Measuring distance to the SDG targets – Japan

Japan has already achieved 27 of the 125 SDG targets for which comparable data are available and, based on most recent trends, is expected to meet 6 additional targets by 2030 (Figure 1). As virtually all OECD countries, Japan 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). In addition, Japan reports one of the lowest levels of obesity and the highest levels of adults' literacy and numeracy. Japan’s main strengths are in the “Prosperity” category, and to some extent on targets relating to the protection of the environment. Yet, challenges remain. As in many OECD countries, long-term GDP growth and labour productivity have been slowing down over the past decades but the most salient challenges relate to unequal opportunities.

This country profile provides a high-level overview of some of Japan’s strengths and challenges in performance across the SDG targets, and as such 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).

Japan reports many strengths on the “Prosperity” front. Among OECD countries, Japan has one of the lowest unemployment rates (Target 8.5) and shares of young people not in education, employment or training (Target 8.6). Japan is also among top performers on R&D expenditures as a share of GDP and researcher density (Target 9.5).On cities (Goal 11), Japan has already met half of the targets for which data is available: only 2% of households are considered to be overcrowded (Target 11.1). Japan has already implemented urban policies responding to population dynamics; ensuring balanced territorial development; and increasing local fiscal space (Target 11.a).

On the “Planet” category, Japan does relatively well on most policy indicators. To mitigate, the impact of extreme events, Japan had fully implemented disaster risk reduction strategies in line with Sendai Framework at both local and national levels (Targets 1.5, 11.b and 13.1). Japan also implemented most policy measures relating to the preservation of terrestrial biodiversity (Targets 15.6 and 15.8) and to the management of fish stocks (Targets 14.4, 14.6 and 14.b). In addition, while Japan needs to make progress on the protection of terrestrial ecosystems (Target 15.1), it is close to target level when it comes to protecting marine ecosystems, forests and mountains (Targets 14.5, 15.2 and 15.4).

Tackling unequal opportunities for minorities and women requires further efforts. There is scope to improve the legal framework that aims at fostering gender equality (Targets 5.1 and 5.3). Women bear the lion share of unpaid care and housework (Target 5.4) and they are underrepresented in both the public and economic spheres (Target 5.5) – around 10% of seats in national parliament are held by women. Beyond gender inequality, more should be done to meet targets relating to equality of opportunity. There are large disparities among socioeconomic and gender groups in terms of education outcomes (Target 4.5) and only six in ten people believe that Japan is a good place to live for racial and ethnic minorities (Target 10.3). Japan also reports a low score on diversity of central government workforce and is thus far from meeting Target 16.7 on inclusive decision-making.

The transboundary impact of Japan is rather small. In terms of financial flows for development, Official Development Assistance is only a third of the 0.7% target (Target 17.2) and the high cost of sending remittances limits their full potential (Target 10.c). In terms of trade flows, Japan is in the lower third of OECD countries when it comes to duty-free treatment of least developed countries and developing countries. In terms of movement of people, Japan only partially meets the requirements to facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration (Target 10.7). Finally, in terms of environmental flows, despite good performances on some policy indicators, pressures on the environment and biodiversity remain. In 2019, renewables accounted for one-fifth of the electricity generation but this share had been increasing over the past decade (Target 7.2). The recovery and recycling rate of municipal waste (20%) was only half the OECD average (Target 12.5) and the environmental pressure from agricultural production is among the highest among OECD countries (Target 2.4). The outcome measure confirms the significant loss in biodiversity (Target 15.5).

Like in many other OECD countries, data availability remains a challenge when measuring distances to targets (see the Overview chapter for details). Available data on the level of the different indicators allow covering 125 of the 169 targets. As shown in Figure 2 below, indicator coverage is uneven across the 17 goals. While seven goals have most of their targets covered (the indicator coverage exceeds 80%), coverage is much lower for Goal 14 on life under water, with only half of its targets covered. Data gaps become starker when focusing on performance indicators, excluding those providing contextual information. In this case, coverage exceeds 80% for only Goal 3 on health. For eight goals, mostly related to the Planet category (Goals 6, 12, 13 and 14) but also to Goals 4 on education, 5 on gender equality, 11 on cities and 17 on partnerships, data are lacking to monitor changes 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 Japan’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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