Varied focus of environmental action and prioritisation in Eionet countries

Briefing Published 02 Dec 2020 Last modified 02 Dec 2020
Photo: © Photo by Antoine Petitteville on Unsplash
Based on an analysis of the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) on SDG progress and action for those SDGs with an environmental dimension, 27 of 39 Eionet countries declared some form of environmental emphasis related to the SDGs.

Based on an analysis of the VNRs [1] [2] on SDG progress and action for those SDGs with an environmental dimension (Figure 1), 27 [3] of 39 Eionet countries declared some form of environmental emphasis related to the SDGs. 

Among these, the most frequently prioritised SDGs (each by 15 countries) are SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 14 (life below water). The high proportion of countries focusing on climate action reflects the common need for an urgent response to climate change. The UN’s Ocean Conference [4] in July 2017 was identified as a key driver for countries’ self-reflection and assessment on progress towards the protection of marine environment, which is the main objective of SDG 14, the third most prioritised SDG with an environmental dimension. SDG 15 (life on land) is also frequently prioritised, with 14 Eionet countries expressing a focus or emphasis on this SDG in their VNRs, indicating the importance of habitats and biodiversity across Europe.

While some countries have chosen to prioritise certain SDGs with an environmental dimension, many are working towards achieving all SDGs, acknowledging the indivisibility of Agenda 2030. However, as stipulated in the UNSDSN’s ‘Getting Started with the SDGs’ guide [5]identifying priorities does not mean favouring one SDG at the expense of another. Instead, prioritisation means identifying the areas lagging furthest behind to catalyse resources, awareness, and policy actions to spur rapid progress and to use those areas as entry points to the broader sustainability transformation.

Based on countries’ VNR reporting, for each SDG there is a range of environmental action across countries. A review of the areas in which Eionet countries are focusing domestic environmental action (Figure 1) shows that at least 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). Where there are differences in the focus of environmental action in Eionet countries, this may reflect national contexts and policy priorities. For example, countries which do not have environmental actions focused on SDG 14 (life below water) include those that are landlocked (e.g. Austria, Liechtenstein and Slovakia). Approximately 30 % of Eionet countries do not have environmental actions related to SDG 3 (good health and wellbeing) and SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure). This may indicate that many countries consider these SDGs to be only indirectly related to environmental action.

However, for some SDGs, there is some convergence in actions with many countries focusing efforts in similar areas. For example, on SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), 30 countries reported action related to energy efficiency, and for SDG 15 (life on land), 34 countries reported action related to the preservation of biodiversity or halting its loss. Other SDGs show a greater divergence in actions by countries: for example, SDG 6 (water and sanitation), where the most common focus of action is on wastewater management (13 countries) but a wide range of other actions, such as those related to drinking water quality, water efficiency and managing groundwater reserves, are reported by between 5 and 10 countries. Where there is a diversity in approaches across countries, this is likely to reflect the influence of different natural conditions (e.g. geography and climate influencing water availability) and policy priorities on countries’ choices concerning what to focus on.

Some countries also adopt more innovative approaches. For instance, two countries are supporting family farming to help move towards zero hunger (SDG 2), three countries are encouraging the use of recycled water and rain-water harvesting (SDG 6), and one country is establishing ‘zero-waste territories’ to help move towards sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12).

In addition, currently, the designated national focal points (for reporting to the UN on SDGs) in 11 Eionet countries [6] are their Ministries of Environment, whereas in 6 Eionet countries [7], the responsibility of acting as the national focal point is shared between Ministries of Environment, Ministries of Foreign Affairs, or their Permanent Missions to the UN. In countries which have assigned their Ministries of Environment as the national focal points to the UN’s 2030 Agenda, the significance of the environmental dimension of the SDGs could be considered more prominent.

Figure 1: Number of countries with actions focused on environmental SDGs

Fig. 3 Number of countries with actions focused on environmental SDGs

 Source: EEA’s own assessment.


[1] As stipulated in paragraphs 79 and 84 of the 2030 Agenda, VNRs are a part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s follow-up and review mechanisms, which encourage Member States to ‘conduct regular, inclusive, country-led and country-driven reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels’.


[3] Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.


[5] UN SDSN, 2015.

[6] Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Serbia.

[7] Germany, Greece, North Macedonia, Romania, Spain and the UK.


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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