Ireland Ranks 8th out of 14 EU countries on UN Sustainable Development Goals

Posted on Monday, 20 February 2023
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Sustainable Progress Index 2023
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Ireland ranks 8th out of 14 comparable EU countries in this year’s Sustainable Progress Index, commissioned by Social Justice Ireland. The report entitled Measuring Progress: Sustainable Progress Index 2023’ ranks 14 comparable EU countries based on their delivery of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  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 6th 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.  


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  (we score second lowest on logistics capacity among EU-14) and broadband capacities and the % of GDP devoted to R&D.  These lower the score on this dimension.

On the social index, Ireland is in the middle of the ranking, in 6th 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, notably on SDG 11 ‘Sustainable cities and communities’, 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.

Main findings Ireland


  • Ireland is in the top 5 for just 3 SDGs; ‘Quality education’ (SDG 4), ‘Good health and wellbeing’ (SDG3) and ‘Sustainable cities and communities’ (SDG11).
  • Ireland’s relatively good performance on ‘Good health and wellbeing’ where Ireland ranks 5 does not of course take account of the Covid-19 pandemic; the crisis has underlined shown the importance of every country having an effective social protection system, and universal health coverage. 
  • We continue to perform very well on the SDG for ‘Quality Education’ (SDG 4) where Ireland ranks 1, much as expected. From basic education to tertiary education, Ireland’s reputation for ‘quality education’ is evident, although some consideration should be given to the low rate of adult participation in learning.
  • The good score on SDG 11 ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’ where Ireland ranks 3 indicates that Ireland offers a good quality of life in cities and communities, performing very well on air quality in particular. 


  • Ireland is in the bottom 5 for 9 SDGs; ‘No Poverty (SDG 1)’, ‘Zero Hunger (SDG 2), ‘Gender Equality (SDG 5)’, ‘Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG 6)’, ‘Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG 7), ‘Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (SDG 9), ‘Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12)’, ‘Climate Action (SDG 13)’ and ‘Partnership for the Goals (SDG 17).
  • Challenges lie ahead for progress on achievement of some goals. For example, several of the SDGs reflecting the environment present a less favourable picture of Ireland.
  • Clearly, there are pressing sustainability issues that must be addressed, as reflected by Ireland’s ranking of 10 for three SDGs relating to the environment; SDG 7 ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’, SDG12, ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’, and SDG13, ‘Climate Action’.
  • The low score of 13 on SDG2 ‘Zero hunger’ emphasizes the need to embrace fully the idea of sustainable agriculture. 
  • Ireland’s rank of 11 on SDG9, ‘Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, points to the need for further policy action with regard to logistics and broadband capacities.

Somewhere in the middle

  • Ireland is in the middle of the rankings for several of the SDGs; ‘Good Jobs and Economic Growth (SDG 8)’, ‘Reduced Inequality (SDG 10), ‘Life Below Water (SDG 14)’, ‘Life on Land (SDG 15)’ and ‘Peace and justice (SDG 16)’.
  • These rankings imply there is much scope for improvement. We should not be complacent. 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.
  • Continuous monitoring of all the indicators that make up the goals is required in order to fully meet the aims of Agenda 2030. 

The overall Sustainable Progress Index, which includes all 17 goals set out by the UN, concludes that Ireland is in 8th place out of the 14 countries. Countries at the bottom are Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland top the rankings.

Sustainable Progress Index 2023

Ireland is still seriously underperforming in areas such as poverty, inequality and climate action, and this is dragging our overall ranking down even though we are performing well in some areas and our environmental score has improved.  We are failing to balance core essentials such as economic and social progress, sustaining the planet’s environment and resources and combatting climate change.  

Ireland rank SDG

Equipped with the global goals as tools for guidance and accountability, Government has the opportunity to address current social imbalances, lead the way towards a new generation of politics shaped by a new social contract,  well-being and the economic, social and environmental demands of a truly healthy society.