The UN SDGs represent global agreement on what is important to achieve in sustainable development worldwide by 2030. All countries, institutions and businesses are encouraged to support them. While Aotearoa New Zealand provides a great standard of living for many of its citizens, it falls short on all SDGs, except SDG 7 (affordable, clean energy).

Progress on SDGs is constantly being monitored at many levels.

  • Globally, the United Nations and CSOs monitor global and country performance on the SDGs across extensive indicators.
  • Internationally, governments self-monitor, submitting a Voluntary National Review (VNR) to the United Nations on a three-year cycle.
  • At organisational level, sustainability performing businesses assess which sustainable development topics are material to their stakeholders, integrate these matters into strategy and disclose their progress annually in their corporate reports, in some cases linking performance directly to SDGs or, better still, SDG sub targets.

Monitoring confirms that Aotearoa New Zealand has, compared to global standards, a generally high quality of living, affordable clean energy, good air quality, low levels of corruption, press freedom, unfettered access to the internet, a healthy employment-to-population ratio and a high number of women in parliament. However, statistical indicators suggest – and those who work close to the issues see – that there are areas where we need to do better. These concerns have been raised locally and internationally, offering a multi-stakeholder perspective on the most significant problems facing New Zealand’s sustainable development.

Sources include:

Concerns raised by these sources are summarised below by SDG (categorised by the author).

Social Sustainability

declining housing affordability
low social housing supply
low quality housing
high homelessness
long waiting lists

  • NZ Govt – eradicating poverty
  • OECD – the increase in minimum wage is unlikely to have much effect on poverty because it is not well-targeted at low-income households; low-income renters’ health has suffered most from declining affordability; social housing supply is slow by international comparison and there are poor outcomes for at-risk groups, including overcrowding, low quality housing and high homelessness; the waiting list for social housing has more than doubled in the past two years

obesity-threatened health
high meat consumption
crop yields / fertiliser ratio

  • NZ SDG – obesity
  • SDR – prevalence of obesity (BMI 30 or higher); human trophic level (higher level represents higher consumption of meat); sustainable nitrogen management index
  • OECD – high and rising obesity rates threaten future health

respiratory disease
women’s health / survival
skilled birth personnel

  • NZ Govt – improving mental health
  • NZ SDG – alcohol consumption; suicide mortality; diabetes mortality; cancer mortality; cardiovascular disease; traffic injury mortality; chronic lower respiratory diseases
  • People’s Report – New Zealand ranks poorly (107th) for women’s health and survival
  • SDR – births attended by skilled health personnel

adult educational attainment
science attainment / socioeconomic status

  • NZ SDG – educational attainment of adult population
  • SDR – variation in science performance explained by socioeconomic status; underachievers in science

partner violence
income discrimination
leadership discrimination
governance discrimination
unpaid work

  • NZ Govt – addressing inequalities
  • NZ SDG – incidences of intimate partner violence
  • People’s Report – Women face discrimination in terms of income, senior leadership and governance, particularly in the private sector, as well as high levels of unpaid work through caregiving, household and voluntary activities

Environmental Sustainability

water stress
water supply
water pollution

  • NZ SDG – water stress; water supply and sanitation
  • OECD – increasing diffuse sources of pollution have reduced water quality in many areas, in particular, due to the expansion of dairy farming, water scarcity is a growing concern in key agricultural areas

transition of economy
non energy productivity
packaging waste
electronic waste
imported embodied SO2 emissions
production nitrogen emissions

  • NZ Govt – transitioning to a sustainable economy
  • NZ SDG – non-energy material productivity; proportion of packaging waste recycled
  • SDR – electronic waste; production-based SO2 emissions; SO2 emissions embodied in imports; production-based nitrogen emissions

slow transition of economy
effective carbon rate
energy CO2 emissions
imported embodied CO2 emissions
GHG emissions per capita

  • NZ Govt – transitioning to a low emissions economy
  • People’s Report – we have been too slow to recognise the full impact of climate change
  • SDR – energy related CO2 emissions; CO2 emissions embodied in imports; effective carbon rate
  • OECD – New Zealand has one of the highest GHG emissions per capita in the OECD (almost half of which are biological emissions from agriculture) and they have fallen little since 2010

major threats to biodiversity
mean area protected

  • People’s report – New Zealand faces a major threat to its land, biodiversity and marine life
  • SDR – mean area that is protected in marine sites important to biodiversity; fish caught by trawling

major threats to biodiversity
mean area protected
embodied imported biodiversity threats

  • NZ SDG – terrestrial protected areas as a percentage of total land area
  • People’s Report – New Zealand faces a major threat to its land, biodiversity and marine life
  • SDR – mean area that is protected in terrestrial sites important to biodiversity; mean area that is protected in freshwater sites important to biodiversity; IUCN Red List of species survival; terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity threats embodied in imports
  • OECD – there are significant issues regarding the state of biodiversity

Economic Sustainability

not a priority

migrant exploitation

  • NZ SDG – domestic material consumption
  • OECD – some migrants on temporary work visas are vulnerable to exploitation and some have been exploited

R&D spend
patents filed
women in STEM
international exposure of economy
infrastructure funding pressures

  • NZ Govt – thriving in a digital age
  • NZ SDG – gross domestic spending on R&D
  • SDR – expenditure on research and development; triadic patent families filed; women in science and engineering
  • OECD – rising trade restrictions internationally could have substantial negative repercussions for New Zealand as a small country without a large domestic market and heavily exposed to international commodity prices; financial and physical capital suffers from low investment in R&D; more needs to be done to increase housing supply and affordability; infrastructure funding pressures faced by local governments hinder development

Māori and Pasifika outcomes
income and wealth divide

  • NZ Govt – addressing inequalities
  • People’s Report – Māori have disproportionately poorer health and education outcomes, lower incomes, inadequate housing and higher rates of incarceration
  • SDR – Palma ratio (share of all income received by the 10% people with highest disposable income divided by the share of all income received by the 40% people with the lowest disposable income)
  • OECD – income distribution is more unequal than the OECD average; household wealth, while high on average, is skewed toward the wealthy; education, health and housing outcomes vary strongly by socioeconomic background and ethnicity – Māori and Pasifika tend to fare worse

waste per capita
public transport

  • NZ SDG – municipal waste generated per capita
  • SDR – satisfaction with public transport

Peace and Partnership

death by assault
prison rate

  • NZ SDG – rate of death from assault; proportion of population subjected to physical, psychological or sexual violence in last 12 months
  • SDR – persons held in prison

ODA as % of GDP
financial secrecy

  • NZ SDG – overseas development assistance as a percentage of GDP
  • SDR – international concessional finance, including official development assistance; financial secrecy score

Author: Jennifer Wilkins
Last updated: August 1, 2020