Measuring distance to the SDG targets – Iceland

Iceland has already achieved 21 of the 120 SDG targets for which comparable data are available and, based on most recent trends, is expected to meet 6 additional targets by 2030 (Figure 1). As virtually all OECD countries, Iceland 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). In addition, inequality and poverty are low and Iceland is at the forefront on the use of green sources of energy. Yet, Iceland remains further away from meeting some of the targets relating to resource-use efficiency and on the protection of marine biodiversity. Also, missing data significantly limit the comprehensiveness of this assessment.

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

Income inequality is low in Iceland yet, as most OECD countries, it has not been immune from the recent rise (Target 10.1). Iceland also has one of the lowest relative income poverty rates in the OECD, a rate that has been fairly stable over the past decades (Targets 1.2 and 10.2). Low levels of inequality and poverty are partly explained by the breadth of its social protection (Target 1.3) – though only a third of the poor working-age population receives secondary out-of-work benefits. Still, while increasing over time, redistribution appears to be lower than in most OECD countries (Target 10.4). A dynamic labour market also contributes to low inequalities and poverty. Average hourly earnings are among the highest in the OECD (USD PPP 21 per hour in 2018) and both the unemployment rate (5% in 2020) and the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training (9% in 2020) are well below the OECD average (Targets 8.5 and 8.6). On gender equality, Iceland is also at the forefront. Within the OECD area, Iceland has one of the most comprehensive legal frameworks to foster gender equality (Target 5.1) and women are well represented in top positions in both the public and economic spheres (Target 5.5 and 16.7), even if parity is not achieved yet. Women hold 40% of seats in national parliament and 47% of those in deliberative bodies of local government. In the economic sphere, they make up more than 40% of managerial position.

Health status are high and behavioural risk factors are below the OECD average. Iceland’s population enjoys good access to health care, high immunisation rates (Target 3.b) and broad benefits packages, while the mortality rate due to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory disease is around the OECD average, thanks to good prevention policies (Target 3.4). Still, behavioural risk factors are major drivers of morbidity and mortality in Iceland as in most OECD countries. While both alcohol and tobacco consumption are below the OECD average (Targets 3.5 and 3.a), obesity is well above the OECD average (Target 2.2) and both obesity and tobacco consumption have been on the rise. Beyond such risk factors, Iceland already meets Targets 3.6 on road traffic accidents, 3.7 on access to sexual healthcare (the adolescent fertility rate, at 4 per 1 000 women aged 15-19 in 2019, is very low) and (before the COVID-19 pandemic hit) it was close to be meeting Target 3.3 on communicable diseases.

Iceland is at the forefront on the use of green sources of energy. Almost all of the country's electricity generation and more than a three quarter of its total final energy consumption come from renewable sources, well above the OECD average (Target 7.2). Still, the plentiful and cheap renewable sources of energy have limited efforts toward greater energy efficiency (Target 7.3) and Iceland has, by far, the highest level of energy intensity – almost four times the OECD average – although this partly reflects Iceland’s cold climate, low population density and energy-intensive industries. Beyond the energy sector, Iceland reports good performances on other environment related targets. Mean human exposure to PM2.5 in cities (at 6 µg per cubic meter in 2019) is below the WHO-recommended level, and has been decreasing (Target 11.6). Protected areas cover a fifth of its total land, implying that Iceland is already meeting Target 15.1 and the corresponding Aichi Biodiversity Target. While the loss of biodiversity is a global concern, the conservation status of major species in Iceland is better than in most OECD countries (Targets 2.5 and 15.5). Still, only a third of freshwater and mountain areas and a fifth of terrestrial areas that are considered as key for biodiversity are protected (Targets 15.1 and 15.4).

There is scope to further improve environmental performance in Iceland. As noted above, while Iceland has by far the highest share of renewables in energy among OECD countries, it shows a very low level of energy efficiency (Target 7.3). Similarly, water-use efficiency is low – the level of freshwater abstraction per capita is 10 times the OECD average (Target 6.4). Beyond resource efficiency, Iceland is around the OECD average on greenhouse gas emissions intensity (Target 13.2). The protection of marine biodiversity is also a challenge. Protected marine areas covers less than 1% of Iceland’s Exclusive Economic Zone (Target 14.5) and, as observed in many OECD countries, marine ecosystems suffer from eutrophication and marine debris (Target 14.1).

Like in many other OECD countries, data availability remains a challenge when measuring distances to targets (see the Overview chapter for details). Available data on the level of the different indicators allow covering 120 of the 169 targets. As shown in Figure 2 below, indicator coverage is uneven across the 17 goals. While six goals (within the People, Planet and Prosperity categories) have most of their targets covered (the indicator coverage exceeds 80%), coverage is lower for Goal 11 on cities and Goal 14 on life below water, with half their targets covered. Data gaps become starker when focusing on performance indicators, i.e. excluding those providing contextual information. In this case, coverage exceeds 80% only for Goal 3 on health. Moreover, for nine goals, mostly within the Planet category (Goals 12, 13, 14 and 15), but also for Goal 4 on quality education, Goal 5 on gender equality, Goal 11 on cities, Goal 16 on peace and Goal 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 Iceland’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.

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD 2022

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at