As the Arab region approaches the midpoint of the Decade of Action for delivering the goals, taking actions to accelerate the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is now more critical than ever. Faced with growing developmental needs, countries in the Arab region stand to benefit, individually and collectively, if they actively pursue the achievement of SDGs on all fronts. These efforts should target generating impactful positive outcomes in every single domain of sustainable development for all Arab countries; a monumental collective challenge. To successfully steer efforts in pursuit of the SDGs, accurate and representative evidence should be made available to policy makers, among all other stakeholders. Utilizing data-driven approaches empowers all stakeholders to identify challenges and make informed decisions towards realizing the sustainable development goals.
At this crucial juncture, the aim of the Arab Region SDG Index and Dashboards 2023 Report is to provide a data-driven practical tool for governments, policymakers and other stakeholders to measure progress on the SDGs, and to highlight implementation challenges and data gaps, as a foundation for actions.
Practically, the Index comprises 113 indicators covering the 17 SDGs, each of which have an assigned score (0–100) and a traffic light color (green, yellow, orange, or red) to indicate performance. In addition, arrows visually indicate trends in progress towards achieving the goals for those indicators where data for multiple years are available. Among the indicators, the 2023 Arab Region Index has 29 unique indicators that specifically reflect regional priorities and challenges.
How can policymakers interpret the Index, utilize its indicators and understand country scores and trends? It is important to stress that the objective of the scores and trends represented in the report is not to competitively rank countries in terms of performance. Rather, these scores represent a detailed and updated country-level assessment of the current state of progress related to each of the SDGs.
The SDGs themselves include 169 targets and 240 indicators, which creates complexities in operationalizing them practically. However, despite the well-known limitations of composite indices overall, in policy making contexts, they do allow us to synthesize complex information representing multidimensional views. Moreover, they can be an effective tool to stimulate debate compared to individual scores that could result in selective and one-dimensional policy responses (OECD and JRC 2008)1. Used as a policy instrument, these metrics can be combined with other future data instruments and qualitative methods, to guide action on key SDGs transformations.
The real value of the Index, dashboard and individual country profiles included in this report lies in their capacity to inform local action, at thematic and sectoral levels, within each country. Moreover, by presenting the data through a regional lens, the report can help identify regional trends and serve regional collaborative efforts, an important element in achieving the SDGs.
The findings of this report come at a point when the Arab region hosts the 28th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which follows another COP hosted regionally, the 27th COP in Egypt. Therefore, this edition of the Arab Index, includes a section dedicated to highlighting findings related to environmental sustainability and climate action (See Part 2). The findings of the 2023 Arab SDG Index and Dashboards point to a few positive - and several negative - results in terms of SDGs performance across the region. The key insights include the following:
Levels of achievement of the sustainable development goals vary in the Arab region, with common regional challenges around gender equality, peace and justice, decent work and economic growth, in addition to specific challenges like water stress and sustainable agriculture. Despite existing variation in most SDGs performance outcomes, the prominent challenge in the region is SDG 5 (Gender Equality), followed by SDG 16 (Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions). Other significant regional challenges are found on SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), specifically in areas related to the SDG concerning unsustainable agriculture and obesity. Additionally, regional challenges are also noted in areas related to SDG 6 (Clean Water & Sanitation), SDG 7 (Affordable & Clean Energy), SGD 8 (Decent Work & Economic Growth), SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure), and SDG 14 (Life Below Water). Other SDGs show more variance in achievement between the Arab countries.
Seven countries have completed two-thirds of the journey towards achieving the SDGs. As a whole, the Arab region does not achieve a high overall score in SDGs attainment, with an average of 59.8 out of 100. However, some individual countries within the region have performed better than the overall regional average. There are 7 Arab countries that completed two-thirds of the way towards achieving the SDGs. Ordered alphabetically, these countries are Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Tunisia, and UAE. Leading the regional SDGs achievement, these countries have an overall score of 65 and above. Meanwhile, there are 14 Arab countries that have not yet achieved a single SDG. With less than a decade left to achieve the sustainable development agenda 2030, the Arab Region needs to accelerate efforts across all sustainable development fronts.
Countries experiencing poverty and conflict are at the greatest risk of lagging behind. The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and a number of conflict-affected countries such as Libya, Syria and Yemen, have 10 or more SDGs with “red” rating on the Arab SDG Index Dashboards. This reflects major developmental challenges on those SDGs. Due to data lag, the current report may not capture the impacts of recent or ongoing climate or humanitarian crises on sustainable development in some countries, such as the case of Palestine. To avoid the risk of falling behind, these countries will require substantial efforts on the domestic, regional and international levels to accelerate progress on the sustainable development agenda.
Despite challenges, there are few areas that display positive trends across the region, including basic health and digital infrastructure outcomes. The region has better performance in certain areas related to SDG 9 (Industries, Innovation and Infrastructure), where some Arab countries show positive trends in digital infrastructure adoption and usage. Additionally, positive achievement trends in sustainable development for some Arab countries are found in SDG 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing), particularly in areas related to basic health outcomes such as neonatal and under-5 mortality rates.
Urgent measures are necessary to realize climate-related targets, while ensuring the safeguarding of the most vulnerable nations. While some parts of the region have seen improvements in scaling up renewable energy towards transitioning to low-carbon societies, more efforts are critically needed to accelerate the transitions. The 2023 Arab SDG Index and Dashboards show that the region faces substantial challenges in achieving SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), urging prompt action. Similarly, attaining climate targets under SDG 13 (Climate Action), including reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and boosting resilience to climate impacts, is paramount. While efforts are underway in some countries, the least developed countries (LDCs) remain the region’s most vulnerable to climate disasters and require substantial support to attain climate-related goals, including climate adaptation measures to mitigate the adverse impacts they face. Despite the challenges at hand, progress witnessed in recent years in certain aspects of climate action in the region provides a hopeful outlook. With two Conference of Parties (COP) hosted in the region in a span of two years, COP 27 in Egypt and COP 28 in the UAE, attention across the Arab region on climate action and clean energy is certain to grow.
Data availability remains a prominent challenge for the Arab region. Despite reported improvements in overall data availability, data gaps remain a hindrance to measuring sustainable development performance in many countries and under many goals for the Region, particularly goals relating to poverty, income, and distribution of wealth. The most significant data gaps are currently found in SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities). In addition, data gaps exist for a few Arab countries in relation to SDG 4 (Quality Education).
The Authors would like to express their appreciation to Prof. Raed Awamleh (MBRSG), Engy Shibl (MBRSG), Zahra Nasir (Yale), Eiman Almarzooqi (MBRSG), Alyson Marks (SDSN), Max Gruber (SDSN), and the Policy Research team at MBRSG for their vital support and contributions to the 2023 Arab Region SDG Index & Dashboards Report.