Cohesion policy 2014-2020
support to the UN
Sustainable Development Goals
The European Commission is strongly committed to the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The von der Leyen Commission has made sustainability an overriding policy priority for its mandate (2019-2024). All Sustainable Development Goals feature in one or more of the six Commission priorities, making all Commission work streams, policies and strategies conducive to achieving the UN SDGs.
EU cohesion policy, with its objective of reducing social, economic and territorial disparities within the Union, is strongly aligned to the UN sustainable development goals.
This interactive data story allows you to explore the investment contribution of Cohesion policy funds programmed for the period 2014-2020 to the relevant SDGs.
The UN's SDGs
The Sustainable Development Goals are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. Sustainable development aims to achieve a continuous improvement in citizens’ quality of life and well-being, without compromising the well-being of future generations. This involves the pursuit of economic progress, while safeguarding the natural environment and promoting social justice.
For 2014-2020, Cohesion policy funds consist of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Cohesion Fund and the European Social Fund (ESF, which includes the Youth Employment Initiative). Out of the 17 goals, Cohesion policy directly supports 11 goals:
- SDG 1 No poverty: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
- SDG 3 Good health and well-being: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
- SDG 4 Quality education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
- SDG 6 Clean water and sanitation: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
- SDG 7 Affordable and clean energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
- SDG 8 Decent work and economic growth: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
- SDG 9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
- SDG 11 Sustainable cities and communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
- SDG 12 Responsible consumption and production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
- SDG 13 Climate action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
- SDG 15 Life on land: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Cohesion policy indirectly supports other goals:
- SDG 5 Gender Equality is mainly supported through mainstreaming measures that are not easily monitored
- SDG 10 Reduced inequality is supported through some of the funding mapped against SDGs 3, 4 and 8;
Other EU spending programmes, out of scope for this presentation, support SGDs 2 and 14 (e.g. the Fund for European Aid to the most Deprived addresses SDG 2 Zero Hunger, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund contributes to SDG 14 Life below water).
2. Overview of Cohesion policy planned amounts by SDG
Before digging into the data, it is important to explain how we have mapped Cohesion policy thematic financial allocations to the SDGs.
Under Cohesion policy a list of 123 intervention fields are used to breakdown the EU budget into thematic actions (find out more in this data story). We have made a 1-to-1 correspondence between categories of intervention and SDGs, leading to the identification of a "prevailing" SDG for each intervention field. This avoids double counting the investment under the intervention fields. However, many cohesion categories of intervention contribute to more than a single SDG. This data story therefore presents a simplified understanding of how cohesion funding serves the SGDs and in some cases understates the contribution to SDGs (see the SDG 13 climate action goal below). It should also be noted that the objectives of multiple SDGs are strongly interrelated.
- Use the global filter below to filter all charts on this page by Member State, year or by EU fund.
- The year is set to 2021 by default.
The interactive pie chart on the right shows the volume of Cohesion policy funding contributing to the 11 relevant SGDs.
The majority of EU Cohesion policy funding - 94% - contributes to the 11 UN SGDs identified.
The majority of this funding is allocated to 2 SDGs - SDG 9 Industry, innovation, infrastructure and SDG 8 Decent work and economic growth.
1. Use the filter at the top right of the chart to explore the EU fund and country investments in the SDGs.
2. Toggle to "summary table" in bottom right of chart to see and copy the EU values by SDG.
3. Explore Cohesion policy's contribution to eleven SDGs
This section allows you to explore the planned Cohesion policy contribution in the 2014-2020 programming period by SDG.
The charts on the left show the EU planned amounts by Member State, whereas in the charts on the right the allocation is broken down by intervention field. Looking at the intervention fields helps to better understand what action are financed under each each SDG.
Accompanying text to the charts always refers to end of 2021 as cut-off date, unless otherwise specified.
TIPs:- In the charts on the left, explore the chart by fund and country using the drill down buttons (top left) or filters (top right);- In the charts on the right, click on the coloured bar of an intervention field to see the Member States that most contribute to it. Use the drill down buttons (top left) or filters (top right) to explore by intervention field and country.
SDG 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
6% of Cohesion policy allocations support SDG 1 by funding interventions that aim to create more inclusive societies and reduce discrimination.
Italy, Germany, Spain, France and Poland are the main contributors to SDG 1, each of them allocating to this goal more than 2.4 billion EUR. The most popular intervention field is "active inclusion", with about 55% of total SDG 1 financing. This intervention field includes projects that promote equal opportunities and active participation, and improve employability.
SDG 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
6% of Cohesion policy allocations are consistent with SDG 3, contributing to healthier societies through expenditure on both health infrastructure and services. The two largest contributors in absolute terms are Spain and Poland with over EUR 4.5 billion in allocations. However, although it does not make it to the top-15, in relative terms Ireland is the Member State that allocates the largest fraction of its CP funds to support SDG 3 (28%).
SDG 4. Quality education
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
9% of Cohesion policy allocations support SDG 4, with Italy, Portugal, Poland and Spain being the largest contributors, each of them allocating above or close to EUR 4 billion.
Member States are investing funds primarily to reduce and prevent early school-leaving and promoting equal access to good quality early-childhood, primary and secondary education (intervention field 115). Next in terms of funding are interventions targeted to improve the labour market relevance of education and training systems (IF 118) and enhance equal access to lifelong learning for all age groups (IF 117). In relative terms, Austria is the MS that earmarks the largest share of its CP funds to quality education (21%).
SDG 6. Clean water and sanitation
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
4% of Cohesion policy allocations contribute to SDG 6 by investing in waste water treatment, water management (e.g. district and consumer metering, leak reduction) and infrastructure for water extraction, treatment, storage and distribution of water for human consumption. Poland and Romania are the largest contributors, allocating above EUR 2 billion to clean water and sanitation objectives. However, in relative terms Malta and Bulgaria are the Member State that allocate the largest fraction of their CP funds to support SDG 6 (12% and 10% respectively).
SDG 7. Affordable and Clean Energy
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
With 7% of CP allocations, SDG 7 comes fourth by volume of contributions (about EUR 27 billion in total). Reflecting the importance of this goal for territorial cohesion, investments cover 16 different intervention fields, from energy efficiency renovation of buildings and infrastructure, to renewable energy (solar, wind, biomass, other). By far the largest contributor in absolute terms is Poland, investing nearly 6 billion EUR; Denmark and Lithuania are the countries that allocate a comparatively larger share of their funding to SDG 7 (15% and 14% respectively vs EU average of 7%).
SDG 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
27% of CP funding contributes to SDG 8 by investing in SMEs competitiveness and networking, entrepreneurship, access to employment and integration of youth in the labour market. With over 18 billion EUR, Italy is the largest contributor to SDG 8, with Spain and Poland coming next. In relative terms, Italy allocates around 40% of its CP funding to decent work and economic growth, behind three Nordic countries (DK 61%, SE 52%, FI 44%), Luxembourg (46%) and Greece (42%).
SDG 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Cohesion policy chiefly aims at addressing the diverse development needs of European regions. Consistently with this overarching objective, 27% of CP contributes to SDG 9, coming at the top of the SDGs by volume of allocations (slightly above SDG 8). Under this broad goal, investments are made in different sectors, such as digitalisation, transport networks, research and innovation. Poland is the Member State that most contributes to SDG 9 both in absolute terms (EUR 38 billion) and in relative terms (48% share of its funds). Latvia and Czechia follow Poland with around 40% and 37% of their allocations respectively.
SDG 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
1% of Cohesion policy funding contributes to SDG 11 by investing, for instance, in improving air quality and building cycle tracks and footpaths. Poland, Czechia and Romania's combined allocations amount to almost 50% of the total CP financing coherent with this goal, however the Member State that allocates the largest share of its funds to it is Bulgaria (4% vs EU average of 1%).
It is worth mentioning that other CP investments promote sustainable cities and communities (e.g. IF 043 clean urban transport), but they have been assigned to the "predominant" SDG. Thus, the charts below underestimate the real contribution of Cohesion policy to SDG 11.
SDG 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
2% of CP funding contributes to SDG 12 by investing predominantly in household waste management and in environmentally-friendly production processes in SMEs.
The largest contributors are Greece, Portugal, Italy and Poland, although Cyprus comes first in relative terms (investing nearly 8% of its funding in SDG 12 against an EU average of 2%).
SDG 13. Climate Action
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting developments in renewable energy
Only three intervention fields are predominantly linked to SDG 13, thus CP contribution to climate objectives using this metric is clearly restrictive (see below for details). With this caveat in mind, we can still note that the Member States that invest larger amounts to climate change adaptation are Poland, Hungary, Germany and Italy.
The EU tracks a wide range of cohesion policy climate actions - such as sustainable energy and clean transport - under EU climate tracking mechanism. This Commission tracking tool explains in more detail and more completely the investment contribution being made under Cohesion policy in 2014-2020.
SDG 15. Life on Land
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Cohesion policy contributes to SDG 15 by investing in the protection of biodiversity and nature, in green infrastructure, and in the development of the tourism potential of natural sites. Territorial cooperation programmes, Poland and Hungary are the largest contributors, with close to or above EUR 800 million of funding. However, this mapping of CP against SDG 15 is restrictive (see below).
While biodiversity tracking was not explicitly foreseen in the Cohesion policy legislation for 2014-2020, based on agreement between Commission services the biodiversity relevant interventions were identified and tracked. This Commission tracking tool explains in more detail and more completely the investment contribution to biodiversity being made under Cohesion policy in 2014-2020.
4. More information
The #CohesionOpenData dataset underlying this data story is available on this link.
Key EU initiatives to support the SDGs are listed below:
- 2020: Delivering on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SWD(2020) 400 final)
- The European Semester, provides a framework for coordination of economic policies across Member States, and has integrated SDGs reporting starting from the 2020 exercise. - Annual Sustainable Growth Survey 2022
- The Better Regulation Guidelines, published in November 2021, require that, whenever possible, impact assessments and evaluations carried out by Commission services should identify relevant SDGs and how the initiative contributes to their implementation. For more detailed information - Better Regulation Guidelines
- Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, publishes reports on the EU progress towards these objectives. Eurostat report 2021 - Monitoring report on progress towards the SDGs in an EU context
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Author: Arianna ALFANO, Giulia Olivieri, John WALSH
Date of text: v1 February 2022; v2 November 2022 (updated with "Global filter" and multi-annual data)