Ireland Ranks 10th out of 14 EU countries on UN Sustainable Development Goals

Posted on Friday, 18 February 2022
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Ireland ranks 10th out of 14 comparable EU countries in this year’s Sustainable Progress Index, commissioned by Social Justice Ireland.  Written by Prof. Charles M.A. Clark of St John’s University, New York; Dr. Catherine Kavanagh of University College Cork and Colette Bennett of Social Justice Ireland, the Sustainable Progress Index 2022 compares 14 EU countries across all UN SDGs, assesses their performance on each individual SDG, creates a ranking table for performance overall and concludes with some policy considerations. The report uses 87 indicators across the 17 goals to analyse performance.


The index comprises three dimensions: economy, society and environment. Ireland is ranked 9th out of the 14 countries on the economy. On the social index, Ireland is in the middle of the ranking, in 8th place. Ireland scores 9th on the environment index which suggests notwithstanding the progress made in terms of the Climate Action Plan and carbon budgets, we face significant challenges in meeting our environmental targets.  


Landmark Report

The Sustainable Progress Index is a landmark annual report with the potential to enhance the policy decisions of the Irish Government when it comes to progressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.  While recognising that we are performing well in some areas and that our environmental score has improved, Ireland is still seriously underperforming in areas such as  poverty, inequality and climate action, and this is dragging our overall ranking down.  Addressing the complexities of sustainable development requires a balance between economic and social progress and sustaining the planet’s environment and resources as well as combatting climate change.   While making progress, Ireland still has substantial work to do to reach acceptable outcomes.

The report entitled Measuring Progress: Sustainable Progress Index 2022 ranks 14 comparable EU countries based on their delivery of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Publication of the Index comes just before UN World Social Justice Day and is a timely reminder that Social Justice is a multi-faceted and multi-departmental issue that must be measured if it is to be monitored and improved.


Main Findings

The report finds that Ireland is ranked 9th out of the 14 countries on the economy index. Although the record on GDP per capita and GDP growth is good - the low score on the economy index is influenced by several factors including low pay, the proportion of youths not in employment, education or training (the NEET rate), the need for further policy action with regard to transport, logistics and broadband capacities and the % of GDP devoted to R&D (we score second lowest on investment in R&D among EU-14).  These lower the score on this dimension.

On the social index, Ireland is in the middle of the ranking, in 8th place.  We score highly on goals relating to education, peace and justice; good health and wellbeing; less well on goals reflecting poverty, inequality and gender equality.

Ireland scores 9th on the environment index which suggests Ireland is facing significant challenges in meeting our environmental targets.   Ireland’s score has improved on some environmental SDGs, but poor performance on goals relating to responsible production and consumption, affordable and clean energy and climate change are among the key factors driving the result for this dimension.

The overall Sustainable Progress Index, which includes all 17 goals set out by the UN, concludes that Ireland is in 10th place out of the 14 countries. Countries at the bottom are Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal. Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands top the rankings.

Where Ireland ranks


Ireland is in the top 5 for just 3 SDGs; ‘Quality education’ (SDG 4), ‘Sustainable cities and communities’ (SDG11) and ‘Life below water’ (SDG4).  The good score on SDG16 ‘Peace and justice’ indicates that Ireland is a relatively safe place to live with reasonably good transparent, effective and accountable institutions. Ireland’s relatively good performance on ‘Good health and wellbeing’ does not of course take account of the Covid-19 pandemic; the crisis has underlined the importance of every country having an effective social protection system, and universal health coverage.


Unfortunately several of the SDG scores reflecting the environment show the need to address some important sustainability issues. Challenges lie ahead if Ireland is to achieve its objectives on SDG 7 ‘Affordable and clean energy’, SDG12, ‘Responsible consumption and production’, SDG13, ‘Climate action’, and SDG6, ‘Clean water and sanitation’. The low score on SDG2 ‘No hunger’ emphasizes the need to embrace fully the idea of sustainable agriculture.

Somewhere in the middle

The remaining SDGs lie in the middle of the rankings. But that does not imply we should be complacent. Ireland still has a long way to go to meet the aims of Agenda 2030. Successful implementation of the SDGs requires a balance between economic and social progress and sustaining the planet’s environment and resources as well as combatting climate change.



The SDGs are holistic as their emphasis is on three fronts:  our economic, social and natural worlds The global pandemic has underlined the interconnectedness of these three spheres, while at the same time, given new impetus to global efforts for achieving sustainable development. There is a real sense that the SDGs are more important than ever, although achievement of them is more challenging.

The SDGS, and delivery of them would improve our collective well-being.  In the past year, the Government has worked to deliver a Well-being Framework to better measure our progress as a country and better align policy decisions with people’s experience.  Aligning that Framework with the SDGs would also ensure policy coherence between our national targets and our international commitments.

There is significant cross-over across dimensions when it comes to implementing the SDGs and Government’s Well-being Framework. Proper implementation of the Well-being Framework could help bring Ireland closer to meeting its targets on the SDGs.  Wellbeing is based on human capabilities, which require supporting infrastructure, institutions, and resources.  Public policy is key to delivering these.  How well any of us are doing is always based on how and where we fit into social networks and communities, and how well those communities are doing is a major determinant of how well we as individuals are doing.

Sustainable Progress Index 2022

The objective of the 17 SDGs as part of the 2030 Agenda was to set universal goals that meet the urgent environment, political and economic challenges evident in our world. They focus on identifying global challenges relating to issues on poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, peace, and justice.  All the goals are interdependent and interconnected. However, in keeping with the action plan set out in the 2030 Agenda which is holistic in its emphasis on three fronts (social inclusion, economic development, and environmental sustainability), we think there is value in attempting to understand how countries are doing on these three areas of progress. Hence, clustering the goals by the three dimensions: economic, social and environment provides a clearer picture of what is happening.

The SDGs are a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future. This report is the latest in our contribution to the debate on the shape of Ireland, Europe and our world in 2030 and beyond. The aim is to inform interested parties, including Irish and European citizens, policy makers and business people, to adopt sustainable development actions. Our central goal is to show how Ireland compares relative to our EU peers. We believe that knowing where we stand, identifying the most pressing sustainability challenges, and critically examining our performance, is essential if we are to ensure a sustainable future for our country.  Equipped with the global goals as tools for guidance and accountability, Government has the opportunity to lead the way towards a new generation of politics shaped by well-being and the economic, social and environmental demands of a truly healthy society.


Measuring Progress: Sustainable Progress Index 2022 is based on the most up-to-date data available and our indicators are selected to reflect the broad aims and objectives of the SDGs. The report uses 87 indicators across the 17 SDGs.  Two points are worth emphasising:

  1. Our analysis is based only on what can be measured. In spite of best efforts to identify data for the SDGs, several indicator and data gaps persist, particularly for the environment SDGs
  2. Due to time lags in data reporting, the impact of Covid-19 is not fully captured in this year’s index.