Review of the SDGs in Each Geographic Zone

Review of the SDGs in Each Geographic Zone

on August 11, 2020


In line with objective 3 of the RRING project, the research is a first step to “align RRI to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to provide a global common denominator for advancement of RRI, and address Grand Challenges globally.”

This first step was mainly done through desktop research, relying on UN reports as well as voluntary national reviews (as submitted to the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) to determine what are the most important SDGs in each region (named ‘geography’ in this task) and as geographical regions use the 5 regions defined by the UN for its regional commissions, and its monitoring of the SDGs, while noting that every state is different and regional averages can be misleading, because the 5 global regions exhibit internal variety.

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019

In July 2019, the High-Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (HLPF) reviewed global progress on the last remaining set of SDGs. 142 countries have now presented their Voluntary National Reviews. All SDGs have now been highlighted at the HLPF. As mentioned above, this year in effect closes the first cycle of the 2030 Agenda implementation.

July also marked the launch of The Sustainable Development Report 2019, prepared by UN DESA’s Statistics Division with inputs from more than 50 international and regional organizations. It provides charts, infographics and maps on SDG progress, and presents an in-depth analysis of selected indicators. Additionally, the report highlights regional progress and analyses.

The report is accompanied by a comprehensive Statistical Annex and the Global SDG Indicator Database with country and regional data that can also be accessed interactively on the Sustainable Development Goal indicators website.

This data provides a clear overview per country and region of the progress that has so far been made on the SDGs, as well as the challenges that still remain. This allows us to select the data we need from selected countries and regions to determine if there are any trends. However, since these are UN documents, they can only consolidate the information provided by Member States, so as to reveal gaps (and call these gaps priorities). They do not reflect how each country or region is implementing the SDGs except in this broad sense of progress achieved on the basis of measurements taken (e.g. the quality of how the SDG targets are incorporated in national legislation would not be visible in the aggregated record, except by means of illustrations). There are nonetheless, broadly stated conclusions on gaps to be addressed, which may be called priorities, because all states are committed to meet all SDGs. These conclusions are backed by the most inclusive political process and documentation available, so it is considered a reliable source for identifying priorities.

According to the report, the two main challenges facing the world are climate change and inequalities among and within countries, corresponding to respectively SDG 13 ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts ‘and SDG 10 ‘Reduce inequality within and among countries’. Though progress has been made, poverty remains an issue in many parts of the world and hunger has actually been increasing in recent years.

The overview per region below takes many direct excerpts from the UN SG’s report.

Case Study: Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa (hereafter referred to as Africa) is not on track to achieve the SDGs. of the region includes many least developed countries (LDCs). The region has some of lowest scores across all the SDGs, relative to other regions. According to the UN Secretary General’s report, Africa has gaps in reaching targets for almost all SDGs, particularly SDG1 on poverty, SDG2 on hunger, SDG3 on health, SDG4 on education, SDG5 on gender equality, SDG6 on water, SDG7 on energy and SDG8 on work. SDGs that were less mentioned are SDG10 on inequalities and SDG13 on climate change but these are considered global priorities. Africa is, however, better on track for SDG12 on consumption and production than other regions. Below is an account per SDG of the most striking findings.


Underlining that the SDGs are universal, indivisible and interlinked, this SDG could be considered a ‘priority’ for Africa as it is the region most lagging behind in terms of progress. More than 42% of the population (413 million people) lived on less than $1.90 a day in 2015 (SDG Indicator 1.1.1), otherwise known as extreme poverty. The region also has the highest number of employed living in extreme poverty (38%). The region also has the lowest number for people that have at least one social protection benefit (12.9% in 2016, SDG Indicator 1.3.1). Climate-related disaster are increasing, floods, storms, droughts, heatwaves or other extreme weather events, causing huge economic and human loss, especially in the poorest countries (SDG Indicator 1.5.1). Unless policy improves in Africa, the prediction is that extreme poverty will remain high in Africa by 2030.


This SDG could also be considered a ‘priority’ as the situation has deteriorated in Africa instead of improved between 2014 and 2017. According to SDG Indicator 2.1.1, 23.2% of the population (237 million, up from 195 million) are undernourished. This could be the result of adverse weather conditions which affect food availability and prices, and prolonged armed conflicts that have terrorized the region. The region also has a high number of children under 5 years who are stunted (32.1% in 2018, SDG Indicator 2.2.1) although progress has been made. Another reason that this SDG is considered important is that Africa has high amount of small-scale food producers compared to Europe, whose income and productivity are systematically lower than of large-scale food producers (SDG Indicator 2.3.2). 2018 proved to be a difficult year for Africa as production shortfalls, currency depreciations and insecurity triggered high food prices in several countries.


Another SDG that could be considered a ‘priority’ for several reasons. The first is SDG Indicator 3.1.1 which indicates that Africa has the highest maternal mortality rate (555/100,000 live births in 2015), or roughly two-thirds maternal deaths worldwide, and only 60% of births attended by skilled personnel. Without sustained investment that target will not be reached. Africa also the highest number of under-five mortality rate (75.9 per 1,000 live births in 2017, SDG Indicator 3.2.1) – half of all deaths worldwide. Although HIV incidence is decreasing in Africa, it is still below the target and remain the highest worldwide according to SDG Indicator 3.3.1 (1.25 per 1,000 uninfected population in 2017). Over 90% of the world’s malaria cases occur in Africa (216.9 per 1,000 population at risk in 2017 according to SDG Indicator 3.3.3) and the total number is rising. Africa is also second highest region after Central and Southern Asia in terms of population requiring interventions against neglected tropical diseases (SDG Indicator 3.3.5) although the situation is improving. Furthermore, Africa has the highest number of deaths related to traffic accident injuries (SDG Indicator 3.6.1); the highest adolescent fertility rate (101 births per 1,000 adolescent girls in 2018 according to SDG Indicator 3.7.2); the lowest universal health coverage (42% in 2015, SDG Indicator 3.8.1) and the highest mortality rate attributed to unsafe water, unsafe sanitation and lack of hygiene (48.2 per 100,000 population in 2016, SDG Indicator 3.9.2).


Africa is again lagging behind in this SDG and could therefore be considered a priority. The proficiency rates in reading and mathematics are lowest in Africa, where 88% of children (202 million) of primary and lower secondary school age were not proficient in reading, and 84% (193 million) were not proficient in mathematics in 2015 according to the report (SDG Indicator 4.1.1). To exacerbate the situation, girls are often excluded from education (121 to every 100 boys out of school – the second lowest number after Central Asia). Naturally this leads to Africa having the lowest adult literacy rates along with Southern Asia (SDG Indicator 4.6.1). Africa is also lagging behind in terms of having access to basic resources such as drinking water, electricity and computers – less than half of primary schools and slightly more than half of secondary schools (SDG Indicator 4.a.1). On top of that. Africa has the lowest percentage of trained teachers in pre-primary, primary and secondary education.


There is no data in the report of its statistical annex by region on SDG Indicator 5.1.1 ‘Whether or not legal frameworks are in place to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non‑discrimination on the basis of sex’ though it could be interesting to include them at a later stage but there are several other topics that raise concern. SDG Indicator 5.3.1 ranks Africa highest for child marriage (11.8% of women aged 20-24 years who were married or in a union before age 15; and 37.2% of women aged 20-24 years who were married or in a union before age 18). SDG Indicator 5.3.2 notes that on average 24.5% of girls aged 15-19 have undergone female genital mutilation, nearly half of all 200 million worldwide in West Africa alone. Like most other regions, Africa still has high numbers of ever-partnered women and girls aged 15 to 49 years subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner (SDG target 5.2) as well as low numbers of women in parliament and managerial positions (SDG target 5.5).


Africa scores lowest of all the regions on two targets making it another priority. Africa has the lowest proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services (26.9% in 2017, SDG Indicator 6.1.1) and the lowest proportion of population using safely managed sanitation services (18.4% in 2017, SDG Indicator 6.2.1). Furthermore, the report states that most rivers in Africa, as well as other tropic regions, are more polluted now than in the 1990s (SDG Indicator 6.3.2). More work can be done on SDG Indicator 6.5.1 Indicator 6.5.1 ‘Degree of integrated water resources management implementation (0-100)’ where Africa scores only 40.


There are critical issues here that need to be resolved in Africa, making it a ‘priority’, although there is also some good news as well. According to SDG Indicator 7.1.1, only 43.9% of the population have access to electricity in 2017 and an estimated 573 million people were still without. Indicator 7.1.2 has it that only 14% of the population had primary reliance on clean fuels and technology in 2017. Both indicators have the lowest numbers by far of any region. The good news is that the share of renewable energy of total energy consumption in Africa is actually the highest according to SDG Indicator 7.2.1 (69.5% in 2016). Energy efficiency – which is central to the global goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions – only improved by 1.8% in Africa between 2000 and 2016 (below target of 2.7%, SDG Indicator 7.3.1).


Real GDP grew by 4.8% annually in LDCs (2010–2017), but this is still less than the 7% SDG target. For individual people the situation is a lot worse as annual growth rate of real GDP per capita actually decreased by 0.3% in 2017 according to SDG Indicator 8.1.1 while the annual growth rate of real GDP per worker, was only 0.3% in 2018 (compared to 2.1% global average). Africa also has very high levels of informal employment (76.7% in 2016, SDG Indicator 8.3.1). The report also highlighted SDG Indicator 8.6.1 which shows that 25% of young women are not in education, employment or training compared to 16% of young men in 2018.


LDCs, of which most are in Africa, are lagging behind in terms of industrialization and need to scale up investment in scientific research and innovation if they are to meet the target by 2030. The manufacturing value added (MVA) per capita in was only 164.5 USD compared to 4,938 USD in Europe and Northern America (SDG Indicator 9.2.1). Target 9.5 is another issue of concern as Africa only invests 0.42% on GDP in R&D (2016, SDG Indicator 9.5.1) and only 91.5 per million inhabitants are researchers (2016, SDG Indicator 9.5.2) compared to 1,162 globally. Lastly, in Africa only 14.9% of total Manufacturing value added (MVA) came from higher-tech sectors in 2016 (SDG Indicator 9.b.1). In fact, the proportion of medium-high- and high-tech MVA in total MVA decreased between 2000 and 2016.


There is not a lot of data on SDG 10 indicators in the report. Apart from it being highlighted by the UN Secretary General as a major challenge, the reports indicated that LDCs continue to benefit from preferential trade status (SDG Indicator 10.a.1), Africa has the highest resource flows (net disbursements) for development (SDG Indicator 10.b.1) and has very high remittance costs as a proportion of the amount remitted (SDG Indicator 10.c.1). However, the reports also noted that only 13 countries in sub-Saharan Africa had data on income growth for the most recent period, pointing to the ongoing need for improved data collection and statistical capacity-building, especially in the poorest countries.


This SDG again poses major challenges for the region. In Africa 238 million people live in slums (56% of urban population in 2018, SDG Indicator 11.1.1). Another issue is municipal waste collection. According to SDG Indicator 11.6.1, there was only 42.2% coverage in 2018. Air quality worsened between 2010 and 2016, and Africa saw a large increase in particulate matter concentrations (SDG Indicator 11.6.2). More than 90% of air-pollution-related deaths occur in Asia and Africa. Lastly, less than 20% of the African population has convenient access to public transport. Despite no direct reference, SDG target 11.5 on disaster risk reduction with a special focus on the poor, interlinks with SDG targets 1.5 and 13.1. The latter two are referred to in the report and it is therefore worth mentioning this one as well.


No particular mentions of Africa are made in the report nor in the statistical annex. SDG Indicator 12.2.2 does note that, in 2017, developing countries used about five times as many natural resources as developed countries to produce the same amount of economic output (also known as domestic material consumption per unit of GDP).


This SDG is marked as the defining issue of our time and the greatest challenge to sustainable development. The fact that poor societies will be affected more makes Africa a particularly vulnerable region. In light of this many developing countries have started a process to formulate and implement national adaptation plans (NAPs) to reduce their vulnerability to climate change and to integrate climate change adaptation into national development planning. Additionally, the report notes that LDCs need to have access to finance and the strengthening of resilience and adaptive capacity at a much faster pace. In this sense, Africa is one the region to have already accessed the Green Climate Fund for NAPs.


Ocean pollution remains a global problem but the challenge is most acute in some equatorial zones, especially in parts of Asia, Africa and Central America (SDG Indicator 14.1.1). The rate of protection of marine key biodiversity areas (KBAs) is slowing down and LDCs and small island developing States in particular are lagging behind. Though Africa is on par with Asia and Latin America and therefore not an outlier (SDG Indicator 14.5.1).


The report mentions that land degradation is bad in most regions (22.4% for Africa in 2018, SDG Indicator 15.3.1) and is impacting the lives of over one billion people. The total forest area decreased from 31.1 to 30.7% between 2000 and 2015, with most of it occurring in the tropics, especially in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. Converting land for agriculture use is considered the main reason of this forest loss.


This SDG could be considered a priority for Africa as well. Africa is one two regions with the highest levels of lethal violence. It has even increased from 25 to 33% of the global total between 2000 and 2017. Africa 14.8 victims of intentional homicide per 100,000 population in 2017 (SDG Indicator 16.1.1) – the second highest after Latin America and the Caribbean. The proportion of children aged 1-17 years who experienced any physical punishment and/or psychological aggression by caregivers in the past month (SDG Indicator 16.2.1) is also alarmingly high at 83.2% in 2018. Likewise, the proportion of women aged 18‑29 years who experienced sexual violence by age 18 (SDG Indicator 16.2.3) was highest at 6% in 2017. Unsentenced detainees (SDG Indicator 16.3.2) and bribery (SDG Indicator 16.5.2) are also causes for concern. Another major problem in Africa is that less than half of children under age 5 have a birth registration (SDG Indicator 16.9.1).


There are many targets and indicators in this SDG and some relate to Africa. The report states that official development aid (ODA) is the largest source of external financing for LDCs (with the majority of LDCs being in Africa). 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%. In 2017 only 0.33 per 100 inhabitants had a broadband internet subscription (SDG Indicator 17.6.2) and only 21.8% of people were using the internet (SDG Indicator 17.8.1). Aid to Africa remained high in 2017 (SDG Indicator 17.9.1), though the Secretary General’s report mentions that it fell by 4% in 2018. Africa accounted for only 1.19% of global services exports in 2017 (SDG Indicator 17.11.1). In sub-Saharan Africa, only 23% of national statistical plan were fully funded in 2018 (SDG Indicator 17.18.3), compared to 94% in Europe and Northern America. Personal remittances accounted for 2.8% of GDP in 2017 (SDG Indicator 17.3.2).

This report was written and prepared by Carl Vannetelbosch