CBS explores SDGs: starting point for a public debate

© Hollandse Hoogte
Last 4 November, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) published an exploratory report on the measurement of SDGs for the Netherlands, ‘Measuring the SDGs: an initial picture for the Netherlands'. The report gives an outline of progress the country has made so far on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, it describes how the Netherlands is faring compared to other EU countries. The CBS publication serves as a basis for a broad public debate on SDGs: which of the sustainability goals require more attention, how are they going to be monitored? In these discussions, CBS is fulfilling a key role.

Solid mid-tier

According to this CBS publication, a picture emerges of the Netherlands as a solid mid-tier in Europe. Domains in which the country is performing well include the economy, the rule of law and institutions. Performance is lower on climate protection, renewable energy and economic and social inequality. For instance, greenhouse gas emissions per capita are still at relatively high levels and the healthy life expectancy of women ranks low among countries around the European Union.

UN goals

The CBS study – which received wide media coverage in the Netherlands – was carried out in connection with the formulation by all UN members of 17 sustainable development goals (and 169 targets) in September 2015: the so-called SDGs. Internationally, 230 different indicators have been proposed which measure progress. These goals apply to the period 2015-2030 and are marked around the globe as the most important policy issues for the coming fifteen years. Altogether 193 countries have committed to all possible efforts in promoting the achievement of the set objectives relating to prosperity, security and justice.

Major challenge

National statistical institutes (NSIs) play a key role in monitoring achievement of the set objectives. They are facing a major challenge as there is no corresponding data available yet for all SDGs indicators. With the exploratory CBS study ‘Meten van SDGs: een eerste beeld voor Nederland’, an accurate outline of the sustainable development goals for the Netherlands is presented for the first time, as well as a first comparison among European countries. Mr Gerard Eding, National Accounts department director at CBS, says on the report: ‘Our assessment shows that at present, indicators are available in the Netherlands for over one third of all SDGs’. Eding has been involved closely in the preparation of this report: ‘Being able to measure over one third of all SDG indicators on the basis of existing data is a nice start. Although it sounds like a low number, only a few other developed countries have higher percentages. Then again, this demonstrates there is still much work to be done; many SDG indicators still need to be developed.’

Public debate

On which (sub) targets should the focus be? How are steps towards achieving the SDGs to be measured? These and more questions will be discussed during the broad public debate that is partly initiated by the CBS report. ‘The SDGs are a snapshot’, explains Marieke Rensman, researcher in Sustainability and one of the authors of the CBS exploratory report. ‘They focus more on the here and now, and less on the impact our actions will have in the longer run. Take education, for example, where the SDGs indicate what we are investing at the moment; will this be enough for later? Will it be enough to achieve the goals set for 2030? And which goals does the Netherlands want to put its money towards first? This implies choices to be made, by politicians, policymakers, businesses and NGOs. Such decisions are important for us as they provide the core direction for the research work we are undertaking. Questions that must be answered include: which missing indicators should be developed first, and how do we tailor the necessary funding for this research accordingly?’


On 8 December 2016, around 450 participants from among central government and the private sector as well as NGOs will be gathering at Rotterdam Erasmus University for the ‘Transform your World’ conference. They will discuss possible ways to deliver the targets set for 2030. CBS has been invited to present the results of its initial SDG measurements for the Netherlands. What role does CBS play in this broad public debate? Eding: ‘We have taken on the role of linchpin, of coordinator in the field of data collection and progress monitoring. The current publication demonstrates this, and so will our future national reporting on monitoring of the SDGs.’