What is the Index?
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of seventeen milestones to help lead us into a more sustainable future. This agenda is universal, requiring all countries to take action and support sustainable development. Last month, the Sustainable Development Goals Index and Dashboards for 2017 was released - a report developed by the Bertelsmann Foundation and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network which details where each country sits in regards to the SDGs, with the intention of highlighting where each country's priorities for action should be.
For each of the seventeen goals, the Index applies a quantitative way to measure where a country is at. For example, the first goal of ‘No Poverty’ is measured by two indicators, poverty headcount ratio at $1.90/day (% of the population); and the projected poverty headcount ratio at $1.90/day in 2030. Although this may not take into account relative poverty, it at least helps gain a broad perspective of where an individual country stands on the global stage.
The SDG Index allows us to see a variety in progress, from Sweden, at 85.6, to the Central African Republic, at 36.7 and the exact areas that have improved, or require more attention (we must also keep in mind that some countries were not included in the report due to lack of data).
The data included in the report were also provided by international studies, and may not directly align with studies conducted nationally.
Where Does New Zealand Sit?
As of the 2017 index, New Zealand sits with an overall SDG index score of 77.6. This ranks New Zealand as one of the top twenty nations oriented towards achieving the 17 SDGs by 2030. According to the Index, New Zealand is most likely to achieve the SDGs of No Poverty, Good Health and Well-being, Quality Education, Affordable and Clean Energy, and Sustainable Cities and Communities. However, New Zealand is also distancing itself from achieving the SDGs of Zero Hunger, Climate Action, Life Below Water and Life on Land; which are rated red on the Index.
Let's take a closer look at where we need to improve - according to the data, New Zealand scored lowly in ‘Zero Hunger’ because of the high rate of obesity, and the poor management of Nitrogen (bettering this can lead to optimisation in crop yields, avoiding the potential of unwanted side-effects in the soil).
Goal 13 - ‘Climate Action’, shows us that we still have to work on our levels of CO2 emissions, however we have made progress since last year. We do well in most indicators of Goal 14 - ‘Life Below Water’ - but still fall behind due to a significant percentage of fish stocks being severely exploited, indicating a worsening of our fisheries, as reported by the Ocean Health Index. Lastly, goal that needs the most improvement is Goal 15 - ‘Life on Land’, New Zealand being the third worst country for species survival, the eighth highest in imported biodiversity impacts, with high percentages of change in forest areas.
What Could Be Done to Raise New Zealand’s Standing?
Raising New Zealand’s standing requires addressing the issues that are rated red and yellow on the index. However, that is not to say that we are not trying to make progress, for example there are policy considerations involving a sugar tax to curb the prevalence of obesity, addressing the SDG of ‘Zero Hunger’. Discussions about healthy eating have also been on the rise, as well as techniques on how to eat healthy on a budget. Other policy considerations include the use of cameras on fishing vessels in order to monitor activities and prevent illegal overexploitation of fishing stocks, addressing the SDG of ‘Life Below Water’. Addressing the SDG of ‘Life on Land’, pest control initiatives have also been considered in order to ensure the survival of New Zealand’s native biodiversity; though this issue remains to be very complex. Currently, it is an election year in New Zealand and it is unknown whether these policy considerations will continue under the new government.
This piece was written by Rox Soriano (University of Auckland) and Cass Halligan(Victoria University of Wellington).
Rox Soriano is the SDSN Youth Campus Coordinator at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, with a passion for sustainability practices and environmental justice.
They are currently studying towards a conjoint degree in a BA and an LLB and spend most of their free time assisting various environmental groups on campus or drinking copious amounts of coffee.
Cass Halligan is the SDSN Youth Campus Coordinator at Victoria University of Wellington