© ANP / Joosten Fotografie

The story

The idea behind the Monitor of Well-being and the Sustainable Development Goals is to provide a quantitative footing for the description of where the Netherlands stands – and the choices it faces – in terms of well-being. To do this, the monitor examines trends in Dutch well-being ‘here and now’, ‘later’ and ‘elsewhere’, focusing on medium-term developments in well-being and the SDGs, i.e. trends across the period 2015-2022.

CBS publishes the Monitor of Well-being and the Sustainable Development Goals annually at the request of the Dutch House of Representatives. The report started out as the Monitor of Well-being, but since its second edition, in 2019, it includes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Well-being and the SDGs have a lot in common, but they also complement each other: well-being conveys a general intention, while the SDG-agenda translates this intention into concrete targets to be realised by 2030. The monitor comprises a range of data, analyses and background information, for policymakers as well as the general public, on how the country is doing on various aspects of well-being, and on progress in terms of the SDGs in the Netherlands.

It was the House of Representatives’ Temporary Committee on a Broad Definition of Welfare that recommended that well-being should be monitored, alongside economic growth. CBS was subsequently commissioned to define and measure Dutch well-being in accordance with the Conference of European Statisticians (CES) Recommendations on Measuring Sustainable Development (UNECE, 2014). You can read more about the measurement framework used in the monitor here . In addition, the explanatory notes contain information on definitions , selection of indicators and statistical methods and colour codes used in the graphics.

The monitor is constructed around a structured set of indicators, each showing the medium-term trend and how the Netherlands’ is faring compared with other countries in the European Union (EU27) in the form of rankings. Together, the indicators show the most recent status of and medium-term trends in well-being ‘here and now’, ‘later’ and ‘elsewhere’. They also describe how well-being ‘here and now’ is distributed across certain groups in the Dutch population, and the country’s progress on the SDGs. Lastly, the indicators give an insight into how resilient Dutch well-being is

Well-being
Sustainable Development Goals
Well-being within planetary boundaries

Well-being

The definition of well-being used here is in line with common international definitions and reads:

Well-being refers to the quality of life here and now and the extent to which it is or is not achieved at the expense of the well-being of future generations and/or people elsewhere in the world.

Based on these three dimensions of well-being, the monitor comprises three dashboards:

  • Well-being ‘here and now’ concerns people’s personal characteristics and the quality of the environment in which they live; more generally, it relates to their material well-being and welfare, and how they perceive these.
  • Well-being ‘later’ refers to resources that future generations will need to achieve the same level of well-being as the present generation;
  • Well-being ‘elsewhere’ relates to effects of choices Dutch people make on other countries, specifically on jobs, income, resources (renewable and non-renewable) and the environment there.

Sustainable Development Goals

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by the United Nations in 2015: heads of state and government of 193 countries committed to achieving the agenda for sustainable development by 2030 (UN, 2015). We are now over half way through the period within which these goals are to be achieved.

Since 2019, the SDGs have been completely integrated in the description of well-being in the Netherlands, and have helped shape how CBS monitors it. The monitor explains how the well-being indicators interconnect, for example, and expressly includes the SDG agenda – a valuable policy framework in the Netherlands – in its analysis of Dutch well-being.

Well-being within planetary boundaries

Individual people are at the heart of well-being: their freedom of choice, the choices they actually make to render their lives meaningful, and the effects of these choices on future generations and on people in other countries combine to make up well-being ‘here and now’, ‘later’ and ‘elsewhere’. But well-being is not just an individual affair. People are part of collectives; their actions are directed by structures and institutions and they are often dependent on systems over which they have no individual control.

To understand how well-being of countries and populations is formed, we need to think in terms of systems. This system-based thinking can also be used to understand how well-being relates to the SDGs, and vice versa (see figure below).

How the SDGs connect to three well-being themesFigure showing how the SDGs are linked to the overarching themes of biosphere, society and economyBiosphereBiosphereSocietySocietyEconomyEconomy
How the SDGs connect to three well-being themesFigure showing how the SDGs are linked to the overarching themes of biosphere, society and economyBiosphereBiosphereSocietySocietyEconomyEconomy

Well-being relies on three main systems: the biosphere, which makes life possible; society, which gives people a sense of purpose in terms of relations and interactions with each other; and the economy, which has to meet material needs such as food, clothing and a place to live. These three underlying systems are hierarchical: no life without a biosphere, no economy without a society.

Keeping the planet habitable for the human race relies on healthy planetary systems. The most important of these is the biosphere, which comprises all areas where life is possible. Human activity, with its greenhouse gas emissions, environmental pollution and damage to ecosystems, is increasing pressure on these systems. If this pressure becomes too high, the system may reach a tipping point, and once it passes this point it may change irrevocably. This point is called the planetary boundary.

Planetary boundaries explicitly concern the liveability of earth for humans, i.e. well-being. The ultimate challenge in this respect is to provide a sustainable quality of life within these planetary boundaries and a fair distribution of well-being across a growing population. The SDG agenda describes the fundamental choices we need to make to do this. The SDGs centre on well-being ‘here and now’, ‘later’ and ‘elsewhere’: the five Ps (people, planet, peace, prosperity and partnerships), taking into account our footprint beyond our borders and inclusiveness as a fundamental principle (‘leave no one behind’).