Measuring distance to the SDG targets – France

France has already achieved 20 of the 134 SDG targets for which comparable data are available and based on most recent trends it is expected to meet 8 additional targets by 2030 (Figure 1). As virtually all OECD countries, France 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). On some aspects, France also reports a high environmental performance and, thanks to the high level of redistribution, low-income inequality. Yet, strengthening everyone skills and fostering job growth remain big challenges.

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

The high level of redistribution achieved through taxes and transfers contribute to low income inequality. France has a comprehensive social assistance framework (Target 1.3) and one of the highest level on redistribution through taxes and transfers (Target 10.4). Therefore, despite low employment rate and other labour market problems (Target 8.5), the income poverty rate is well below the OECD average (Targets 1.2 and 10.2) and the income of the bottom 40% of the population has recently been growing at a faster pace than average income (Target 10.1). On gender inequality, while there is scope for progress, France often outperforms the OECD average. France is slightly above the average in terms of its legal framework to foster gender equality (Targets 5.1 and 5.3) and, even if the parity is not achieved yet, women are well represented in the parliament (Target 5.5). Yet, parity is far from being achieved in the private and economic spheres. Women still spend more time on unpaid care and housework than men – although this gap is 40 minutes below the OECD average (Target 5.4) and only a third of all managerial positions are held by women (Target 5.5). When considering effects beyond national borders, France financial transfers to other countries are limited but higher than the OECD average. In terms of financial flows for development, while France is the fifth provider of Official Development Assistance in absolute terms, 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).

The environmental performance of France is relatively good when it comes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and education to sustainability. Owing to its predominantly nuclear electricity generation capacity, France’s GHG emissions intensity has declined and is among the lowest in the OECD (Targets 9.4 and 13.2). However, there is scope to improve on energy intensity (Target 7.3) and the share of renewables in the total electricity generation is only half the OECD average (Target 7.2). France is also among the top OECD performers in terms of domestic material consumption (Targets 8.4 and 12.2) thanks to high recovery from municipal waste but food waste remains high (Target 12.3). When it comes to biodiversity, protected areas cover a third of the terrestrial area and half of the territorial sea, well beyond the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. In addition, around 80% of freshwater, terrestrial and marine areas that are key for biodiversity are already protected (Targets 14.5, 15.1, 15.4). France has also implemented some of the policy instruments listed under the Planet category and it has mainstreamed global citizenship education and education for sustainable development in students’ curricula, national education policies, teacher education and student assessment (Targets 4.7, 12.8 and 13.3).

More progress needs to be achieved in improving skills and addressing disparities in education outcomes. On average, French students’ proficiency in reading and mathematics at the end of their primary and secondary education falls far short of minimum target levels (Target 4.1). Education outcomes also greatly depend on students’ socio-economic background, migrant status, gender and location (Target 4.5). In 2018, France was the country with the lowest proportion of teachers who received in-service training in the last 12 months (Target 4.c). In addition, around one quarter of adults cannot achieve a minimum proficiency in literacy and numeracy (Target 4.6); compared to the OECD average, many adults and young people lack ICT skills (Target 4.4).

Sluggish economic growth and poor job prospects weigh on well-being. On average over the past 15 years, growth of GDP and labour productivity have been among the lowest in the OECD area (Targets 8.1 and 8.2) and labour markets challenges remain significant. While declining, the unemployment rate remains comparatively high (Target 8.5) and the share of youth not in employment, education and training exceeds 15% (Target 8.6). While services play a key role in the economy, the share of manufacturing value added in GDP is low and decreasing; at 9%, it was in 2020 5 percentage points below the OECD average (Target 9.2).

While France has many strengths when it comes to environment preservation, pressures on human health and biodiversity remain significant. Marine pollution is significant; available measures suggest that France is ahead the OECD average on both marine debris and nutrient pollution (Target 14.1). While decreasing, air pollution remains above WHO recommendations (Targets 12.5 and 11.6). By virtue of its position in Europe and its overseas territories, France is one of the world’s more diverse countries. Yet, almost eight in ten local breeds with known level of extinction risk are classified as being at risk (Target 2.5) and, according to the Red List Index of Threatened Species, France experienced over the past two decades the second highest loss in biodiversity observed among OECD countries (Target 15.5).

Like in many other OECD countries, data availability remains a challenge when measuring distances to targets (see the Overview chapter for details). For France, available data on the level of the different indicators allow covering 134 of the 169 targets. As shown in Figure 2 below, indicator coverage is uneven across the 17 goals. Ten goals (within the People, Planet and Prosperity categories) have most of their targets covered (the indicator coverage exceeds 80%), but coverage is lower for Goal 14 on life below water, with 60% 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, Goal 4 on education and Goal 10 on reduced inequalities. Moreover, for eight goals, mostly within the Planet category (Goals 12, 13, 14 and 15) but also in Goals 5 on gender equality, 11 on cities, 16 on peace and 17 on partnerships, the 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 France’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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