There is a global consensus that a society’s progress should not be measured just with one indicator. This is not something new. Since 1990 the UN started to compile the human development index, a composite of life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators, which go beyond simple GDP measures. However more recently in 2015, the exercise was broadened much further with the establishment of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
These goals are very comprehensive encompassing the fight against poverty, for equality, better health and education, action to remedy climate change, a more socially inclusive society, international peace and better governance.
Eurostat have just published the 2021 edition of its monitoring report on progress towards the SDGs in the EU. It is a voluminous report of over 410 pages. Malta is mentioned 110 times in this document. As one would expect some of the mentions suggest that more needs to be done, but overall, the picture is very reassuring.
In the section on climate action one reads that “compared to 2014…Estonia, Sweden and Malta reported the strongest reductions, of more than 30% as they reduced their emissions”. Talking of emissions per unit of energy consumed, the report states that “most progress was reported in Malta (– 42.9%)”. When discussing the roll-out of fixed very high-capacity network connections across the EU, a key dimension to accept an information society, one finds that “at Member State level, Malta had already achieved a 100% connectivity with fixed VHCN in 2020, followed by Luxembourg, Denmark and Spain with over 90% of households each.”
For those who do not have the time to scroll through this extensive report, Eurostat summarise progress by means of a visualisation tool. It compares performance across the various SDGs by comparing firstly whether a country has a performance status that is better or worse than the EU, and secondly whether it is moving towards or away from the achievement of the SDGs.
As befits a country that has just closed its gap with the EU average in terms of economic development, one finds that in terms of performance against SDGs, Malta has an equal number of areas where it scores above the EU and where it scores below the EU. On the one hand, one finds Malta as being a worse performer than the EU for instance in terms of gender equality, responsible consumption and production, and obesity. On the other, Malta performs better than the EU in areas like the fight against poverty, health provision, and decent work and economic growth.
Malta has an equal number of areas where it scores above the EU and where it scores below the EU.
What is even more important is that out of all monitored goals, only in two areas Eurostat reports a move away from achieving the goals for Malta. By contrast, in Cyprus and Sweden there has been a move away from achieving SDGs in 5 areas. On the one hand, Sweden has an above-EU degree of performance, but it is losing some of its former lustre. On the other, Cyprus’ below average performance seems to be getting worse. Amongst the worst performers one finds Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary. However even countries like Luxembourg and Austria who start off as above-average performers are seeing considerable regress in some areas.
For Malta, progress is being made both in areas where it is currently below the EU average and equally in those where it is above. However, the country remains one of distinct contradictions. We have one of the best health systems, but then we have the worst obesity rates. We have reduced inequalities in income and education greatly, but gender equality remains far below the EU average as political representation of women is amongst the worst in the world. We have an above-average digital infrastructure, but our physical infrastructure is below-average.
The great benefit of the SDG framework is that it allows one to understand better these contradictions. Since we have managed to perform so well in some areas, we can apply the lessons learnt in those areas to those where we are still not performing well. Overall, we are progressing very well, with progress being registered more than the average of all EU countries.
Yet, as the Prime Minister argued when launching the Economic Vision for the next decade, we now need to aim for the top rather than just to continue beating the average. We are now a step ahead of Mediterranean countries like Italy, Spain, and Portugal but we still lag countries like Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland. Reaching these levels needs to become our new ambition.