Looking at the future, people will need to have enough resources at their disposal to be able to enjoy the same level of well-being then as we have now. Well-being ‘later’ looks at trends in resources future generations will need to accomplish this. These resources, or capitals, can be divided into four types: economic, natural, human and social.
One of the central questions in the monitor, therefore, is: how sustainable is present well-being in the longer term? Constant demand for exhaustible raw materials and auxiliary products is putting increasing pressure on the availability of capital for future generations. For each of the four types of capital in the ‘later’ dashboard (economic, natural, human and social capital), we examine the well-being trend in the period 2015-2022 and the position of the Netherlands in the EU27. We discuss indicators with a green arrow (increase in well-being) or a red arrow (decrease well-being) in more detail, and place the trends in the wider context of the indicators in the SDG agenda.
Both as a society and an economy, the Netherlands is facing major challenges which affect well-being ‘later’: climate change and the energy transition, for example. Obviously, confronting these challenges costs money. But this spending should not be seen only as a cost; it is also an investment in well-being of current and future generations.
Physical and knowledge capital stable, high household debt burden
Economic capital comprises the machinery and tools, ICT, knowledge capital and infrastructure required to create material well-being and generate economic growth. Indicators for stocks of both physical and knowledge capital show a neutral medium-term trend. The Dutch stock of knowledge capital is among the best in the twelve EU countries for which 2021 data were available. For the stock of physical capital, the Netherlands is halfway down the group.
Household wealth and household debt are also relevant for economic capital, where debt is viewed as negative, and is offset by assets. Average Dutch household debt was nearly 106 thousand euros in 2021. The trend is rising (red) and the Netherlands is at the bottom end of the EU rankings (22nd out of 24 measured countries in 2021). However, the continued rise in the value of own homes in recent years has also pushed up median household wealth.
Indicators under SDG 9.2 Sustainable business and SDG 12 Responsible consumption and production are also relevant here. These show that Dutch manufacturers are relatively efficient in their use of raw materials. Within the EU, the Netherlands is even among the leaders in terms of raw materials productivity and domestic material consumption. Labour productivity (gross value added per hour worked) is also high in the Netherlands; the country has an advanced knowledge economy compared with other EU countries. SDG 9.3 knowledge and innovation shows favourable trends and a high to middling position for the Netherlands in the EU rankings for many innovation indicators.
SDG 10.2 Financial sustainability also contains indicators relating to debt and assets. First of all, government debt: this is increasing but GDP is growing at a faster rate, partly pushed up by inflation. At the end of 2022, Dutch government debt was 51.0 percent of GDP, 1.5 percentage points down on the end of 2021. The trend is downward, and the debt is still well below the formal European limit of a maximum 60 percent of GDP. During the coronavirus crisis, government debt peaked at 55.3 percent of GDP: support packages pushed up government spending while revenues dropped. The economy has now bounced back and the debt-to-GDP ratio is approaching its lowest score since the credit crisis (48.5 percent at the end of 2019).
For the financial position of households, in addition to the average total debt of households, the average mortgage debt of households is also relevant, and this is also trending upwards. As this is unfavourable from a perspective of long-term sustainability of well-being, both trends are red. Opposite the debts, households have financial assets (currency and deposits) and non-financial assets, such as their homes. Households’ median wealth is trending higher, mainly due to the continued strong rise in value of own homes. Savings also show an upward trend, which is positive for long-term well-being. These trends are green, just as the trend for the mortgage loan-to-value ratio and the value of mortgaged assets for home-owners under 35 years. It should be noted in this respect that not every form of wealth can be directly accessed by households in times of financial problems.
More renewable energy; condition of nature and ecosystems still cause for concern
Energy consumption and climate change
The operational capacity for renewable electricity in the Netherlands rose from 292 megawatts per million inhabitants in 2015 to 1,551 megawatts in 2022. This increase was mainly the result of new onshore and offshore wind farms, but the capacity of solar power installations also rose considerably. The Netherlands has now leapfrogged to the middle group of the EU, in eighth place: in 2019 the country was still near the bottom of the EU rankings. SDG 7 Affordable and clean energy shows that trends for investment in renewable energy and energy conservation are rising, just as employment in the renewable energy sector. The trend for total energy consumption, in terms of kilograms of oil equivalents per capita, is decreasing but is still high by European standards (23rd in the EU27 in 2021). The Dutch economy is becoming increasingly efficient in its energy use, however, as shown by the downward trend in energy intensity. The share of renewable energy in total energy consumption continues to rise, although the Netherlands is still in the rearguard of the EU.
Mineral reserves are also part of natural capital. As the Netherlands is still largely dependent on the combustion of fossil fuels for its energy, it needs sufficient reserves of oil and gas. SDG 7 Affordable and clean energy shows that Dutch oil and natural gas stocks have diminished further, and are therefore trending red: this is viewed as a less favourable situation for future generations.
Greenhouse gas emissions also show a red trend in the ‘later’ dashboard. Cumulative CO2 emissions, which give an indication of the Dutch share of global historical CO2 emissions, continue to rise. The amount of accumulated CO2 emissions is rising steadily, because more is now being emitted per capita than in the past. However, SDG 13 Climate action shows that greenhouse gas emissions per capita have decreased recently, to 8.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalents in 2022. This downward trend is positive from the perspective of well-being, but compared with other EU countries emissions remain high (22nd position out of 27 countries in 2020).
According to preliminary calculations by CBS and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment/national emissions register, greenhouse gas emissions were 31.6 percent lower in 2022 than in 1990. The reduction already exceeds the Urgenda target for 1990-2020, which is based on IPCC figures, by nearly seven percentage points. CBS also calculates emissions based on other criteria: in terms of emissions by the Dutch economy (in accordance with the Environmental accounts), and in terms of the greenhouse gas footprint. These emission figures are higher than the IPCC-based emissions, as they also include all emissions from biomass combustion and by the Dutch aviation and shipping industries
Quality of soil, water and air
Indicators on quality of soil, water and air in the ‘later’ dashboard are not very positive. Availability and quality of water are both under pressure; the percentage of surface water of good chemical quality is declining. In terms of both phosphorus and nitrogen surpluses, the Netherlands is among the worst performers in Europe, although data are only available for around half of EU countries. The nitrogen surplus is showing a downward medium-term trend (2015-2022), which is a positive sign.
SDG 6 Clean water and sanitation indicators relevant here show three trend changes: removal rates of nitrogen and phosphorus from urban waste water and abstraction of fresh surface water have all switched from favourable to neutral.
The dashboard for SDG 12 Responsible consumption and production shows that raw material productivity (euros of GDP per kilogram of material consumed) is still rising. The Netherlands continues to lead the way in Europe on this indicator. The Netherlands is also among the EU leaders for percentage of recycled municipal waste, although for recycled industrial waste the trend is decreasing (red).
SDG 11.2 Living environment addresses sustainability in local living environments. In this respect emissions of acidifying substances (sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides and ammonia) are declining and the trend for this air quality indicator is green.
In an international context, the Netherlands has committed to achieving the SDGs. At the national level, it aims to make Dutch economy fully circular by 2050. Closing cycles will result in reduction of both waste volume and polluting emissions. A circular economy links up with many aspects of the SDG agenda and a range of Dutch government ministries are involved in this project. In the context of the Monitor of Well-being and the SDGs, in 2022 CBS analysed the relationship between a circular economy and the SDGs, and how the two agendas influence each other.
As a production factor, land plays a crucial role in both a circular economy and the SDGs, for example with regard to commercial forestry for biomass, land for circular agriculture and land for housing construction. Land is in short supply in the Netherlands, and if it is used for one purpose, it may cease to be available for other purposes. This, too, is an argument against approaching the SDGs and a circular economy separately. Synergies can be utilised to ensure optimum use of the space available in the Netherlands.
State of natural space and ecosystems
The state of natural space and ecosystems in the Netherlands continues to give cause for concern. In the case of natural capital, this is measured in terms of the state of land fauna and that of freshwater and marsh fauna. Both these biodiversity indicators show a downward trend. Other biodiversity indicators, namely urban birds in SDG 11.2 living environment, and the Red List Indicator and farmland birds in SDG 15 Life on land, are also showing downward (red) trends.
The rising trend for the Clean Water Index in SDG 14 Life below water is more favourable, although in 2022 the Netherlands was near the bottom of the EU rankings, in 19th position out of 22 countries. The area of managed natural land in the Netherlands Nature Network (NNN) is expanding steadily. The acreage of ‘green and blue’ space, excluding regular agriculture, has also increased slightly. In this monitor, however, this indicator is calculated per capita, and from this perspective the trend is neutral.
In its 2023 report, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) explores four possible scenarios for spatial use in the Netherlands in 2050. Claims on the limited amount of space in the Netherlands are substantial: a housing construction target of nearly one million homes, climate adaptation and climate-mitigating measures, infrastructure, and more nature and wildlife. These interests are all in conflict with each other, and the choices made will change the future of the Dutch living environment radically. Added to this, the Netherlands also has to meet nationally and internationally agreed targets for protection of nature and biodiversity. As the title of the final recommendations by the Advisory Committee on the Nitrogen Problem on a structural, long-term approach to nitrogen asserted: We can’t do everything everywhere. These final recommendations stated that fundamental measures are required to enable nature to recover sufficiently to comply with European nature conservation rules.
In its Ecosystem accounts, CBS establishes links between well-being and the use of space in the Netherlands. These accounts assess how land is used at the moment, and changes in this use in recent years. They show, for example, where and how much farmland has been turned over to other ecosystem types. Between 2013 and 2021, a net 1.5 percent of agricultural land changed to other types of land use. This is the equivalent of 276 square kilometres, which had mostly turned into built-up areas and infrastructure, and to a lesser extent into natural areas.
More hours worked, higher education levels
Human capital is not only important for the economy, but also for society as a whole: differences in well-being between different groups in the population are largely based on education level, for example. The theme human capital in the ‘later’ dashboard looks at how people can contribute to well-being from an economic perspective. Human capital has three components, one of which is the supply of labour. The trend in the average yearly number of hours a person in the Netherlands works is rising, which points to increasing well-being. In addition to the number of hours that people work, we also look at their level of education, skills and health. Nearly 37 percent of the population aged 15 to 74 years have a degree in higher education, and this share is increasing. Life expectancy is an indication of how long people can expect to live, based on present mortality risks. But because alongside length of life, quality of life is also important, we combine health data with mortality data to calculate healthy life expectancy. This adds a qualitative element to ‘ordinary’ life expectancy. The monitor uses life expectancy at birth in perceived good health. A boy born in 2022 can expect to lead a healthy life for an average of 63.2 years, a girl slightly shorter (62.3 years). The trends are neutral.
As the quantity and quality components of labour, including healthy life expectancy, are not only relevant to well-being ‘later’ but also to current well-being, human capital includes aspects that have already been discussed under well-being ‘here and now’. In addition, SDG 3 Good health and well-being, SDG 4 Quality education, and SDG 8.2 Labour and leisure time also contain relevant information.
Relatively high level of trust in other people, varying trust in institutions
Social capital reflects the quality of relations between people in society: participating in society and contact with other people. We measure this by asking people how much they trust other people, and how much they trust important institutions such as the police, the courts and the House of Representatives.
Social capital is also an important element of well-being ‘here and now’. The theme Society there shows certain tensions in the work-life balance. Both contact with family, friends or neighbours and the amount of voluntary work people are doing showed a declining trend in 2015-2022. In the long term, less contact with other people and less voluntary work are unfavourable for social cohesion and people’s engagement with society and with each other. In spite of this, the Netherlands occupies a high position in the EU rankings for these aspects.
Despite the decline in these social contacts, people do trust each other more: two-thirds of the population say most people can be trusted, which is high compared with other EU countries. According to the European Social Survey 2020, Dutch people’s trust in institutions (House of Representatives, police and courts) is also high from an EU perspective. This indicator had a rising trend, but this has changed. Following a peak in 2020 (69.5 percent), it fell in both 2021 and 2022 to 66.9 and 61.3 percent respectively. In 2022 the Dutch population trusted the police, the House of Representatives and the courts less than in 2021. The fall was largest for the House of Representatives, where it dropped by 11.9 percentage points to 30.4 percent.
The literature on social capital also stresses that in addition to peoples’ trust in each other, trust between different groups in society is also important. The monitor measures this on the basis of an indicator on feelings of discrimination. This indicator describes the extent to which people consider themselves to be part of a group that says it cannot participate fully in society, or is not fully accepted. In 2020, 12.1 percent of the population aged 15 years and over said they belonged to a discriminated group. This places the Netherlands in a relatively unfavourable position within the EU.
Resilience and well-being ‘later’
As we have seen, Dutch well-being ‘later’ is largely dependent on the resources that we pass on to future generations. But added to this, well-being must also be able to withstand external shocks that threaten disrupt it. This monitor incudes indicators for the resilience of specific systems that are critical for well-being as a whole or for certain SDGs. Critical systems are systems whose failure can trigger the failure of other systems (system failure) which are essential for the functioning of the three major systems (biosphere, society, economy), and systems which fulfil an essential social function that must not be permitted to fail.
Are the major systems that enable our well-being – biosphere, society, economy – robust enough to absorb major (external) shocks? Ecosystems, social relations and the business community are essential for the resilience of the biosphere, society and the economy respectively. These three major systems are by and large robust. Five of the 13 indicators in the resilience dashboard related to well-being ‘later’ show a rising trend, while seven indicators are stable, and one is red.
The large proportion of nature on land affected by excessive nitrogen deposition shows that the biosphere is under pressure. Vulnerable plant species are disappearing as a result of excess nitrogen. The larger the overload and the longer the duration, the wider the effects become. Nutrient-poor ecosystems are particularly affected by nitrogen emissions.
Indicators for the robustness of society show a mixed picture. Social cohesion in the neighbourhood (an indicator of social relationships in a person’s immediate environment) and trust in other people (a more general indicator) are both trending higher. Trust in people was at the same level in 2022 as in 2021 and the medium-term trend is rising. However, 12.1 percent of the population said they belonged to a discriminated group in 2020. This indicator, alongside that for trust in institutions is discussed under ‘social capital’.
Businesses are also becoming increasingly robust. Median solvency – the percentage of assets made up of equity – was 51 percent in 2020 and trended upward in 2015-2022.
Government power is also relevant in this respect, particularly if a shock threatens to affect large parts of the population and poses a risk to major systems. Government power is favourable in the Netherlands compared with other countries in the EU. The trend for government debt is falling, which is positive from the point of view of resilience. The downward trend in rule of law indicates a deterioration in resilience, however. Rule of law is one of six aspects of good governance measures in the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators. It reflects the extent to which people trust the rules and laws of a society, and the extent to which they comply with them. Rule of law concerns matters such as fulfilling contractual obligations, enforcement of property rights, the police and the judicial system, and the risk of crime and violence. In previous editions of the monitor this indicator was called ‘trust in rule of law’.
Systems whose failure could lead to the failure of other systems are energy supply, telecom services and information infrastructures. We see a number of favourable developments here, including a trend change from upward to neutral for dependence on imported energy. The share of renewable energy in total energy consumption is trending higher, but the Netherlands is in the lowest part of the EU rankings (25th in 2021). Ten percent of companies in the Netherlands experienced malicious ICT security incidents in 2021. For companies in the ICT sector this rate was even higher: twelve percent were affected by malicious security hacks in systems development and operations, networks, databanks and websites, and hardware and software maintenance.
Critical systems that fulfil an essential social function include the financial sector, government, care, education, transport and drinking water supply. The Common Equity Tier 1 ratio (CET1) – a key indicator of the robustness of the financial sector – shows an improving trend, although the Netherlands is in the middle group of the EU rankings. Trust in Dutch institutions is relatively high from an EU perspective, but has dropped sharply recently. Government effectiveness, one of the World Bank’s World Governance Indicators is also high compared with other EU countries. The resilience of the care sector on the other hand is under pressure: the vacancy rate (vacancies per thousand jobs) is trending upward, and the Netherlands was 22nd out of 25 countries measured in the EU rankings in 2021. It may prove difficult to find extra care workers in the event of a shock.
Regional distribution of well-being ‘later’
Lastly, we can look briefly at how well-being later has developed on a regional scale in the Netherlands. CBS has been measuring regional well-being since 2020. The regional Monitor of well-being presents a broad picture of well-being ‘here and now’ and ‘later’ in municipalities, provinces and local regions on the basis of 42 indicators. Trends for well-being later are less favourable on a regional scale than those for well-being ‘here and now’. Economic capital and natural capital in particular are under pressure. In many regions, for example, the trend for average household debt is rising. In a number of regions, the area of ‘green and blue’ space (a natural environment indicator) is decreasing.