SDGs: a broader perspective on sustainable development

/ Author: Masja de Ree
© Hollandse Hoogte / Clemens Rikken
25 September is SDG Action Day: it is exactly three years ago that 193 world leaders put their signatures to the agreement on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the Netherlands this will be celebrated by a conference at KIT/SDG House in Amsterdam. As one of various Dutch stakeholders, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) will contribute by delivering a presentation.

Knowledge and expertise

By establishing the 17 SDGs in 2015, the United Nations are working towards a more sustainable future across the world. The Netherlands, too, has committed to realise these sustainability goals. ‘To realise a goal, you have to measure your progress,’ says Lieneke Hoeksma, sustainability statistician at CBS. ‘This is why an international system of over 240 indicators has been agreed upon. In 2016, CBS took the initiative to chart the state of affairs on the SDGs in the Netherlands. We were the first statistical office in the world to do so and we’ve received a lot of praise for this work, both nationally and internationally.’ Hermanus Rietveld, SDG coordinator at CBS: ‘Our first report on the SDGs was published November 2016. Other countries are now benefiting from our knowledge and expertise.’

Areas of concern

The initial inventory in 2016 resulted in a baseline measurement. In 2018, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned a second report with an updated state of affairs. Hoeksma: ‘It showed that on many sustainability goals, the Netherlands is doing relatively well.’ Developments are positive in the areas of employment and economic growth, sustainable consumption and production as well as peace, security and justice. But there are also areas of concern, mainly in the fields of environment, climate, energy and equal opportunities. Hoeksma: ‘In terms of renewable energy production, for instance, we are at the bottom of the European ranking.’

Continued development

CBS is now in a position to measure 51 percent of the official indicators. This coverage was realised through collaboration with many other organisations. Rietveld: ‘We’ll never get to 100 percent, but we don’t need to: not all indicators are relevant for the Netherlands. Information for the indicators is sourced from existing data, from both CBS and other organisations in the Netherlands.’ In an international context, 51 percent coverage is relatively high. But CBS is still looking further. Rietveld: ‘We are reaching out to civil society, but also to the private sector, for instance, who may be able to help us to develop new indicators. We are also working with municipalities through our Urban Data Centres and other forms of collaboration.’ The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs feels it is important to continue work on the SDGs and to continue to play a leading role internationally. Hoeksma: ‘You have to constantly measure the facts if you want to monitor whether - and if so how - your society is becoming more sustainable.’

Monitor of Well-being

In the short term, CBS is looking at ways of integrating SDG monitoring into its Monitor of Well-being, which provides an even broader view of sustainable development. Rietveld: ‘The House of Representatives has also requested this.’ A lot of effort is being put into merging the two publications, which will result in a new report to be published in May next year. Rietveld: ‘At the moment we are weighing up the choices we have to make. This is not easy. The two monitors are based on different measurement systems and have different target groups. Every choice we make may mean that a certain indicator can no longer be included. But if we manage to merge the two smoothly, we’ll have created a powerful instrument that will be incredibly valuable in the public debate. This will serve to showcase the innovative force of the Netherlands in an international perspective.’