Over the last year, the pandemic has dominated the headlines and our work here at the European Commission. Yet in parallel we have continued to focus on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals across all our policies, including the European Green Deal, the Digital Strategy and the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan. The reforms and investments supported through NextGenerationEU will also make a major contribution to achieving the SDGs in the EU.
Eurostat's 2021 Sustainable Development Goals report provides us with the reliable data and statistics we need to track progress towards the achievement of the SDGs in the EU.
This year's report includes a special chapter regarding the impact of COVID-19 on progress towards the SDGs. For example, the number of young people aged 15 to 29 who are not employed nor in education and training increased from 12.6% in 2019 to 13.7% in 2020. On the positive side, the short-time work schemes, in many cases supported by the Commission's SURE programme, have helped to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market, with unemployment only going up by only 0.4 percentage points in 2020 compared to 2019.
Meanwhile, electricity consumption fell by more than 4% in 2020 compared to 2019. The decrease in energy consumption is also reflected in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, which fell by around 10% between 2019 and 2020. Of course, this decline was driven by an unprecedented an exceptional situation.
The area where we can see most progress is SDG 16, ‘Peace justice, and strong institutions'. The share of the EU population reporting crime, violence and vandalism in their neighbourhoods fell from 13.6% in 2014 to 11% in 2019. Over the same period, public expenditure on law courts in the EU increased by around 16%.
The report also shows good progress in reducing poverty and social exclusion (SDG 1). For the period 2015 to 2019, the EU reduced the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by 12.7 million. These positive developments meant we were in a better position to face the COVID-19 crisis.
The overall assessment of progress towards SDG 13 - ‘Climate action' - remains more or less neutral. According to provisional estimates, by 2019 the EU had reduced its net greenhouse gas emissions by about 25% since 1990. But further progress will be required to meet the new 55% reduction ambition for 2030. This assessment is based on past progress and does not take into account developments such as the pathways and planned measures outlined in Member States' National Energy and Climate Plans.
As regards SDG 7, ‘Affordable and clean energy', energy consumption increased slightly between 2014 and 2019, indicating that the EU needs to do more to meet its 2030 target to increase energy efficiency by at least 32.5%. Moreover, imports of fossil fuels still cover more than half of the EU's energy demand.
Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic has made achieving the SDGs even more challenging. But I am convinced that the unprecedented policy measures we are taking, notably through NextGenerationEU, will put us back on track - and that in two to three years many of the indicators will show significant progress compared with today.