Measuring distance to the SDG targets – The Netherlands

The Netherlands has already achieved 29 of the 129 SDG targets for which comparable data are available and, based on most recent trends, is expected to meet 12 additional targets by 2030 (Figure 1). As virtually all OECD countries, the Netherlands has already met (or is close to meeting) most targets related to securing basic needs and implementing the policy tools and frameworks mentioned by the 2030 Agenda (see details in Table 1) and also shows strong performances on many other targets. Overall, the level of skills is high, employment prospects are good and poverty is low. Yet, some challenges remain. There is still scope to progress toward gender equality and agricultural production still has a strong and negative impact of the environment.

This country profile provides a high-level overview of some of the Netherlands’ strengths and challenges in performance across the SDG targets. As such, it differs in nature from Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) or other reporting processes. To ensure international comparability, this assessment draws 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).

Education outcomes are high. According to available data, the Netherlands has already met half of the eight education-related targets (Goal 4) for which data are available. Virtually all kids attend pre-primary education (Target 4.2), almost all teachers receive regular in-service training and all schools benefit from modern education facilities (Target 4.c). In addition, the participation rate in lifelong learning is among the highest in the OECD (Target 4.3). While still having some way to travel to reach the four remaining targets, these are all at close distance. The proportion of low skilled students and adults is below the OECD average (Targets 4.1 and 4.6) and a large share of youth and adults has ICT skills (Target 4.4). Still, while lower than in other OECD countries, differences in students’ performance at school strongly reflect their location (in rural or urban areas) and socio-economic background. These socio-economic inequities have remained the same over the past decade (Target 4.5).

Performance on social inclusion is high. The Netherlands has one of the lowest relative income poverty rates in the OECD, although this rate has been increasing over the past decades (Targets 1.2 and 10.2). Low levels poverty are partly explained by the breadth of its social protection (Target 1.3) and the high level of redistribution achieved through taxes and transfers (Target 10.4). A dynamic labour market also contributes to low poverty. Average hourly earnings are high (USD PPP 20 per hour in 2018) and both the unemployment rate (4% in 2020) and the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training (7% in 2020) are well below the OECD average (Targets 8.5 and 8.6).

The Netherlands has a strong track record in water and waste management. As a delta country, water management has long been a strength. The Netherlands has developed a strong water management – including on transboundary aspects (Target 6.5) – and nearly all of the population is connected to a wastewater treatment facility (Target 6.3). The Dutch economy is also one of the most resource-efficient among OECD countries. Its material productivity (the amount of GDP generated per unit of material used) increased significantly over the past two decades (Targets 8.4 and 12.2), driven by lower material consumption and a well-functioning waste management system. The country has very high recovery rate through recycling and composting (Targets 11.6 and 12.5) and food waste well below the OECD average (Target 12.2). Still, there is scope for improvement on meeting commitments and obligations in transmitting information as required by international conventions on hazardous waste and other chemicals (Target 12.4).

Tackling unequal opportunities for women requires further efforts. 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 year is close to the OECD average (Target 5.2). The legal framework to promote, enforce and monitor gender equality needs to be improved (Target 5.1). It is very comprehensive on “employment and economic benefit” slightly above the OECD average on “marriage and family” but lagging behind when it comes to the “overarching legal frameworks and public life” and violence against women” dimensions. In addition, caring responsibilities tend to fall more heavily on women. The gender gap in unpaid work hours is 80 minutes per day (Target 5.4), which is below the OECD average. As in most OECD countries, women are also underrepresented in the decision-making, holding only a third of the seats in the national parliament in 2021, and around a quarter of managerial positions (Targets 5.5 and 16.7).

While the Netherlands has been a forerunner in environmental policy, the country still faces some persistent environmental challenges. Environmental pressure from agricultural production remains high. Despite reductions in nutrient surpluses, the amount of nitrogen fertiliser and the quantity of pesticides used per square kilometre of agricultural land are almost three times the OECD average (Target 2.4). In addition, while the economy’s carbon intensity has decreased (Targets 13.2 and 9.4) and is now around the OECD average, the country still has a large share of fossil fuels in its energy mix. Only 7% of total final energy consumption and 18% of total electricity generation come from renewable (Target 7.2), well below the OECD average.

Financial transfers to other countries could be improved. In terms of financial flows for development, the Netherlands direct 0.6% of its GNI to Official Development Assistance, almost twice the OECD average and close to the 0.7% of GNI target (Target 17.2). Still, available measures suggest that there is considerable scope for improvement when it comes to aligning ODA to partner countries’ priorities and to country-owned results frameworks (Target 17.15). In addition, the high cost of sending migrants remittances limits their full potential on receiving countries (Target 10.c). In terms of trade flows, the Netherlands ranks low when it comes to duty-free treatment of imports from least developed and developing countries. The proportion of zero tariff lines applied to imports from least developed countries is 5 percentage points below the OECD average (Target 10.a).

Like in many other OECD countries, data availability remains a challenge when measuring distances to targets (see the Overview chapter for details). For the Netherlands, available data on the level of the different indicators allow covering 129 of the 169 targets. As shown in Figure 2 below, indicator coverage is uneven across the 17 goals. While nine goals (mostly within People, Planet and Prosperity categories) have most of their targets covered (the indicator coverage exceeds 80%), coverage is lower for Goals 11 on cities, 13 on climate action and 14 on life below water, with 60% or less 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 only Goal 3 on health and Goal 4 on education. For seven goals, mostly related to the Planet category (Goals 12, 13, 14 and 15) but also to gender equality (Goal 5), cities (11) and partnerships (17), 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 The Netherlands’ 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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