Measuring distance to the SDG targets – Germany

Germany has already achieved 25 of the 130 SDG targets for which comparable data are available and, based on most recent trends, is expected to meet 12 additional targets (Figure 1). As virtually all OECD countries, Germany 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). Further, Germany has an attractive labour market, has been very successful at activating skills of the workforce, and has pursued an ambitious environmental policy. While there is scope for improvement, Germany reports good achievements in terms of peace, justice and institutions (Goal 16) as well as Partnerships (Goal 17). Yet, challenges remain. As in many OECD countries, long-term growth of GDP (Target 8.1) and labour productivity (Target 8.2) have been slowing down over the past decades while important challenges also relate to unequal opportunities for women and minorities.

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

Germany has pursued an ambitious and comprehensive environmental policy. Germany is a leader on waste management, topping 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). Germany is also well below the OECD average on waste from food services and retails but close to the OECD average when it comes to household’s food wastes. When it comes to the protection of biodiversity, protected areas cover 38% of the terrestrial area and 45% of the territorial sea, well beyond the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Yet, more than 20% of freshwater, terrestrial, mountain and marine areas that are considered as key for biodiversity are not protected (Targets 14.5, 15.1, 15.4). As many other OECD countries, Germany has implemented some of the policy instruments listed under the Planet category, including on Targets 14.6 on harmful subsidies to fisheries, 15.6 on benefits from genetic resources and 15.8 on invasive alien species. While the loss of biodiversity is a global concern, the conservation status of major species in Germany is better than in most OECD countries (Target 15.5).

Germany has an attractive labour market and has been very successful at activating skills of the workforce. Average hourly earnings are high and the unemployment rate is less than half the OECD average (Target 8.5). Germany has one of the most comprehensive social protection system (Target 1.3). While there is still scope for improvement, progress has been made in reducing the impact of socio-economic background on education outcomes (Target 4.5), as shown by better education outcomes (Target 4.1) and a steep rise in childcare enrolment (Target 4.2) show. Functional skills in numeracy and literacy (Target 4.6) as well as digital skills (Target 4.4) of German adults are above the OECD average, but fall short of leading countries. The vocational education and training (VET) system ensures the integration of young people in the labour market and most German youth are either in employment, education or in training (Target 8.6). Participation in life-long learning is also ahead of the OECD average but could be further enhanced (Target 4.3). High employment also benefit from the strength of some economic sectors. The share of manufacturing value added in GDP is large, at 17% in 2020, 3% above the OECD average (Target 9.2). Germany also has high researchers per capita and a high share of R&D expenditure in GDP in 2019 (Target 9.5).

While there is scope for improvement, Germany reports good achievements on both peace, justice and institutions (Goal 16) and partnerships (Goal 17). It is ahead of the OECD average on most indicators underpinning Targets 16.1 and 16.2 on violence (with the exception of the share of the population who experienced physical violence in the previous 12 months), and on citizens’ confidence in the judicial system (Target 16.6), which is 15 percentage points higher than the OECD average. Yet, on the rule of law (Target 16.3) and on inclusivity of decision making (Target 16.7), available measures provide a more nuanced picture, with Germany being close to the OECD average on most indicators. On Partnerships (Goal 17), Germany shows strong achievements in foreign trade with developing countries and market openness (Targets 17.10 and 17.12). Germany is also one of the few OECD countries exceeding the target on Official Development Assistance, with 0.74% of its GNI going to ODA (Target 17.2). While there is scope for improvements when it comes to aligning ODA to partner countries’ priorities and to country-owned results frameworks (Target 17.15), Germany is still ahead of the OECD average.

Although health status remains high, behavioural risk factors are a challenge to people’s health. Germany has the oldest social health insurance system in the world and access to health care is good. Very few households reports high out-of-pocket health expenditures (Target 3.8). Still, 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) is above the OECD average and, while smoking rates have been declining, the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, particularly among young people, is a cause for concern (Target 3.a). In addition, around one quarter of the population is obese (Target 2.2) and alcohol intake (Target 3.5) is well above the OECD average.

Tackling unequal opportunities for minorities and women requires further efforts. Germany still lacks a comprehensive legal framework to end discrimination against women (Target 5.1). While it achieves the highest score in the “employment and economic benefits” and “marriage and family” categories, there is scope for improvement on the “overarching legal frameworks and public life” and “violence against women”. Women remain underrepresented in decision-making positions in both the political and economic sphere (Target 5.5). Germany is one of the few OECD countries that even experienced a significant setback, with the share of women among members of parliament falling by more than 5 percentage and reverting to the level that prevailed in 1998. In the private sphere, German women spend longer time in unpaid care and domestic work than men (Target 5.4) – but this gap is 35 minutes below the OECD average. Beyond gender, Germany only partially meets the requirements to facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration (Target 10.7). It also reports a low score on diversity of central government workforce and is thus far from meeting Target 16.7 on inclusive decision-making.

Like in many other OECD countries, data availability remains a challenge when measuring distances to targets (see the Overview chapter for details). For Germany, available data on the level of the different indicators allows covering 130 of the 169 targets. As shown in Figure 2 below, indicator coverage is uneven across the 17 goals. Ten goals (mostly within the People, Planet and Prosperity categories) have most of their targets covered (the indicator coverage exceeds 80%), but coverage is lower for Goal 11 on cities, 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% only for Goal 3 on health, Goal 4 on education and Goal 10 on inequalities. Moreover, for seven goals, mostly within 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 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 Germany’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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