Sustainable development goals and rich countries: what the figures say

I read an interesting report last week from the Bertelsmann Foundation about whether OECD countries are ready for the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or not.

These goals, also called the Global Goals, were adopted at the UN general assembly on 25 September 2015 and constitute the blueprint for international cooperation and development work for the next 15 years, just like their predecessors the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) paved the way for improvements in health, education and other important areas in several developing countries between 2000-2015.

Key findings from first SDG Index

The report, titled Sustainable Development Goals: Are the rich countries ready?, offers the first SDG index for OECD countries, based on data tracked either directly by OECD or collected through it. The report looks at the indicators for each SDG (there are 17 SDGs and 34 indicators) and evaluates how each of the 34 OECD country is doing on each of those. I especially like a sentence from Christian Kroll, author of the report, that

In terms of sustainable development, all countries are now developing countries.

The key findings are also worth sharing:

  • OECD countries vary greatly in their capacity to meet the sustainable development goals.
  • No one country performs outstandingly in every goal.
  • Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Switzerland can be considered ready for the SDGs and top the ranks of the SDG Index.
  • Greece, Chile, Hungary, Turkey and Mexico sit at the bottom of the SDG Index.

The critical outcome from the report is that “the SDGs will not just require rich countries to  increase development funds for others; they will need fundamental policy changes in their own countries”. In other words, increasing ODA levels will not be sufficient to meet the SDGs by 2030.

The report’s aim is ambitious: it is to guide policy and SDG implementation work in those 34 countries for the next 15 years.It also offers a quick view on where countries need to improve and where they can serve as an inspiration for others. It is structured in two main parts – country profiles and performance by goal, and features many useful diagrams.

Another way to look at the data: a circle diagram

Here is my contribution to the conversation around rich countries and their level of readiness for the SDGs: I’ve come up with a circle diagram (homemade, as I’m pretty useless with the more professional visualization tools out there, including the excellent but far too complex Circos).

The diagram reads as follows: on the left, countries with their SDG Index position, and coloured in green if they are above the SDG Index average (6.58) or red if they are below average. On the right, the 17 goals subdivided into 2 indicators per goal.

The diagram provides an at-a-glance idea of countries performing really well (dark green – best – and light green – second best – lines) and countries performing poorly (dark red – worst – and light red – second worst – lines).

It also shows that some countries, including Australia, Estonia, South Korea and Luxembourg, have very polarised results, performing very well on some SDGs and badly on others. It also helps identify clusters of countries who systematically perform well or badly on specific SDGs. I’m sure if someone would have the patience of transferring the data into a proper database for visualisation, much more could be said about the diagram, especially if it were to become interactive. I’d love to see a similar index developed for all countries, so that consistent monitoring can be put in place towards achievement of the SDGs.

The next steps would be evaluation and learning from success stories. This is what social entrepreneurs recently had to say about the SDGs and willingness of world leaders to make it a truly transformational agenda for 2030:

What do these results tell you about our readiness in rich countries to implement the SDGs? How is your country performing?

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