Sustainable Development Goals and the environment in Europe: a cross-country analysis and 39 country profiles

Briefing Published 02 Dec 2020 Last modified 02 Dec 2020
5 min read
Photo: © Photo by Antoine Petitteville on Unsplash

Agreed by world leaders at the United Nations in 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which address global challenges, including poverty, inequality, environmental degradation and climate change.

The EU was instrumental in shaping the 2030 Agenda and, together with its Member States, has the ambition to play a leading role in the global action towards achieving the SDGs. The EU has adopted a strategic approach to integrating the SDGs in both internal and external policies, and has developed indicators and a stakeholder platform to support SDG actions.

To help understand the progress and action on SDGs in Europe, the EEA has explored actions in 39 EEA member and cooperating countries (referred to as Eionet [1] countries) focused on SDGs with an environmental dimension, as well as their governance, stakeholder engagement, barriers and enabling factors at the national level

Many Eionet countries are leading the way in achieving the SDGs. However, by reflecting national characteristics and policy priorities, the focus of environmental action varies between countries and mechanisms to support SDG progress in Europe are diverse. 

The SDGs are clustered into five areas, which are also known as the ‘5Ps’ of the 2030 Agenda: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. The planet cluster covers SDGs with an environmental focus and aims, inter alia, to protect the planet from degradation by promoting sustainable consumption and production, the sustainable management of natural resources, and taking urgent action on climate change.

From a sustainability perspective, it is promising to see that SDG knowledge in support of informed policy making continues to expand, particularly in Europe. Similarly, The European environment – state and outlook 2020 report (SOER 2020) stressed that this comprehensive set of SDGs and its targets are expected to be increasingly integrated throughout future EU policy frameworks. For an integrated knowledge base on SDG progress, it is also important to apply a combination of qualitative and quantitative SDG assessment approaches [2]. 

Against the backdrop of recent EU-wide developments on SDGs, this web publication aims to support the knowledge base on SDGs, paying particular attention to the European Commission`s new priorities and the Green New Deal for Europe. In this context, this publication is based on a three-year mapping and analysis of [3] EEA member and cooperating countries’ environmental SDG actions and procedures.  It has been informed by publications on Europe’s SDG action, an National Focal Points(NFP)/Eionet consultation which took place from February to April 2020, and the UN Voluntary National Reviews published between 2016-2020. 

By complementing the EEA’s contribution to the EU SDG monitoring report and a joint report published by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)/EEA on SDG interactions, this publication aims to equip its readers with a cross-country analysis and individual country profiles which give country-by-country insight into the focus and prioritisation of environmental action across Europe. It shows both the convergences and divergences towards environmental sustainability in Europe. Converging environmental focus points to the overall environmental challenges that persist in Europe, whereas diversification indicates emerging challenges or different geographical needs and political priorities in countries. Innovative approaches and good practices in the country profiles reflected herein may also be inspirational. Secondly, the geographical scope of this product includes 33 EEA member countries [4] and 6 cooperating countries [5]. It is useful for non-EU countries to compare their SDG actions with those of EU Member States as well as for European Commission to gain insights into environmental action across Europe.

This publication covers country briefings and an accompanying cross-country analysis. The briefings sum up the ways in which countries prioritise or identify the focus for their actions on those SDGs with an environmental dimension. SDGs with an environmental dimension are defined in accordance with the approach taken in SOER 2020 (EEA, 2019) (Figure 2). Based on this, the Agency identified 11 SDGs with both direct and indirect environmental dimensions (SDGs 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15). However, it is important to mention that SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) and SDG 17 (partnerships) are also very important in achieving effective environmental governance and finance.

In addition to their environmental lens, the country briefings give brief accounts of national plans, strategies and initiatives, institutional structures, and processes as well as stakeholder engagement specifically set up for SDG action. The information provided for this purpose was gathered mainly from the UN Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) [6] submitted to the UN High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development between 2016-2020. Acknowledging that VNRs have their own limitations and that not all countries have available or recently published VNRs, the EEA also gathered information from other sources which explore SDG action and their environmental focus in these 39 countries.  


The key messages of the cross-country analysis indicate that:


  • Approximately 90 % of Eionet countries have some form of focused action related to SDG 6 (water and sanitation), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 15 (life on land).
  • Due to national circumstances, priorities and context, there is some overall convergence and divergence as to where countries put their SDG efforts. For some SDGs, there is convergence in the types of action within the individual SDGs adopted in Eionet countries. Other SDGs show a greater divergence in actions by countries, which is likely to reflect the influence of different contexts (e.g. geography and climate influencing water availability) and policy priorities on countries’ choices as to what to focus on.
  • Multi-level governance is commonly used for SDG actions in Eionet countries; inter-ministerial bodies, advisory councils, commissions or working groups to coordinate SDG actions have been established in almost 75 % of Eionet countries; and dialogue with stakeholders and their participation in prioritisation, decision-making and SDG actions is evident in over 80 % of countries.  


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[1] The European Environment Information and Observation Network (Eionet) is a partnership network comprising the EEA and its 39 member and cooperating countries.

[2] OECD, 2019; SEI, 2019; SOER 2020, 2019

[3] The cut-off date for this publication was 5 June 2020

[4] Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom* (*The withdrawal of the UK from the EU did not affect the content of this publication. Data reported by the UK to the UN are included in all analyses and assessments included herein, unless otherwise indicated.)

[5] Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

[6]  Not all these sources were available for all countries. 



The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.


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