This article was first published in April 2022. The OECD Forum Network is a space for experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society—to discuss and develop solutions now and for the future.
In 2015, all UN member states agreed on an ambitious plan of action for people, planet and prosperity that seeks to strengthen universal peace and foster partnerships. With a set of 17 goals and 169 targets, all UN member states committed to tackle the greatest challenges by 2030.
The 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a call to act for a better and more sustainable future for all. But how far have OECD countries travelled to reach the SDGs? How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted countries’ progress? And how large are the information gaps on the road travelled so far?
The OECD Centre on Well-being, Inclusion, Sustainability and Equal Opportunity (WISE) has just released a new report, The Short and Winding Road to 2030: Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets, that answers these questions. The report helps OECD Member countries assess the direction and pace of their trajectory, exploring both strengths and areas where additional policy and statistical efforts are needed.
What are some of our main findings?
With less than 10 years to go, strong policy actions will be needed to fulfil the entire 2030 Agenda. So far, the OECD area as a whole has met or is close to meeting 28 of the 112 targets for which performance can be gauged. These achievements relate to securing basic needs and implementing policy tools and frameworks for the SDGs. On the negative side, 21 targets appear to be far from being met.
OECD countries should foster inclusion. One in eight OECD residents is income poor and, over the past decades, most OECD countries have not made sufficient progress towards poverty reduction. Despite some progress, many population groups including women, young adults and migrants are facing additional challenges. In addition, unhealthy behaviours such as malnutrition and tobacco consumption, which appear to be more common among low socio-economic groups, and educational disparities compound challenges for the most disadvantaged.
Available data show a long-term decrease in people’s trust in institutions in developed countries. Trust between citizens and their governments is crucial for the legitimacy and functioning of democracies. Trust in government reflects a mix of economic, social and political interactions between citizens and government. While the OECD has identified five main public governance drivers of trust in government institutions—responsiveness of services, reliability of policies, openness, integrity, and fairness—our report shows that OECD countries have not yet made enough progress in areas critical for trust. Among others, this includes Target 16.6 that aims to “develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels”, and Target 16.7 that urges countries to “ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”.
Environmental pressures are rising. In OECD countries progress has been made on many fronts including energy intensity, water use and municipal waste management. While some of these positive developments are attributable to policy action and technical advances, the displacement of resource- and pollution-intensive production abroad also explains some of this progress. In addition, the use of material resources to support economic growth remains high, and many valuable materials continue to be disposed of as waste. Despite some progress on the climate and biodiversity front, emissions are hardly declining, threats to terrestrial and marine biodiversity have risen and none of the 21 Aichi Biodiversity Targets that should have been fulfilled by 2020 have been met by all OECD countries.
OECD average distance from the SDGs
How has COVID-19 affected progress towards the SDGs?
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected OECD countries’ progress towards meeting the targets of the 2030 Agenda. The recession triggered by the COVID-19 crisis has been the most severe—yet the shortest—since World War II. While OECD countries have responded to the crisis at the necessary scale and speed, most governments were unprepared to confront this crisis. The pandemic has also exacerbated some long-standing structural weaknesses of OECD countries, challenged institutions and put sources of public financing under pressure.
On the brighter side, thanks to the reduction in economic activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a temporary improvement of environmental conditions. Governments revisited long-held assumptions about the role of macro-economic policies, leading to fiscal responses on a scale not observed over the past 50 years. Finally, the good news may be that recovery packages deployed by most OECD governments provide an opportunity to “build back better” and strengthen systemic resilience to cope with future shocks.
Can data gaps have an influence on countries’ assessment and decisions?
If data gaps are not carefully understood we may develop biased conclusions. For instance, if the SDG reporting framework is incomplete, not up to date or fails to represent all segments of the population, any inference about the efficiency of policies risks being flawed. The same is true if SDG diagnostic tools cannot provide a comprehensive assessment of most recent trends, especially in times of uncertainty. While available data make it possible to cover 136 of the 169 targets, some do not properly capture current outcomes nor performance over time. This highlights the continued importance of the SDGs statistical agenda, to which the OECD remains fully committed. This report provides a vivid illustration of this.
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