Every year, the United Nations presents the update of its sustainability report, which attempts to monitor the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and thus the fulfillment of the obligations derived from the 2030 Agenda. The index used to measure progress in sustainable development is divided into three major development dimensions (economic, social and environmental), which are broken down into the 17 SDGs and their 118 associated indicators. Notwithstanding the debates on the conceptualization and quantification of the SDGs, which are still in force, the truth is that the report provides a very comprehensive overview of the development challenges at the global level.
The performance shown by Spain in this latest report allows us to draw some interesting conclusions on the main challenges facing the country from a multidimensional and long-term perspective. Spain is ranked 16th out of 163 countries analysed, making it one of the best-performing countries in the overall index. Of the 118 indicators, Spain meets the set targets for 69 and has an acceptable level for another 20. These indicators, which are based on a relatively satisfactory level of performance, are largely concentrated on the SDGs “Poverty” (SDG 1), “Health and well-being” (SDG 3), “Quality of education” (SDG 4), “Justice”. Gender” (SDG 5), “Water and Sanitation” (SDG 6), “Clean Energy” (SDG 7), “Sustainable Cities” (SDG 11), “Justice and Institutions” (SDG 16) and “International Alliances” ( SDG 17). In summary, Spain shows its best performance in the area of its institutions and in the implementation of social policies.
On the other hand, the country shows its worst side in 27 indicators, which remain well below the set targets and tend to deteriorate. These indicators are very strongly concentrated in the area of ecological sustainability, especially in the SDGs “Hunger and food security” (SDG 2), “Responsible consumption and production” (SDG 12), “Climate action” (SDG 13), “Oceans and Oceans” (SDG 14) and “Biodiversity” (SDG 15). But also in various indicators linked to the economic dimension, such as “Decent Work and Economic Growth” (SDG 8), “Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure” (SDG 9), as well as in some specific aspects of a social nature (SDG 10.” inequalities”). These underperforming indicators provide a relatively complete approximation of the challenges that the country will face in the coming decades.
The first conclusion from the analysis of these indicators is that Spain’s main challenge is to adapt its economic system to environmental sustainability criteria. This goes beyond the Paris Agreement, the reduction of CO₂ emissions and the expansion of renewable energies and requires a holistic approach to ecological challenges. In other words, it encompasses the need for significant improvements in areas such as developing sustainable agriculture, managing e-waste, developing plastic recycling systems and implementing circular economy mechanisms. But also, among other things, the protection of seas and rivers, the development and regulation of fishing practices, the conservation of marine and terrestrial biodiversity and the protection of species threatened with extinction.
The second challenge is that of productivity. Spain has serious deficiencies in key indicators for developing its human capital and achieving overall productivity gains, both key drivers of long-term economic growth. Some of these indicators are: low patent filing and investment in research and development, low results in the international student assessment program or PISA exam (for the English acronym), low academic achievement by students in science, small proportions of researchers, and large proportions of youth who neither study nor work.
The third challenge focuses on inequality. Spain has a performance that could improve on all inequality indicators (Gini index, Palma rate, old-age poverty and post-distribution poverty) and on various aspects of its welfare state, such as gender pay equality and excessive workload. Household income, etc. In addition, the country also has other indicators that need improvement, such as an excessive prison population, a notable importance of arms exports, and a dwindling volume of ODA.
In short, if Spain is to achieve the SDGs by 2030, it must address these three key challenges through intelligent public intervention. The sustainability challenge requires deep regulatory developments and an ambitious public (and private) investment strategy in line with the European Green Pact. The productivity challenge must focus on a significant increase in investment in R&D and qualitative improvements throughout the human capital development chain and technology transfer into the corporate structure. The challenge of inequality requires better and larger collection capacity and the redesign and improvement of the redistributive efficiency of public spending. Finally, beyond the technical discussion on the best policy options to face these challenges, Spain needs to build a broad consensus in society, both in the political parties and in the business, social and cultural spheres, in order to move forward solidly and sustainably in its development challenges.
Fernando de la Cruz Prego He is Professor of Global Governance and Public Policy at the Department of Political Science at the Complutense University of Madrid.
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