Guillaume Lafortune – Vice President and Head of Paris Office, Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN)
In December 2021, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), SDSN Europe and the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) published the third edition of the Europe Sustainable Development Report 2021, an independent quantitative report on the progress of the European Union (EU), its member states, and other European countries towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed by all UN member states in 2015.
The Europe Sustainable Development Report 2021 is part of the broader Sustainable Development Report (SDR) series which tracks the performance of countries and municipalities around the world on the SDGs since 2015. The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) was set up in 2012 under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General. The Network’s main role is to be “a knowledge broker” between science and decision-makers to identify solutions for sustainable development.
Guillaume Lafortune, Vice President and Head of Paris Office at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), is one of the principal coordinators of the report and, during this interview, agreed to share valuable insights and observations regarding the latest findings and data. Given the current context, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is a setback for sustainable development in the EU and internationally. Read on to comprehend why ending the pandemic everywhere is the number one priority to restore SDG progress in the EU and globally.
1. According to your findings, what does achieving the SDGs require in order to be successful?
Suppressing the COVID-19 pandemic and safeguarding peace everywhere are prerequisites for making any progress on the SDGs. Beyond these two fundamental conditions, achieving the SDGs requires (1) adequate financing, (2) ambitious policies and roadmaps and (3) robust data systems to track progress. The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network is doing work in all three areas by mobilizing scientific institutions and experts to achieve the SDGs globally.
As emphasized in late January 2022 by the UN Secretary-General, reforming global finance to support the SDGs and the Paris Agreement is a major priority in 2022 and beyond.
Rich countries were able to finance additional health outlays and recovery plans through debt. But many countries around the world, especially low-income countries, cannot do this because they have limited or no access to the capital markets on acceptable borrowing terms.
This means that emergency health and social expenditure and recovery plans cannot be properly financed. Rich countries failed on their promise to provide $100 billion per year in climate financing to developing countries by 2020 and many of them have not achieved the target of 0.7% of Gross National Income dedicated to Official Development Assistance (ODA). Tax evasion and profit shifting undermine countries’ ability to finance the SDGs.
While most of the world was getting poorer, a recent report by Oxfam shows that the top 10 billionaires on the planet doubled their fortune during the pandemic. The harmonization of corporate tax rates is therefore also a central aspect of global finance reforms.
2. There was undoubtedly a decline in SDG performance because of the pandemic. What do you think are the most impacted areas? Were there any areas where achieving the SDGs was accelerated, nonetheless?
The COVID-19 pandemic is a setback for sustainable development in Europe and globally, but it is not a reason to scale-back ambitions. The pandemic halted years of progress on many socio-economic goals including key SDG metrics such as extreme poverty, life expectancy. This pandemic might have lasting effects on people’s health status due to delays in screening and testing for other medical conditions and loss in years of schooling and learning in many parts of the world.
The pandemic highlighted the importance of the SDGs, including building strong health & social protection systems, but also failures in multilateralism. The United-Nations SDG Summit in 2023 should be an opportunity for the international community to re-commit to the 17 Goals and collectively mobilize resources and identify policy priorities to accelerate SDG progress by 2030 and mid-century.
3. What key aspects are meant to support the Decade of Action for the SDGs launched by the UN Secretary-General in 2019?
At SDSN we emphasize that achieving the SDGs requires success in realizing six major transformations: quality education (SDG 4); access to good quality and affordable health care (SDG 3); renewable energy and a circular economy (SDGs 7, 12, and 13); sustainable land and marine management (SDGs 2, 14, and 15); sustainable urban infrastructure (SDGs 6, 9, and 11); and universal access to digital services (SDG 9). Each of the six transformations requires a significant scaling-up of public investments.
Scientific knowledge and networks are key to model structural changes over a time horizon of 10-30 years which can inform policy discussions and consultations on the six SDG transformations but also make the international community, governments and industries accountable for achieving SDG results.
4. What did the SDG Dashboards and Trends for Romania reveal that is important to act on in the immediate future?
Every year, SDSN tracks the performance of all UN Member States on the SDGs and produces a special edition for European countries. Compared with the rest of the world, Romania ranks 39/165 countries (top quarter) on the SDG Index but 29/34 European countries (bottom 10%).
The biggest SDG challenge for Romania, as for the rest of Europe, is to promote a “fair transition” towards sustainable consumption and production. Education, skill development and digital technologies will be crucial to support the livelihoods of workers affected by the deep transformations of production, energy and food systems (among others). In many cases, EU-wide responses are needed.