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BRUSSELS — The European Union is going backward on key aspects of gender equality and has made no progress on climate action in the past five years, according to the latest report on the Sustainable Development Goals within the EU.

On Monday, Eurostat — the bloc’s statistics office — released the fourth edition of its annual report tracking EU countries’ progress toward the 2030 targets.

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“For SDG 13 ‘Climate action’, there was no progress over the last five years,” according to a news release for the report, “while for SDG 5 ‘Gender equality’ the EU has moved away from sustainable development objectives.”

By contrast, the report found “strong progress” on peace and justice; “good progress” on indicators including poverty eradication, health and well-being, and decent work and economic growth; and “moderate progress” on measures for sustainable cities, quality education, and affordable and clean energy, among others. There was insufficient data to measure goals on clean water and sanitation, as well as life below water.

Paolo Gentiloni, the EU economy commissioner, told reporters Monday that the findings on gender equality were “concerning.”

Although the gender pay gap fell slightly, with men now earning 14.8% more than women, the gender employment gap of 11.7 percentage points — 79% for men and 67.3% for women — is “stagnating,” the commissioner said.

He also highlighted the growing share of women who are economically inactive due to caring responsibilities. Some 32.2% of women who were not working in 2019 cited caring responsibilities as the reason, up from 28.6% in 2006. For men who are out of work, just 4.5% reported being inactive due to caring.

Gentiloni said this disparity may be further exacerbated by coronavirus lockdowns across the continent. And he said that gender equality should be the subject of “particular attention” for the European Commission, including in its dialogue with EU member states. The commission released its gender equality strategy for 2020-2025 in March, with objectives such as ending gender-based violence, closing the gender pay and care gaps, and achieving a gender balance in decision-making and politics.

Serap Altinisik, head of Plan International’s EU office, told Devex that although women’s participation in leadership positions had increased, “the progress made in terms of their safety, education, and employment shows that the EU is lagging far behind its goals to achieve the SDGs.”

Evelyn Regner, the center-left Austrian politician who chairs the European Parliament’s committee on women’s rights and gender equality, argued that improving the gender balance among politicians and in the workplace can only be achieved by binding measures, such as quotas. “Real equality requires action in all political areas,” Regner wrote. “In short, gender mainstreaming.”

The 2019-2024 leadership of the commission has also put climate change at the center of its agenda, championing a European Green Deal to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The Eurostat report found that EU emissions fell by 2.7% between 2013 and 2018 but that it is not on track to meet the goal of a 40% reduction from 1990 levels by 2030.

On climate action, Gentiloni said that although the EU has been at the forefront of taking “very courageous” measures to combat climate change, results are still insufficient. “This is one of the reasons why the European Green Deal is more important than ever,” he said.

Fabrice Ferrier, director of Focus 2030, a French nonprofit championing the SDGs, told Devex that though the results on climate change and gender equality were worrying, the commission deserved credit for taking the United Nations’ goals seriously when defining and assessing its policies. “We wish we could observe similar political ownership of the SDGs in [EU] member states and abroad,” Ferrier wrote.

About the author

  • Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.