The three countries, in addition to the Netherlands, that I chose were Sweden, the United States, and the Central African Republic. I chose Sweden because they were the country ranked first, the U.S. because we’re in the U.S., and the Central African Republic because it was ranked last. What immediately surprised me was that across all four countries, only Sweden had an orange “significant challenges remain” designation on the second SDG, “Zero Hunger.” The U.S., the Netherlands, and the Central African Republic all had red “major challenges remain” designations. It didn’t make sense to me that highly developed countries like the U.S. and the Netherlands could have the same score on something so basic as a sub-Saharan country where the GDP per capita is $468.
When I dove deeper into the goal, I was surprised to see obesity play a role in the SDG. This, in addition to the human trophic level (how energy intensive the food we eat is), is the reason Sweden, the Netherlands, and the U.S. compare to the Central African Republic. While the developed countries have ensured their populations are not undernourished, they’ve seen a massive increase in obesity; as of 2016, 36.2% of the U.S. population was considered obese. Obesity seems to correlate directly with development.
This seems to be a pattern across a fair amount of the SDG’s. There will be indicators that plenty of under-developed countries excel at (like keeping the obesity rate low for SDG #2, energy-related CO2 emissions for SDG #13, and biodiversity protection for SDG #15) and indicators that developed countries excel at (like the poverty headcount ratio at $3.20/day for SDG #1, satisfaction with public transport for SDG #11, and government spending on health and education for SDG #17). This is because the SDG’s have a fair bit of nuance built into them; they don’t subscribe to the conventional model of economic development where economic growth is the end all be all. The SDG’s imagine a world characterized by equity, healthy lifestyles, and sustainable cities. These are things that cannot be summed up by just a top-line GDP number; they need to be captured through specific metrics that drill down what it’s like to live in these countries every day.
One of the metrics that surprised me (but I think does a fantastic job in capturing what it’s like to live in a specific place) is “percentage of population who feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where they live” under SDG #16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. Targeting these kinds of specific metrics will do a better job of actually improving day-to-day well-being in developed countries than targeting another 2-3% of GDP growth will.