Measuring distance to the SDG targets – Colombia

Colombia has already achieved 11 of the 117 SDG targets for which comparable data are available and, based on most recent trends, it is expected to meet 12 additional targets by 2030 (Figure 1). As virtually all OECD countries, Colombia has already met (or is close to meeting) most targets related to securing basic needs and implementing the policy tools and frameworks mentioned in the 2030 Agenda (see details in Table 1). Yet, 5% of the population is still living on less than USD 1.90 a day (Target 1.1) and 18% still lack access to safely managed sanitation services (Target 6.2). While, in these areas, Colombia remains far away from the performance of most OECD countries, recent trends suggest that it is catching up quickly. Overall, Colombia’s main strengths are among the Prosperity category, most notably on Goal 7 on clean energy. Yet, many challenges remain. Education outcomes are low, inequalities remains high and measures of safety are among the lowest of the OECD area.

This country profile provides a high-level overview of some of Colombia’s strengths and challenges in performance across the SDG Targets. As such, it differs from Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) or other reporting processes. To ensure international comparability, this assessment builds on the global indicator framework and relies on data sourced from the SDG Global Database and OECD databases. VNRs typically use national indicators that reflect national circumstances and are more up-to-date (See section How to read this country profile that provides some methodological details on country profiles).

As most OECD countries, Colombia provides access to basic services to the great majority of its population. Colombia has reduced maternal and infant mortality (Targets 3.1 and 3.2) and increased access to early childhood education (Target 4.2). Colombia’s distance is also nil or very small when it comes to providing access to basic services (Target 1.4) and modern sources of energy (Target 7.1). Still, it has some road to travel to connect all of its population to more modern water and sanitation facilities (Targets 6.1 and 6.2).

Colombia is among the fastest growing OECD economies. On average, over the past 15 years, GDP per capita increased by around 2% (Target 8.1) while labour productivity grew by more than 3% a year. This strong macro-economic performance allowed poverty to fall markedly in recent years. While 5% of the population is still living on less than USD 1.90 a day, recent trends suggest that Colombia should join the main bulk of OECD countries in the coming years (Target 1.1). In addition, while the level of income inequality remains much higher than in any other OECD country, the income of the bottom 40% of the population is growing faster than average income (Target 10.1).

Colombia reports good outcomes on most energy targets with available data (Goal 7). All residents have access to modern sources of energy (Target 7.1). Owing to an heavy reliance on hydropower, renewables account for more than 70% of total electricity generation (Target 7.2), energy intensity is low (Target 7.3), and CO2 intensities are below the OECD average (Target 9.4). However, emission intensity for all greenhouse gases is close to the OECD average due to the high emissions from non-energy sectors such as agriculture (Target 13.2).

Some risk factors to health are very low in Colombia. Colombia has a mortality rate attributed to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory disease that is lower than in many OECD countries (Target 3.4). In 2018, tobacco consumption was only a third of the OECD average, with less than on tenth of adults classified as daily smokers (Target 3.a). Available data also suggest that alcohol consumption per capita is among the lowest of the OECD, with only 4 litres of pure alcohol per adult in 2019. Still, harmful drinking patterns, which account for an important share of the burden of disease in OECD countries, is around the OECD average, with 7% of the population suffering from disorders attributable to the consumption of alcohol (Target 3.5). Malnutrition (Target 2.2), poor air quality (Targets 3.9 and 11.6) and communicable diseases such as AIDS, Tuberculosis and tropical diseases weigh heavily on population health.

Education outcomes are low. While Colombia has met Target 4.2 on pre-primary education, students' education outcomes at the end of secondary schooling remain poor. In 2018, only on third of 15-year-olds achieved PISA minimum proficiency level in mathematics and only half of them achieved it in reading (Target 4.1). Differences in socio-economic background, gender, immigration status and location account for a large share of these disparities in education outcomes (Target 4.5). While most adults have a basic proficiency in numeracy and literacy (Target 4.6), data are not directly comparable to other OECD countries and comparison should be done carefully. Also, too many adults lack basic ICT skills (Target 4.3).

Tackling unequal opportunities for vulnerable populations and women requires further efforts. There is scope to improve the legal framework for fostering gender equality (Targets 5.1 and 5.3). Women are underrepresented in the public spheres (Target 5.5) – around on fifth of seats in national parliament are held by women – while data lack to assess their participation in the economic spheres. In addition, available data suggest that violence against women is widespread: the proportion of ever-partnered women and girls subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months is more than twice the OECD average (Target 5.2). Beyond gender disparities, Colombia reports very high levels of income poverty and inequality, but these data are not fully comparable to those available for other OECD countries (Targets 1.2 and 10.2). High levels of inequality relate to some persistent challenges of the labour market – the unemployment rate is twice the OECD average (Target 8.5), one in three young adult is not in employment, education nor training (Target 8.6) and compliance with labour rights is much lower than in most OECD countries (Target 8.8) – but also to the weak redistribution through taxes and transfers (Target 10.4) and the long-standing gaps in the social protection system (Target 1.3). Still, Colombia is one of the very few OECD countries where relative poverty is on a downward trend.

The protection of ecosystems and biodiversity requires further efforts. Colombia is one of the world’s most diverse countries and forests cover more than half the territory. On the one hand, Colombia has a long tradition of environmental laws and policies. For instance, Colombia is ahead of many OECD countries when it comes to mainstreaming education for sustainable development in national education policies or in student assessment (Targets 4.7, 12.8 and 13.3), it already implemented policy instrument for sustainable consumption and production (Target 12.1) and sustainable public procurement policies (Target 12.7) and it meets its commitments and obligations required by many international conventions on hazardous waste (Target 12.4). In addition, protected areas cover more than 17% of terrestrial area and 13% of the territorial sea, just beyond the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets (Targets 14.5 and 15.1). On the other hand, only half of the marine, freshwater, terrestrial and mountain areas that are important for biodiversity are protected (Targets 14.5, 15.1 and 15.4), and only one fifth of forest area is within legally established protected areas (Target 15.2). Further, policy indicators tracking measures to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing suggest that Colombia is below the OECD average in this field (Target 14.4). Also, beach litter density is above the OECD average (Target 14.1) and the water quality of lakes is low (Target 6.6). As a result, direct measures of biodiversity highlight significant extinction risks for major species groups (Target 15.5).

Colombia is also far away from many targets for Goal 16 on peace. Deaths from assaults are widespread; with 23 deaths per 100 000 population in 2017 this indicator is nine times the OECD average (Target 16.1).In 2020, more than half the population reported not feeling safe when walking alone at night in the area where they live. On the front of trust and corruption, 18% of firms experienced at least one request to pay bribes (Target 16.5) while 65% of the citizens do not trust the judicial system (Target 16.6). When it comes to indicators tracking the rule of law (Target 16.3), the index of civil justice from the World Justice Project is among the lowest of the OECD area.

Like in many other OECD countries, data availability remains a challenge when measuring distances to targets (see the Overview chapter for details). For Colombia, available data on the level of the different indicators allow covering 117 of the 169 targets. As shown in Figure 2 below, indicator coverage is uneven across the 17 goals. While only four goals (i.e. Goals 1 on poverty, 3 on health, 4 on education and 12 on consumption and production) have most of their targets covered (the indicator coverage exceeds 80%), coverage is much lower for three goals (Goals 14 on life below water, 11 on cities and 17 on partnerships) with only half or fewer of their targets covered. Data gaps become starker when focusing on performance indicators, excluding those providing contextual information. In this case, coverage exceeds 80% for two goals only, i.e. Goals 3 on health and 4 on quality education. Moreover, for eight goals, mostly within the Planet category (Goals 6, 12, 13 and 14) but also in Goals 4 on quality education, 5 on gender equality, 11 on cities and 17 on partnerships, data are lacking to monitor progress over time for more than two in three targets.

While some SDG Targets are, on average, close to being met, performance is very uneven across the 17 Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Table 1 presents an overview of Colombia’s progress towards targets based on available data for each of the 17 Goals. It shows that distances to Targets and trends over time differ significantly even when considering a specific goal.

The OECD report The Short and Winding Road to 2030: Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets evaluates the distance that OECD countries need to travel to meet SDG targets for which data are currently available. It also looks at whether countries have been moving towards or away from these targets, and how likely they are to meet their commitments by 2030, based on an analysis of recent trends and the observed volatility in the different indicators.

As most authors and international organisations, this report adopts a rather simple geometric growth model for assessing the direction and pace of recent changes in the context of the SDGs. Yet, instead of making direct estimates of the value of the indicator by 2030, it models the likelihood of achieving a specific level using Monte Carlo simulations.

While the report provides an overview of where OECD countries, taken as a whole, currently stand, country profiles provide details of the performance and data availability of individual OECD countries.

Progress on SDGs requires a granular understanding of countries’ strengths and weaknesses based on the consideration of the 169 targets of the 2030 Agenda. Figure 1 shows both current achievements (in the inner circle; the longer the bar, the smaller the distance remaining to be travelled) as well as whether OECD countries are on track (or are at least making progress) to meet their commitments by 2030 (in the outer circle).

The length of each bar shows current level of achievement on each target. As detailed in the Methodological Annex, countries’ distance to target is measured as the “standardised difference” between a country’s current position and the target end-value. For each indicator, the standardised measurement unit (s.u.) is the standard deviation observed among OECD countries in the reference year (i.e. the year closest to 2015). Therefore, the longer the bar, the shorter the distance still to be travelled to reach the target by 2030. The colours of the bars applied to the various targets refer to the goals they pertain to.

The outer ring shows how OECD countries are performing over time and how likely they are to meet the different targets by 2030 based on the observed trends of the various indicators. It uses stoplight colours to classify the progress towards the target:

  • green is used to indicate those countries that (based on the change in the different indicators over a recent period) should meet the target in 2030 just by maintaining their current pace of progress (i.e. more than 75% of (randomised) projections meet the target);

  • yellow for those countries whose current pace of progress is insufficient to meet the target by 2030 (i.e. less than 75% of randomised projections meet the target, while the correlation coefficient between the indicator and the year is high and statistically significant, implying that a significant trend could be detected); and

  • red for those countries whose recent changes have been stagnating or moving them further away from the target (i.e. less than 75% of randomised projections meet the target and the correlation coefficient between the indicator and the year is low or statistically insignificant, implying that no statistical trend could be identified).

With the aim of helping its member countries in navigating the 2030 Agenda and in setting their own priorities for action, this report relies on a unique methodology for measuring the distance that OECD countries have to travel to achieve SDG targets. The identification of the main strengths and challenges proposed in this report relies on current performances only:

  • A target is considered to be a strength when the distance to the target end-value is lower than 0.5 s.u. (i.e. the distance is deemed to be small) or when the country is closer to the target than the OECD average. For instance, while Korea's distance to Target 2.2 on malnutrition is 1.4 s.u. (i.e. classified as medium distance), the average OECD distance is 2.5 s.u. Therefore, Target 2.2 is categorised as being a strength for Korea.

  • A target is considered to be a challenge when the distance to target is greater than 1.5 s.u. (i.e. distance is deemed to be long) or when the country is further away from the target than the OECD average. For instance, Estonia's distance to Target 4.2 on pre-primary education is 1.1 s.u. (i.e. medium distance), which is higher than the 0.24 s.u. distance for the OECD average. Target 4.2 is therefore classified as a weakness for Estonia.

While the lack of consistent time series often prevents an exhaustive assessment of trends, they are discussed when available and relevant in nuancing the assessment of current performance.

In total, this report relies on 537 data series supporting 183 of the 247 indicators listed in the global indicator framework (or for close proxies of these indicators). These indicators cover 134 of the 169 SDG targets. Yet, target coverage is uneven across the 17 goals and among OECD member countries.

Figure 2 summarises data availability:

  • darker blue bars indicate the share of targets for which at least one indicator (including indicators providing context information) is available

  • lighter blue bars indicate the share of targets for which the available indicator(s) include those having a clear normative direction (i.e. allowing to distinguish between good and bad performance), which are the only ones used to measure distances to target levels.

  • medium blue bars indicate the share of targets for which progress over time can be gauged (i.e. at least three observations are available over a five-year period).

All methods and concepts are further detailed in the Methodological Annex.

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