Sustainable development progress in the light of Covid 19

Sustainable Development Report 2020 coverCovid-19 has severe negative impacts on most Sustainable Development Goals. This is shown in the Sustainable Development Report for 2020 which was released during the summer. Sweden and Denmark take the top two positions for the fifth year in a row.

Five years have passed since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. Since then, sustainable development reports have been released every year, jointly developed by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).

Nordic progress

In the 2020 edition of the Sustainable Development Report, all Nordic countries still have major challenges achieving SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and SDG 13 (Climate Action). One example is managing of electronic waste which is one of the indicators in SDG 12. Another example is energy-related CO2 emissions which is one of the challenging indicators for SDG 13. Prevalence of obesity, which is one of the indicators in SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), is also a common challenge with a negative trend.

In every report so far, the top two ranking positions have been taken by Sweden and Denmark. Norway and Finland have also had top positions but when Finland has managed to keep good scores, Norway has dropped a few places. The challenges that separate Norway from the other Nordic countries are the Spillover score, the environmental indicators, and to some extend also the social indicators.

Iceland has also dropped significantly in this year’s report, from rank no 14 to no 26. In addition to the common Nordic challenges, Iceland needs to improve in areas such as fishing methods (indicator in SDG 14, Life below water), seats held by women in national parliament (indicator in SDG 5, Gender equality) and in some economy and financial indicators.

The Nordic ranking positions

Rank 1: Sweden – link to the Swedish country profile
Rank 2: Denmark – link to the Danish country profile
Rank 3: Finland – link to the Finnish country profile
Rank 6: Norway – link to the Norwegian country profile
Rank 26: Iceland – link to the Icelandic country profile

Read more about the Nordic Exceptionalism in the 2020 World Happiness Report: What Explains Why the Nordic Countries Are Constantly Among the Happiest in the World

Global development and Covid-19

Globally, Asian countries have progressed most and have also responded most effectively to the Covid-19 outbreak. As the international community, regional organizations, and countries plan the post-Covid-19 recovery, it will be important to put the SDGs at the heart of policymaking. The Covid-19 pandemic has shed considerable light on the vulnerability of health and ecology systems. A wake-up call especially for high-income countries that were thought best prepared to face epidemics.


Explore the Sustainable Development Report 2020 with interactive SDR 2020 Dashboards

Follow SDSN’s SDGs Today for real-time data on the Sustainable Development Goals


The use of the Sustainable Development Report 2020 findings and data should be accompanied by the following bibliographic citation: Sachs, J., Schmidt-Traub, G., Kroll, C., Lafortune, G., Fuller, G., Woelm, F. 2020. The Sustainable Development Goals and COVID-19. Sustainable Development Report 2020. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


By: Nina Silow

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