Measuring distance to the SDG targets – Ireland

Ireland has already achieved 23 of the 127 SDG targets for which comparable data are available and, based on most recent trends, is expected to meet 8 additional targets by 2030 (Figure 1). As virtually all OECD countries, Ireland 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). Ireland’s living standards remain high, supported by a strong economic performance. Yet challenges remain. Adults’ skills could be improved and while violence against women appears to be lower than the OECD average, tackling unequal opportunities for women requires further efforts.

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

The Irish economy is growing rapidly and has come a long way since exiting the EU-IMF financial assistance programme in late-2013. The full strength of the GDP rebound is however difficult to gauge as it partly reflected the decisions by a small number of multinational enterprises to relocate to Ireland part of their intellectual property assets in 2015. The labour market, which provides a better gauge of national trends, has shown a decline in the unemployment rate from above 15% to close to 6% in 2020 (Target 8.5). Irish employees report a high level of earnings (USD PPP 23 per hour). Ireland also shows one of the highest level of manufacturing value added (Target 9.2).

Air quality has improved and is generally good. The mean population exposure of Irish citizens to PM2.5 decreased by around 20% over the last decade to 8 micrograms per cubic metre in 2019, well below guideline of the WHO and one the lowest in the OECD area (Target 11.6). As a result, the death rate attributed to household and ambient air pollution is also below the OECD average (Target 3.9). Ireland also reports good performance in some of the other dimensions of Goal 11 on Sustainable cities. Housing quality (Target 11.1) for instance, is generally good with only 2% of the population living in overcrowded housing. Still, more needs to be done on recycling (Target 11.6); while progressive increases of the landfill tax have contributed to diverting waste from landfills, recycling of municipal waste has stagnated.

While violence against women appears to be lower than the OECD average, 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 12 months is below the OECD average (Target 5.2), while Ireland also has a strong policy framework to prevent female genital mutilation (Target 5.3). Still, there is scope for progress. The legal framework that should promote, enforce and monitor gender equality is far from comprehensive (Target 5.1). In addition, caring responsibilities tend to fall more heavily on women: the gender gap in unpaid work hours (166 minutes per day in 2015, Target 5.4).) is one of the highest in Europe. Women are also underrepresented in the decision-making: they held only a quarter of the seats in the national parliament in 2021, and around a third of managerial positions (Target 5.5 and 16.7).

Adults’ skills could be improved. Participation in lifelong learning (at 24% in 2011) is half the OECD average (Target 4.3). To realise the productivity gains made possible by new technologies, complementary skills need to be nurtured. Yet, one fourth of adults do not achieve a minimum proficiency in numeracy skills, while one fifth lacks the minimum proficiency in literacy (Target 4.6). In addition, the proportion of youth and adults with information and communications technology is below the OECD average on most dimensions (Target 4.4)

Like in many other OECD countries, data availability remains a challenge when measuring distances to targets (see the Overview chapter for details). For Ireland, available data on the level of the different indicators allow covering 127 of the 169 targets. As shown in Figure 2 below, indicator coverage is uneven across the 17 goals. While nine goals (within the People, Planet and Prosperity categories) have most of their targets covered (the indicator coverage exceeds 80%), coverage is lower for Goal 14 on life below 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. Moreover, for eight goals, mostly within the Planet category (Goals 12, 13, 14 and 15) but also for Goals 4 on 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 Ireland’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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