Launch of “Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets”


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

OECD, France -20 May 2019

(As prepared for delivery) 




Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends from the Media:

I am delighted to launch our study “Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets: An Assessment of Where OECD Countries Stand”. This is already the third edition of the study, which sends a clear message on the significance of this topic.

The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, with its 17 goals and 169 targets, was a landmark achievement. It seems even more impressive today, when multilateral co-operation is being challenged and when it would have been practically impossible to achieve the necessary consensus. In September, leaders will gather at the UN in New York to take stock of the progress in achieving the SDGs so far.

To support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, in November 2016 the OECD adopted an Action Plan on the SDGs. Leveraging OECD data to analyse progress is one of the cornerstones of the Action Plan. The OECD continues to contribute to the United Nations-led Global Indicator Framework and is the custodian or partner agency on a number of indicators, such as official development assistance (ODA) or the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI). We are also helping developing countries to build the capacity of their statistical offices through initiatives such as Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century (PARIS 21).

The report we launch today shows that even in the most developed countries in the world – i.e. the OECD members - there is still a lot to do to realise the collective vision for 2030, a short 11 years away. It is a call to action!


Our study finds considerable differences in performance across targets

Our study finds OECD countries’ performance differs considerably across targets. For example, on SDG 3 on Health, OECD countries have already reduced the maternal, neonatal and infant mortality rates to the levels set in the Agenda, but are still very far from reaching targets related to tobacco and alcohol consumption. This highlights the importance of focusing on individual, more specific targets, (169) rather than goals, (17) for priority and policy setting.

Our countries are also already meeting a number of environmental targets, although in some cases - such as climate - it simply reflects the low ambition of these targets. In addition, data does not provide an accurate picture about the devastating consequences of failing to achieve the climate goal, even if the distance to travel should be small.

OECD countries still have a lot to do in order to “leave no-one behind” and achieve the SDGs. There are many examples in the report, let me share just a few:

Target 1.2 calls for halving relative income poverty rates. On average, in the OECD countries, 14.3% of the people have incomes below the relative poverty threshold that we use in the OECD, and this rate has been increasing, rather than falling, over the past three decades.

Target 8.6 aims to substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training (NEET). On average, in OECD countries, about 1 in 7 young people are in this situation, and in some countries this rate is as high as 1 in 4.

In addition, 28% of our 15-year-old students and 26% of adults do not achieve minimum proficiency levels in numerical skills, related to Targets 4.1 and 4.6, respectively. And last, but very important, not a single OECD country has yet achieved gender equality.

In terms of moving-average performance, time series data (available for 76 indicators) show that most OECD countries have been progressing towards targets relating to health, gender equality and the five “Planet” goals. The most notable areas of worsening performance pertain to targets on obesity; vaccination coverage; the conservation status of major species groups and their risk of extinction over time. The study also shows underferformance related to a number of targets on the economy: GDP, productivity growth, and unemployment. For most indicators, however, at least one third of OECD countries display no visible trend.


Data gaps persist

When interpreting these results, it is critical to recognise that we are still missing a lot of data to provide a comprehensive picture. Of the 169 targets in the Agenda, our report includes data for a majority of OECD countries for just 105 targets. Most data gaps are concentrated in specific areas, such as the environment. For the goals on Oceans and Sustainable Consumption and Production, for example, we cover only 30% of the targets! If, as we often say, “only what gets measured gets done”, then we run a huge risk of neglecting those targets where good measurements are simply not available.


The study covers new ground

In comparison to the previous editions, we have nevertheless extended the coverage of targets and countries . The report released today also shows current distances from SDG targets for the OECD average but also for individual OECD countries. This is important, as OECD countries do not all start from the same position: the spread in OECD countries’ performances is narrow in some areas such as energy but much wider in others such as income poverty and inequality. Two other novel features of the analysis are assessing trends in performance and looking at the transboundary impact within the 2030 Agenda. The challenge of a comprehensive assessment of transboundary impacts of any country on any other country and global public goods cannot be met with the information currently available. We will keep exploring this important part of the monitoring work going forward.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint for a better world. They are multilateral co-operation at its best, but also a test to multilateralism in times when people are challenging its effectiveness. We cannot fail! We owe it to billions of people that live in precarious circumstances; we owe it to the planet and to the millions of species at risk of extinction. We owe it to our children and the next generations. We need to accelerate. The OECD will keep helping to achieve this historic commitment.


See also:

OECD work on Development


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