Looking back at 2023


As the year draws to a close, reflecting on the global landscape of 2023 reveals both adverse challenges and promising advancements, underscoring the dynamic nature of our ever-evolving world.

This year is coming to an end and when trying to sum up the global development for 2023, I think we can see both negative and positive developments. Both SDSN’s Sustainable Development Report 2023 and the UN Global Sustainable Development Report 2023 describe SDG implementation as seriously off track. Halfway to 2030, progress has stalled, and the incremental and fragmented change seen so far is insufficient to achieve the SDGs by 2030. In addition, the recent paper Earth Beyond Six of the Nine Planetary Boundaries suggests that Earth is now outside of the safe operating space for six out of nine planetary boundaries. The very worrisome geopolitical situation not only distracts us from working towards a sustainable future but has also brought devastating wars and immense human suffering.

On the positive side, several important meetings have been held in late 2022 and during 2023. The UN Biodiversity Conference COP15 in late 2022 resulted in governments from around the world agreeing on a new set of goals to guide global action to halt and reverse nature loss. During the SDG Summit in September 2023, world leaders reaffirmed their devotion to implementing the SDGs. At the halfway point to 2030, the meeting marked the beginning of a new phase of high-level political guidance on transformative and accelerated actions towards the SDGs. In December 2023, the COP28 meeting ended with an agreement that, for the first time in international climate negotiations, acknowledged fossil fuels as the root cause of climate change. Although, the result has been criticized for being “too little and too late”, the agreement might signal the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era.

Although it can be argued that the world will not fully implement the SDGs by 2030, the 2030 Agenda is the best global framework we have for a sustainable future. Similar to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 2030 Agenda can be seen as a declaration aiming to safeguard current and future generations to live in peace, partnerships, and prosperity, irrespective of whether the SDGs are implemented before or after 2030. The 2030 Agenda is the only globally agreed holistic framework that can guide us towards sustainable living on our shared planet. Hence, universities and knowledge organisations all over the world need to continue supporting and advocating for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

In the Nordic countries, we are still struggling to implement SDGs 12-15, and we have large negative spillovers. Hence, efforts to reduce unsustainable consumption and production, reduce emissions to air and water, and protect the terrestrial and aquatic environment need to be scaled up. To solve these issues, collaborations between knowledge institutions, policymakers at different levels, and businesses are needed. In addition, awareness about the need for a sustainability transformation, as well as willingness to accept bold policy actions and lifestyle changes, among the public are crucial.

SDSN Northern Europe will continue working to increase awareness and support for Agenda 2030 and the SDGs, as well as create collaborations between knowledge institutions and other actors in society to realize the sustainability transformations needed to move towards the SDGs.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and look forward to working with you during 2024 and onwards.

/Martin Eriksson