Sustainable development in the European Union: Overview of progress towards the SDGs in an EU context

How has the EU progressed towards the SDGs?

On average, over the respective last five-years of available data — based on the mean scores of the selected indicators — the EU has made progress towards almost all goals. Progress in some goals has been faster than in others, and within goals, movement away from the sustainable development objectives also occurred in specific areas. A more detailed description of individual indicator trends can be found in the 17 thematic chapters of this brochure.

Over the most recent five-year period, the EU seems to have made good progress in improving the living conditions of its citizens. This improvement refers to gains in both actual and perceived health (SDG 3), reductions in certain dimensions of poverty and social exclusion (SDG 1), and increases in the quality of life in cities and communities (SDG 11). These favourable trends can be seen against the background of an improving economic situation in the EU over the past five years, as shown by some clearly favourable trends in the EU’s labour market (SDG 8).

The growing economic activity in the EU, however, has not always been accompanied by favourable developments in the use of natural resources and its negative environmental impacts, as exemplified by the trends for SDG 7 ‘Affordable and clean energy’, SDG 12 ‘Responsible consumption and production’, SDG 13 ‘Climate action’ and SDG 15 ‘Life on land’.

In the area of education (SDG 4), the EU has already met two of its six benchmarks for 2020 and is close to meeting two other goals. The EU has also made progress in supporting developing countries, for example, through financial flows and trade (SDG 17). Trends were mixed in the area of sustainable agricultural production and its environmental impacts (SDG 2). Developments in the goals on gender equality (SDG 5) and other forms of inequalities (SDG 10) were also mixed, with both growing and declining inequalities in different topic areas. A slight movement away from sustainable development objectives was visible in the EU’s innovation and transport performance, monitored by the indicators of SDG 9.

In the case of the three remaining goals — SDG 6 ‘Clean water and sanitation’, SDG 14 ‘Life below water’ and SDG 16 ‘Peace, justice and strong institutions’ — trends cannot be calculated due to insufficient data over the past five years.

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