Four years after signing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, countries have taken action to integrate the Goals and targets into their national development plans and to align policies and institutions behind them. The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019 uses the latest available data to track global progress on the SDGs and to take stock of how far we have come in realizing our commitments. The report shows that, while advances have been made in some areas, monumental challenges remain. The most urgent area for action is climate change. If we do not cut record-high greenhouse gas emissions now, global warming is projected to reach 1.5°C in the coming decades. The other defining issue of our time is increasing inequality among and within countries. Poverty, hunger and disease continue to be concentrated in the poorest and most vulnerable groups of people and countries. The challenges highlighted in this report are global problems that require global solutions. No country or individual can resolve them in isolation. In other words, multilateral action is more important than ever.
SDG 1 – No Poverty: The decline of extreme poverty continues, but the pace has slowed, and the world is not on track to achieving the target of ending poverty by 2030. Extreme poverty today is concentrated and overwhelmingly affects rural populations. Increasingly, it is exacerbated by violent conflicts and climate change. Among the 736 million people who lived on less than $1.90 a day in 2015, 413 million were in sub-Saharan Africa. Forecasts suggest that without significant shifts in policy, extreme poverty will still be in the double digits in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.
SDG 2 – Zero Hunger: Despite earlier extended progress, the number of people suffering from hunger has been on the rise since 2014. An estimated 821 million people were undernourished in 2017, the same number as in 2010. The prevalence of undernourishment has remained virtually unchanged in the past three years at a level slightly below 11 per cent. The situation deteriorated significantly in sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of undernourished people increased from 195 million in 2014 to 237 million in 2017. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region with the highest prevalence of hunger, with the rate increasing from 20.7 per cent in 2014 to 23.2 per cent in 2017.
SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-Being: Major progress has been made in improving the health of millions of people. Maternal and child mortality rates have been reduced, life expectancy continues to increase globally, and the fight against some infectious diseases has made steady progress. In the case of other diseases, however, progress has slowed or stalled, including global efforts to eradicate malaria and tuberculosis. Far too many deaths occurred because trained health workers or routine interventions, such as immunizations, were not available. In fact, at least half the world’s population, many of whom suffer financial hardship, are still without access to essential health services.
SDG 4 – Quality Education: Education enables upward socioeconomic mobility and is a key to escaping poverty. Nevertheless, millions of children are still out of school, and not all who do attend are learning. More than half of all children and adolescents worldwide are not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics. Disparities in educational opportunities and outcomes are found across regions, and sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Central and Southern Asia lag behind. As a result, many students are not fully prepared to participate in a highly complex global economy.
SDG 5 – Gender Equality: The world is a better place for women today than it was in the past. Fewer girls are forced into early marriage; more women are serving in parliament and positions of leadership; and laws are being reformed to advance gender equality. Despite these gains, discriminatory laws and social norms remain pervasive, along with harmful practices and other forms of violence against women and girls. Among the most disadvantaged are women and girls who face the compounded effects of gender and other forms of discrimination.
SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation: The demand for water has outpaced population growth, and half the world’s population is already experiencing severe water scarcity at least one month a year. Most rivers in Africa, Asia and Latin America are more polluted now than they were in the 1990s. An estimated 50 to 70 per cent of the world’s natural wetland area has been lost over the last 100 years. While substantial progress has been made in increasing access to clean drinking water and sanitation, billions of people -mostly in rural areas- still lack these basic services.
SDG 7 – Affordable and Green Energy: Access to electricity in poorer countries has begun to accelerate, energy efficiency continues to improve, and renewable energy is making impressive gains in the electricity sector. More people are using electricity than ever before, with the proportion of the global population having access to this service rising from 83% in 2010 to 87% in 2015, then accelerating to 89% in 2017. Still, 840 million people were without this essential service in 2017, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. In that region, only 44% of the population had access, and an estimated 573 million people still lacked electricity.
SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth: Sustained and inclusive economic growth can drive progress, create decent jobs for all and improve living standards. Real GDP per capita increased globally by 1.9% in 2017, compared to by 1.3% in 2016. That growth is expected to remain steady at about 2% 2020. In least developed countries (LDCs), the SDG target aims for at least 7% GDP growth. In those countries, real GDP accelerated from an average annual rate of 5.8% over the period 2000 to 2004, to 7.1% over 2005 to 2009, before slowing to 4.8% over 2010 to 2017.
SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: Inclusive and sustainable industrialization, together with innovation and infrastructure, can unleash dynamic and competitive economic forces that generate employment and income. LDCs, in particular, need to accelerate the development of their manufacturing sector if they are to meet the 2030 target, and scale up investment in scientific research and innovation. The growth of manufacturing in both developing and developed regions slowed in 2018, attributed largely to emerging trade and tariff barriers that constrain investment and future expansion.
SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities: Inequality within and among countries is a persistent cause for concern, despite progress in some areas. Income inequality continues to rise in many parts of the world, even as the poorest 40% of the population in most countries experience income growth. Greater focus is needed to reduce income and other inequalities, including those related to labour market access and trade.
SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and communities: The world is becoming increasingly urbanized. Since 2007, more than half the world’s population has been living in cities, and that share is projected to rise to 60% by 2030. Rapid urbanization is resulting in a growing number of slum dwellers, inadequate and overburdened infrastructure and services, worsening air pollution and unplanned urban sprawl. To respond to those challenges, 150 countries have developed national urban plans, with almost half of them in the implementation phase.
SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production: Economic and social progress over the last century has been accompanied by environmental degradation that is endangering the very systems on which our future development depends. Globally, we continue to use ever-increasing amounts of natural resources to support our economic activity. Globally, the generation of waste is mounting. About one third of the food produced for human consumption each year is lost or wasted, most of it in developed countries. Urgent action is needed to ensure that current material needs do not lead to over-extraction of resources and further degradation of the environment.
SDG 13 – Climate Action: Climate change is the defining issue of our time and the greatest challenge to sustainable development. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C is necessary to avoid catastrophic consequences and irreversible changes. That will require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land and urban infrastructure and industrial systems. While countries have taken positive steps by preparing nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and increasing financing to combat climate change, far more ambitious plans and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society are required.
SDG 14 – Life below Water: Oceans produce about half the oxygen we breathe, and act as a climate regulator, absorbing atmospheric heat and more than one quarter of man-made CO2. However, decades of increasing carbon emissions have led to a build-up of heat in the oceans and changes in their chemical composition. The resulting adverse effects of ocean acidification, climate change (including sea-level rise), extreme weather events and coastal erosion exacerbate ongoing threats to marine and coastal resources from overfishing, pollution and habitat degradation.
SDG 15 – Life on Land: Human activity continues to erode the health of ecosystems on which all species depend. The loss of forests is slowing but continues at an alarming rate; one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction according to a recent United Nations report, and an estimated 20% of the Earth’s land area was degraded between 2000 and 2015. The loss of global biodiversity is accelerating, moving us closer towards unknown and irreversible changes to the Earth’s ecosystems. Accelerated action is needed to safeguard critically endangered species and mainstream extinction risk reduction across agriculture, industry, trade and other sectors.
SDG 16 – Peace Justice and Strong Institutions: In recent years, no substantial advances have been made towards ending violence, promoting the rule of law, strengthening institutions at all levels, or increasing access to justice. Conflict and other forms of violence are an affront to sustainable development. In 2018, the number of people fleeing war, persecution and conflict exceeded 70 million, the highest level that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has seen in almost 70 years.
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the Goals: Support for implementing the SDGs is gaining momentum, but major challenges remain. Personal remittances are at an all-time high, but ODA is declining, and private investment flows are often out of sync with sustainable development. Moreover, global growth has slowed due to ongoing trade tensions, and some governments have retreated from multilateral action. Net ODA totalled $149 billion in 2018, down by 2.7% in real terms from 2017. ODA is the largest source of external financing for LDCs. Nevertheless, in 2018, less aid went to LDCs and African countries, where it is needed most. Preliminary figures indicate that bilateral ODA to LDCs fell by 3% in real terms from 2017, and aid to Africa fell by 4%.