Russia's SDG Progress: Contrasting Perspectives at the 2023 UN Summit

During his speech at the UN SDG Summit, which began today, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation for Eurasian integration Alexey Overchuk stated that in recent years, a positive dynamic has been demonstrated in Russia for each SDG, and Russia intend to achieve progress on three aspects of sustainable development: economic, social, and environmental.

However, the report by CSDR on Russia's compliance with its SDGs commitments, compiled by experts from various fields, paints an entirely opposite picture.

Starting in 2022, a significant challenge to achieving SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being) has been the cessation of cooperation in pharmacology, clinical research, drug development, and treatment methods.

Until 2022, international organizations, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), assessed Russia's level of innovation development as corresponding to its economy. The main outcome of 2022 was the closure of access to technologies and the potential for their development. This is manifested in restrictions on technological (investment) imports, limitations on the activities of Western companies on Russian territory, the closure of access to the global capital market, and the threat of secondary sanctions for countries that continue to collaborate in the technological sphere.

The restriction of access to technology and economic decline has led to a medium-term trend of declining labor productivity in the country, and Russia has lost its largest buyer of fossil fuels, the European Union, in less than a year. Companies responsible for the development of renewable energy sources are also leaving Russia. Many Russian companies, seeking to attract foreign investors, implemented ESG standards and declared their participation in achieving the UN SDGs. In the absence of foreign investor interest in equity financing of Russian companies.

In 2022, Russia dropped 20 places, falling to the 43rd place in the Global Food Security Index. The indicators that decreased the most include economic availability, namely the average price of food products, and physical availability.

During his speech, Alexey Overchuk noted that the reason for disappointing assessments on the progress of achieving the SDGs is the USA and the European Union’s miscalculations in macroeconomic policy during the pandemic as well as force hastened greening of the economies. He also criticized the policy of unilateral sanctions, which, he argued, receive undeservedly little attention in UN discussions.

Ahead of the UN SDG Summit scheduled for today, The Russian Federation, along with delegations from Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe delegations jointly sent a letter to the UN General Assembly, demanding the repeal of sanctions, referred to as "unilateral coercive measures" (UCMs). In their letter, the authors argue that sanctions prevent them from implementing the SDGs: "A third of the world’s population is affected by these illegal measures. There is ample evidence, including from UN sources, of the heavy toll caused by UCMs on targeted countries’ capacities to achieve sustainable development and to make further progress in protecting the right to health of their respective populations".

The new declaration, opposed by these countries, is necessary to accelerate progress toward achieving the SDGs, as progress has been slow due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises.

"Most of the countries signing this letter have no intention of moving towards achieving the SDGs, such as poverty eradication, healthcare, equality, and environmental well-being. Many have nominally participated from the beginning and are now using the situation to block the agenda only to seek the lifting of sanctions for themselves, ignoring the issues that the declaration should address," commented Nelya Rakhimova, chair of the Coalition for Sustainable Development of Russia.

Nevertheless, the new declaration was adopted at the opening of the SDG Summit. However, in the coming days, countries advocating for the removal of sanctions may still oppose the agreed-upon document, demonstrating a lack of consensus and unwillingness to support the statements outlined therein. Thus, the SDGs may not receive the declared political impetus needed to achieve the necessary progress over the next 7 years.

The 2023 SDG Summit takes place on September 18-19 in New York. It will bring together leaders of countries that have committed to the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and discuss the progress in achieving them. In 2015, Russia and other 192 countries signed and adopted the 2030 Agenda.

Coalition for Sustainable Development of Russia is a social movement of civil society working on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Russia and abroad by 2030. The coalition includes experts and civic activists, whose expertise covers all areas of sustainable development. The coalition was established in 2020 when Russia first reported on the implementation of the SDGs to the UN. The coalition produces civil reviews on how Russia is progressing in the implementation of the SDGs.