Measuring distance to the SDG targets – Poland

Poland has already achieved 18 of the 130 SDG targets for which comparable data are available and, based on most recent trends, is expected to meet 9 additional targets by 2030 (Figure 1). As virtually all OECD countries, Poland 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). Poland is among the fastest growing OECD economies (Targets 8.1 and 8.2) and outperforms many OECD countries on Goal 15 on life on land. Yet, challenges remain, for instance in improving adults’ skills (Goal 4) and greening the economy (mainly Goals 7 and 13).

This country profile provides a high-level overview of some of Poland’s 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).

Poland’s economic growth is strong while its labour market is booming. Over the past two decades, Poland has featured growth of GDP and labour productivity well above that of the OECD area (Targets 8.1 and 8.2) as well as a dynamic labour market. Latest available data suggest that average hourly earnings are much lower than the OECD average (USD PPP 13 per hour in 2014) but the unemployment rate is low; at 4% in 2020 (Target 8.5). While 13% of youth are not in education, employment or training, this share has been declining over the past two decades and is now slightly below the OECD average (Target 8.6). Still, compliance with labour rights (freedom of association and collective bargaining) can be improved (Target 8.8).

Poland performs relatively well on many targets within the Planet category, most notably in Goal 15 on life on land. Since its accession to the European Union (EU) in 2004, Poland has made important efforts to transpose EU environmental legislation. Poland has already met (or is close to meeting) most targets focusing on policy implementation. Among others, this includes Target 12.4 on implementing multilateral environmental agreements on chemical and hazardous waste; some aspects of Target 14.4 focusing on policies and practices against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; Target 15.6 on the legislative, administrative and policy frameworks supporting the compliance of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture; and Target 15.8 on legislation, regulation and acts related to preventing the introduction and managing invasive alien species. Further, Poland has a long tradition of sustainable forest management practice. Poland’s forests are both an important source of income and valuable repositories of biodiversity (the only primeval forest remaining in Europe is in Poland). Overall, protected areas cover 23% of marine areas and 40% of total land, well beyond the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. In addition, more than 85% of freshwater, terrestrial, mountain and marine areas that are considered as key for biodiversity are already protected (Targets 14.5, 15.1, 15.4), while available data suggest sustainable management of most forests (Target 15.2). Finally, supported by EU funds, increased investment in infrastructure has extended access to water services. Virtually all residents have access to safely managed drinking water (Target 6.1) and 91% to safely managed sanitation services (Target 6.2). Distance is also small for Target 6.3 on water quality, with 4% of the population not connected to public sewage treatment and large proportions of water bodies with good ambient water quality.

Adults’ skills could be improved. As most OECD countries, Poland is already providing access to pre-primary education to a great majority of children (Targets 4.2 and 4.a). In 2018, 85% of students achieved minimum proficiency levels in mathematics and reading (Target 4.1) – 10 percentage points higher than the OECD average for mathematics, and 8 percentage points higher for reading. Still, differences in socio-economic background, gender, immigration status and location contribute to disparities in education outcomes (Target 4.5). Beyond school, one in five adults lacks the skills to meet minimum level of proficiency in functional numeracy and literacy (Target 4.6). In addition, compared to the OECD averages, a smaller portion of young people and adults have ICT skills for employment (Target 4.5) and Poland is among the countries with the lowest participation rate in lifelong learning (Target 4.3, 26% in 2016).

Despite good performances on some policy indicators, pressures on the environment and biodiversity remain. In 2019, renewables accounted for only 15% of the electricity generation (Target 7.2) and, despite improvement, the Polish economy remains very CO2 intensive (Targets 9.4 and 13.2) and among the most resource-intensive in the OECD, reflecting the high share of industry in GDP (Target 8.4). In addition, the average annual increase in built area per capita is the third highest after Lithuania and Latvia (Target 11.3) – while the overcrowding rate (29% in 2019) is almost three times the OECD average (Target 11.1). A significant share of local breeds with known level of extinction risk are classified as being at risk (Target 2.5, 86% in 2021) and marine pollution remains an issue (Target 14.1).

Some risk factors to health are high in Poland. Poland is close to many targets focusing on health. For instance, it enjoys a high immunisation rate (Target 3.b), is close to meeting Targets 3.3 on communicable diseases, with AIDS and Hepatitis B incidence below the OECD average (while incidence and deaths rates from tuberculosis are above the OCD average). However, Poland has a higher mortality rate attributed to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory disease than in many OECD countries (Target 3.4). Alcohol consumption per capita has been increasing and is above the OECD average (Target 3.5), while 17% of the population over 15 consume tobacco every day (Target 3.a) and the same proportion were considered obese (Target 2.2). In addition, road traffic injuries (Target 3.6) weigh heavily on health outcomes. Near universal health care coverage is achieved but access to health services is more difficult for vulnerable groups, and health expenditures exceed 10% of total household expenditures for around 14% of the population (Target 3.8).

There is scope to improve the accountability and diversity of public institution. While global data to monitor the accountability and transparency of public institutions are not yet available, proxy measures show that only 36% of citizens reported having confidence in their country's judicial system and courts (Target 16.6). On diversity, youths and women are not well represented in the parliament, and Poland reports a low score on diversity of central government workforce (Targets 5.5 and 16.7). Beyond public institutions, tackling unequal opportunities for minorities and women requires further efforts. For instance, women spend two hours more than men in unpaid domestic and care work (Target 5.4) while they remain underrepresented in managerial positions (Target 5.5). Beyond gender, 30% of the population does not believe that Poland is a good place to live for ethnic and racial minorities (Target 10.3).

Like in many other OECD countries, data availability remains a challenge when measuring distances to targets (see the Overview chapter for details). For Poland, available data on the level of the different indicators allow covering 130 of the 169 targets. As shown in Figure 2 below, indicator coverage is uneven across the 17 goals. While ten goals (mostly within the People, Planet and Prosperity categories) have most of their targets covered (the indicator coverage exceeds 80%), coverage is lower for Goals 11 on cities 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 relating to contextual information. In this case, coverage exceeds 80% for only Goals 3 on health and 4 on education. Moreover, for seven goals, mostly within the Planet category (Goals 12, 13, 14 and 15) but also in Goals 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 Poland’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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