Measuring distance to the SDG targets – Italy

Italy has already achieved 17 of the 135 SDG targets for which comparable data are available and, based on most recent trends, is expected to meet 10 additional targets by 2030 (Figure 1). As virtually all OECD countries, Italy 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). Italy also shows some strengths on a few environment related goals and on most health outcomes. Yet, long-standing social and economic challenges remain.

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

Italy shows strengths on some environment related goals. Italy reports high achievements on waste management. It tops the OECD league on recycling (Targets 11.6 and 12.5) while the per capita consumption of materials decreased despite economic growth (Targets 8.4 and 12.2). Italy is also well below the OECD average on food waste from households and retailers but close to the OECD average when it comes to restaurants and other food services (Target 12.3). When it comes to the protection of biodiversity, protected areas cover 21% of the terrestrial area and 10% of the territorial sea, just above the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Yet, around 25% terrestrial, mountain and marine areas and 15% of freshwater areas that are considered as key for biodiversity are not protected (Targets 14.5, 15.1, 15.4). As in most OECD countries, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (an indicator of the extinction risk across groups of species) confirms that biodiversity is falling (Target 15.5).

Health performance is also better than in most OECD countries. Mortality from cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory disease is lower in Italy than the OECD average (Target 3.4). This reflects a lower prevalence of many risk factors compared to other OECD countries, and a health care system that is generally effective in treating patients with life-threatening conditions. Prevalence of alcohol use disorders is almost nil (at 1.3%), and significantly below the OECD average (Target 3.5). But, as in all OECD countries, malnutrition is on the rise, although the obesity rate remains half the OECD average (Target 2.2). Some health challenges remain though. For instance, mean population exposure to PM2.5 is well above WHO recommendations (Target 11.6) and air pollution weigh heavily on health prospects (Target 3.9).

Reviving economic growth is one of Italy’s main challenges. Over the past decades, growth of both GDP and labour productivity have been low or negative (Targets 8.1 and 8.2). While the labour force participation rate has converged towards the OECD average, unemployment remains high and the proportion of young people not in education, employment or education (at 23% in 2020) is well above the OECD average (Target 8.6). When considering effects beyond national borders, Italy’s financial transfers to other countries are limited and lower than the OECD average. In terms of financial flows for development, ODA remains below the 0.7% of GNI target (Target 17.2). In addition, as in most OECD countries, the high cost of sending migrants’ remittances limits their full potential on the development prospects of recipient countries (Target 10.c). Italy also shows low achievements in foreign trade with developing countries and market openness (Targets 10.a and 17.12).

Italy could do better in fostering inclusion. Income inequality and poverty rates rose sharply during the 2008 global financial crisis and remain high (Targets 10.2 and 1.2). Still, over the past two years, reforms have been significant. Poor households now have access to a guaranteed minimum income, conditional on using public employment and other social services. Around one in three adults lacks minimum proficiency in numeracy and literacy skills (Target 4.6), and adults’ participation in lifelong learning (42% in 2016) is low compared to other OECD countries (Target 4.3). Italy also lags behind most OECD countries in terms of the share of adults and young people with ICT skills useful for employment (Target 4.4). Moreover, differences in socio-economic background, gender, location and immigration status explain a large share of disparities in education outcomes (Target 4.5). Building effective vocational and education training and adult skill programmes would help reduce the high share of young not in employment or education and better match workers’ skills with the evolving needs of workplaces. Beyond education, Italy’s distance to target is also large for Targets 10.7 on migration policies. Italy is also far away from some targets relating to gender equality. The gender gap in unpaid work was around three hours a day in 2014 (one hour more than the OECD average) and women are underrepresented in the national and local parliaments, as well as in managerial positions (Targets 5.4 and 5.5).

Italy is also far from some targets within the Peace category. The prevalence of bribery is three times the OECD average, with 12% of firms reporting at least one bribe payment request in 2019 (Target 16.5). Only 35% of citizens trust the judicial system (Target 16.6). Decision-making could also be more inclusive: the OECD index of diversity of the central government workforce is slightly below the OECD average but women are underrepresented in the Italian parliament (Target 16.7). Italy is also at a large distance from achieving Target 16.3 on rule of law, with poor results on the index of civil justice and a low crime-reporting rate. Finally, Italy is one of the few OECD Member states without a National Human Rights Institution (Target 16.a).

Like in many other OECD countries, data availability remains a challenge when measuring distances to targets (see the Overview chapter for details). For Italy, available data on the level of the different indicators allow covering 135 of the 169 targets. As shown in Figure 2 below, indicator coverage is uneven across the 17 goals. While 11 goals (within the People, Planet and Prosperity categories) have most of their targets covered (the indicator coverage exceeds 80%), coverage is lower for Goals 5 on gender equality, 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 providing contextual information. In this case, coverage exceeds 80% for only three goals (Goals 3 on health, 4 on education and 10 on inequalities). Moreover, for seven goals, mostly within Planet category (Goals 12, 13, 14 and 15) but also Goals 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 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 Italy’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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