and well-being (goal 3) can be measured for the UNECE region. The region is on track to meet targets on maternal and child mortality and road safety. All other health targets require acceleration.

As measured before the pandemic, progress towards reducing the incidence and impact of communicable (target 3.3) and non-communicable diseases and improving mental health and wellbeing (target 3.4) is slow. The pandemic has affected access to health care services with the potential to further slow progress on preventable diseases, premature mortality, mental health and family planning.

Changes in alcohol and tobacco use during the pandemic may put targets related to substance abuse (3.5) and tobacco control (3.a) even further out of reach. The relative cost of healthcare in the region may be contributing to sluggish progress on health targets. The proportion of the population with large household expenditures on health relative to household income (indicator 3.8.2) is projected to increase by 2030.

The UNECE region benefits from well-equipped schools and qualified teachers and most countries have already met these education targets (4.a and 4.c).

Participation in early childhood education has increased steadily in the region during the last 20 years, and if the current pace of progress can be maintained the region will achieve near universal access by 2030 (target 4.2). Without an acceleration of progress, the region will come up short on effective learning outcomes (4.1) equal access to education (4.5), third-level education (4.3), and relevant skills for employment (4.4). Progress towards universal secondary school completion (indicator 4.1.2) and minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics (indicator 4.1.1) is very slow.

Disparities within and across countries impede regional progress towards education targets. Achievement gaps between disadvantaged and wealthy students (indicator 4.5.1) persist in all countries with data. Progress towards all targets vary considerably across countries. The Covid-19 pandemic will likely exacerbate such inequalities. Students in regions and households with fewer resources may fall further behind as the result of disruptions to education and training.

Progress towards only four of nine SDG targets on gender equality (goal 5) can be measured and the data that are available show slow progress.

The region is on track to meet target 5.b on the use of technology to promote the empowerment of women, but not on the other measurable targets. The pandemic has disproportionately affected women, both at home and at work, and efforts must be accelerated to reduce disparities between women and men around unpaid care and domestic work (indicator 5.4.1) and achieve gender parity in political and economic leadership (target 5.5). More countries need to implement policies that protect women against discrimination and promote their empowerment to strengthen the region’s legal frameworks the support gender equality (indicator 5.1.1). Countries must also work to fill data gaps on gender equality, particularly in areas where progress is threatened by the pandemic such as violence against women and economic rights. More information on this goal is provided in the report’s focus story Advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment by UN Women.

Concerning water and energy (goals 6 and 7), the region has made good progress towards access to basic services such as drinking water (target 6.1) and energy (target 7.1).

To ensure the availability and sustainability of water and sanitation, the region must speed up progress on sanitation (target 6.2), water quality (6.3), water-use efficiency (6.4), and international cooperation and national management of water resources (6.5). The proportion of water bodies with potentially harmful levels of pollution is increasing in one third of countries with data (indicator 6.3.2). In nearly one quarter of countries with data, less than half the population uses safely managed sanitation services (indicator 6.2.1), and only half of countries in the region have made progress towards reducing industrial pressure on renewable freshwater resources (indicator 6.4.2).

Access to electricity is nearly universal, and cleans fuels are used for cooking, heating and lighting across the region (target 7.1). Most countries have increased reliance on renewable energy (indicator 7.2.1) and improved energy efficiency (indicator 7.3.1), but acceleration is required to meet 2030 targets.

Most of the targets on decent work and economic growth (goal 8) are progressing too slowly to be achieved, and the impacts of the pandemic – which has affected nearly every aspect of national economies – are not yet reflected in the data available for this assessment.

Even before the pandemic, the rate of growth in the gross domestic product per person was decreasing across the region (indicator 8.1.1). Many workers have been affected by changes in working hours and conditions as a result of the pandemic which may worsen already slow progress towards full employment (target 8.5) and labour rights and safe working environments (target 8.8). Many countries have taken steps towards developing and adopting national strategies for youth employment (target 8.b), which is the only target on track under goal 8.

On the positive side, pandemic-related changes in industry and transportation may help propel the region towards sustainable and clean industrialization (targets 9.2 and 9.4).

The region is on track to meet targets around carbon intensity of the gross domestic product (indicator 9.4.1). Access to information and communication technologies and the Internet (9.c) is also on track, which was undoubtedly of great importance during pandemic-related restrictions. However, infrastructure development (target 9.1) is regressing; additional investments are required to reverse current trends by 2030. Small businesses have also suffered during the pandemic, making it all the more important to accelerate progress on access to financial services and market integration for small enterprises (target 9.3).

Progress on reducing inequalities within and among countries (goal 10) has been slow.

The region is set to achieve targets on safe migration and mobility and remittance costs (targets 10.7, 10.c). Fiscal policies are positively impacting the distribution of income in the region (indicator 10.4.2), but acceleration is needed to achieve 2030 ambitions. Recent data point to worsening financial stability in the region (target 10.5), which contributes to inequality between countries.

Poor data availability limits the assessment of progress towards sustainable cities and communities (goal 11) as only 4 out of the 10 targets can be measured.

The region has made good progress towards adequate housing (target 11.1) and is on track to reduce air pollution in urban areas (target 11.6). Disaster risk reduction strategies have been adopted and implemented by many countries and local governments in the region (target 11.b), and evidence suggests these policies may be mitigating the economic impact of disasters (indicator 11.5.2). Nonetheless, increases in recent years in the number of people in the region affected by disasters (indicator 11.5.1) point to persisting vulnerability to climate-related hazards and natural disasters.

New data provide a clearer picture of where the region stands on progress towards climate and environmental targets.4

Progress towards reducing fossil fuel subsidies has slowed (target 12.c), and despite a previously positive outlook, the region is no longer on track to achieve the target. Fossil fuel subsidies increased between 2015 and 2019 in more than half of the countries with data. Greenhouse gas emissions among developing countries in the region continue to increase; among developed countries emissions are decreasing but not quickly enough to meet 2030 targets (indicator 13.2.2).

The region needs to act urgently to reverse trends around sustainable fishing (target 14.7), research and development on marine technology (target 14.a), sustainable forest management (target 15.2), the loss of biodiversity (target 15.5), and sustainable tourism (target 12.b). If the current pace of progress is maintained, the region is on track to achieve targets on reducing marine pollution (target 14.1), conserving coastal areas (target 14.5), and combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (target 14.6).

The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of international cooperation around science and technology, and progress in the region is strong in this area (target 17.6). In other critical areas such as waste generation and treatment, the sustainable use of natural resources, and the conservation of ecosystems, the region must accelerate progress.

4 For a list of climate and environment targets and indicators, see United Nations Environment Programme (2019). Measuring Progress: Towards Achieving the Environmental Dimension of the SDGS. Nairobi: United Nations

Budgetary pressure and economic contraction may stall progress towards peaceful and inclusive societies (goal 16) and global partnerships for sustainable development (goal 17).

The immediate impacts of the pandemic are reflected in data on government expenditure (indicator 16.6.1) and global economic stability (target 17.13). In most countries with data for 2020, government spending exceeded amounts originally budgeted (indicator 16.6.1). Annual growth in gross domestic product was lower in 2020 than in any other year since 2000 for half of UNECE countries.

Fewer resources may be available for violence prevention and reduction (targets 16.1 and 16.a) and efforts to promote equal treatment in justice systems (target 16.3) – areas where progress was already insufficient. Development assistance from the region to developing countries as a proportion of gross national income was decreasing before the pandemic (indicator 17.2.1). It may be difficult for the region to reverse this trend as countries deal with the economic impacts of the pandemic. Likewise, countries may implement trade policies to support national economic recovery, contributing to even slower progress towards open trade (target 17.10) and improved market access for developing countries (target 17.12).

The way forward is unclear on many targets due to a lack of data. The region needs to intensify its investment in statistical capacity (targets 17.18, 17.19) to improve data availability including producing disaggregated data to ensure no one if left behind on the way to 2030. Additional data are required to assess the full impact of the pandemic and to determine whether responses to the pandemic have accelerated or undermined progress.

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