Switzerland affords sustainability at the expense of others

Two years after the adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the recently released SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2017 identifies continuous need for action. Switzerland, which is only ranked 8th, also needs to make an effort if it is to achieve the Global Goals until 2030.

The annual SDG Index and Dashboards Report, jointly produced by SDSN and the Bertelsmann Foundation, assesses progress towards the 17 SDGs by 157 countries. A clearly arranged traffic light chart shows at a glance where countries stand. This helps identifying priorities for national development goals and corresponding implementation measures

Northern Europe on top of the ranking

As so often the Nordic countries Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway lead the way. They manage best to balance the three dimensions of sustainability – society, environment and economy. Compared to other industrialised countries, they also perform well on SDG 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals / Means of implementation). The neighbouring countries Germany (6th) and Austria (7th) are also ahead of Switzerland; France comes in 10th and Italy 30th. Global heavyweights such as the United States (42nd), Russia (62nd) and China (71st) rank in the middle.

Spillover effects trouble Switzerland’s performance

As a first this year’s report also quantifies negative spillover effects. These effects occur when the actions of one country, or the lack thereof, affect the ability of others to fulfill their obligations under the SDG Agenda. Dirk Messner, Co-Chair of SDSN Germany, stated the following at the launch of the report during the G20 Summit in Hamburg: “We know that richer countries thrive on economic and social SDGs at considerable costs for developing countries and the world’s environmental health.” It is therefore crucially important that this year’s edition puts an emphasis on these spillover effects and identifies our global responsibilities. The spillover effects are measured with the help of environmental indicators such as transboundary air pollution, or economic issues such as tax havens or arms exports.

It does not come as a surprise that Switzerland performs poorly on several of these spillover effects: With the import of goods and services Switzerland causes significant air pollution and biodiversity loss in the countries of origin. Due to its intensive agriculture and related imports of animal feed and fertiliser, Switzerland also “imports” ecosystem pollution caused by the release of reactive nitrogen. The report also relentlessly uncovers that the Swiss financial center does not (yet) comply with its global responsibility: Switzerland occupies bottom ranks in tax havens and financial secrecy. As an arms exporter Switzerland also undermines the achievement of SDG 16 (Peace).

Overall Switzerland is in 8th place. However it is only on track on SDG 1 (No poverty) and SDG 7 (Energy). There is need for action for all other SDGs – most urgently in the area of sustainable consumption and production, as well as measures to combat climate change (incl. CO2 emissions). As with most other industrialised countries, the traffic light is still on red.

SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2017


The countries with the biggest negative spillovers are predominantly rich industrial and oil producers.

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Despite Switzerland's ranking in the top 10, only 2 out of 17 goals are on course.

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The countries with the biggest negative spillovers are predominantly rich industrial and oil producers.

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