Measuring distance to the SDG targets – Sweden

Sweden has already achieved 30 of the 133 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, Sweden 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). Sweden is also a world leader in many fields of environmental and gender policies. Yet, pressures on marine ecosystems remain important and, as in many other OECD countries, long-term growth of GDP and labour productivity have been slowing down (Targets 8.1 and 8.2).

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

Sweden had been very active to combat gender differences. Within the OECD area, Sweden has one of the most comprehensive legal frameworks to foster gender equality (Target 5.1 and 5.3) and if the parity is not achieved yet, women are well represented in both the public and economic spheres (Target 5.5 and 16.7). Women hold 47% of seats in national parliament and 42% of those in deliberative bodies of local government. In the economic sphere, they make up more than 40% of managerial position. Swedish women still spend more time on unpaid care and housework than men, yet the gap is less than one hour – as compared to more than two hours on average among OECD countries (Target 5.4). Sweden also performs well on other targets related to inclusion. Sweden meets the requirements to facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration (Target 10.7) and more than 85% of the population believe that Sweden it is a good place to live for racial and ethnic minorities (Target 10.3). Beyond national borders, Sweden is one of the few OECD members that already devote more than 0.7% of its GNI to Official Development Assistance (Target 17.2), yet, the high cost of sending remittances limits their full potential (Target 10.c).

Sweden is a leader in many fields of environmental policy. Use of renewables has continued to grow and now exceeds half of the electricity generated and delivered to final consumers (Target 7.2). Sweden has been very successful in decoupling GHG emissions from economic growth. As a result of the low-carbon energy mix, CO2 emissions from fuel combustion per unit of GDP have decreased, making Sweden’s carbon intensity the second lowest among OECD countries (Target 13.2). The environmental impact of cities also shows progress. The material productivity of Sweden’s economy is high and improving, in part thanks to an effective waste management policy (Targets 11.6 and 12.5). The mean human exposure to PM2.5 in cities (at 6 µg per cubic meter in 2019) was below the WHO-recommended level, and has been decreasing (Target 11.6). When it comes to natural assets and protection of biodiversity, protected natural areas have been expanded since 2000 but further efforts are necessary to achieve the Aichi biodiversity targets on protected areas, and Sweden is also below the OECD average on the protection of areas considered to be key for biodiversity (Target 15.2). Yet, the conversation status of major species is generally better than in other OECD countries (Target 15.5).

While there is still scope for improvement, Sweden is among the most advanced OECD countries in terms of achievement of Goal 16 on Peace, justice and institutions. Sweden is ahead of the OECD average on most indicators underpinning Target 16.1 on violence (homicides rates and robbery rates are lower, feeling of safety is higher), Target 16.2 on human trafficking, and 16.5 on corruption and bribery; citizens’ confidence in the judicial system is also 20 percentage points higher than the OECD average (Target 16.6). Yet, other measures of the rule of law show a slightly more nuanced picture: unofficial data from the World Justice Project show that civil justice is accessible, affordable and free of discrimination, but on the other hand, more than a quarter of the prison population is unsentenced and reporting to the police for robbery is below the OECD average.

Although health status remains high, behavioural risk factors may become a challenge to people’s health. Non-medical determinants of health such as poor diets, smoking and alcohol consumption are major drivers of morbidity and mortality. Adult smoking (Target 3.a) had been declining and is now one of the lowest in the OECD area, still 10% of Swedes still smoke daily – and other tobacco products, such as snuff, that are common in Sweden are not included in this rate. In addition, 14% of the adult population is obese (Target 2.2) and this rate had been increasing. Finally, alcohol consumption per adult is below the OECD average but one-tenth of adults reported alcohol use disorders (Target 3.5).

There is room for improving resilience toward disasters. On the policy front, Sweden lacks disaster risk reduction strategies in line with the Sendai Framework at both the national and local levels (Targets 1.5 and 11.b). Outcome measures show that while the economic impact of disasters is moderate (Targets 1.5 and 11.5), natural disasters directly affected 1 246 per 100 000 population in 2018, which is twice the OECD average (1.5, 11.5 and 13.1).

Several marine-based economic sectors exert pressures on marine ecosystems. There is increasing evidence of the vulnerability of the Baltic Sea and new pressures are emerging, including climate change, acidification and invasive alien species. Since 2000, nutrient balances have dropped significantly (Target 2.4) but marine ecosystems still suffer from eutrophication caused by surface run-off and marine debris (Target 14.1). Sweden also faces large distances to meet Targets 14.b on access rights for small-scale fisheries and 14.4 on overfishing and IUU fishing. Several freshwater bodies also appear to be suffering – only half of all open water bodies and only a third of river show good ambient water quality (Target 6.3) and both measures of lake water quality are below the OECD average.

Like in many other OECD countries, data availability remains a challenge when measuring distances to targets (see the Overview chapter for details). For Sweden, available data on the level of the different indicators allow covering 133 of the 169 targets. As shown in Figure 2 below, indicator coverage is uneven across the 17 goals. While nine 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 only 60% 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 three Goals, i.e. Goals 3 on health, 4 on education and 10 on inequalities. 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 Sweden’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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