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Sustainability Monitor for the Netherlands 2011

Report | 13-09-2011
Image of a road  with world-shaped clouds in the background

Quality of life is high in the Netherlands, also compared to other European countries, but it seems impossible to retain this level of prosperity, in the long run. More innovation, better education and a greener economy are required to maintain prosperity, according to the Sustainability Monitor for the Netherlands 2011. The Sustainability Monitor for the Netherlands 2011 is a joint publication by Statistics Netherlands, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the Netherlands Institute for Social Research.

High quality of life in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is a prosperous country. The Dutch tend to trust their fellow citizens and government institutions, such as police and parliament. They feel healthy and safe, have many social contacts and are pleased with the way they fill their leisure time. The current quality of life is high in the Netherlands, also compared to other European countries.

Concerns about maintaining prosperity

There are, however, concerns about maintaining this prosperity. Concerns about sustainable development mainly relate to the resources available to future generations and to problems of a global nature.

First of all, there are concerns regarding environment and nature. Climate change presents a global threat to the environment and ecosystems. Biodiversity is declining throughout the world, including in the Netherlands. Noteworthy in this respect is that the Netherlands uses a relatively large share of natural resources, such as fossil fuels, minerals and land, both domestically and elsewhere in the world.

Other causes for concern relate to the vulnerability of our financial system, and to whether we will be able to maintain the current level of social provisions. The financial crisis has seriously affected public finances. The costs of health care and social security will soar in the years to come, jeopardising availability of these provisions to future generations.

Lastly, education in the Netherlands is of an average level, relative to the rest of the European Union. The share of R&D in Dutch GDP is falling and the educational level of the younger generations is mediocre in comparison with other European countries. In addition, school dropout rates are relatively high in the Netherlands. Educational and income levels of people with a non-western, foreign background are a particular cause for concern.

More innovation, better education and a greener economy are required

More innovation, better education and a greener economy are required to maintain prosperity and deal with the earlier mentioned concerns for tomorrow. The quality of education is crucial in delivering a highly skilled working population that meets the needs of employers. This is even more important because the working population is ageing and expected to decline. Between 2010 and 2040, in the Netherlands, the number of people over the age of 65 in relation to the potential working population will increase from a ratio of 1:4 to that of 1:2. In addition, a well-educated population would provide an important basis for realising more innovation and a higher efficiency. This would benefit Dutch competitiveness. From a sustainable development perspective, it is a challenge to direct innovation towards clean technologies. This, in turn, would also provides opportunities for the establishment of new and ‘green’ companies in the Netherlands.

Greening the economy is about improving prosperity without sacrificing the quality of the environment. Greening the economy is an important means to achieve sustainable development. In this way, the contradictions between economy and ecology may be reduced and negative environmental trends in climate, biodiversity and resource use reversed. Greening the economy means making radical improvements in the efficiency of the use of energy and raw materials. However, generating more added value and using less energy and fewer raw materials present major challenges. Key instruments for achieving this are innovation and natural resource pricing. Greening the economy will require substantial investments over the coming years. Apart from reducing pressures on the environment and nature, this may also contribute to economic growth.

Dashboard of indicators to measure progress in sustainable development

Sustainable development is not only about today’s environment and quality of life. In the Sustainability Monitor for the Netherlands 2011, progress in sustainable development is assessed by looking at the quality of life here and now in relation to the quality of life later and elsewhere. Each generation of people has certain resources available to them, to seize opportunities and to achieve sustainable development. These resources may be divided according to four types of capital: natural capital, human capital, social capital and economic capital. In addition to natural raw materials and the absorption capacity of the atmosphere, these types of capital also include, for example, technology, infrastructure, knowledge, social participation, trust and a healthy population.

The Sustainable Monitor for the Netherlands brings all these elements together in three dashboards of indicators. Together they give an impression of:

  1. quality of life in the Netherlands, here and now;
  2. opportunities for future generations in the Netherlands to achieve their goals and aspirations;
  3. impacts of the Dutch pursuit of prosperity on the rest of the world.

For each of the aspects listed above, the Dutch situation has been compared with that in Europe: how does the Netherlands perform compared to its European neighbours? A complete overview of the dashboard of indicators of sustainable development (in Dutch) can be found at: www.cbs.nl/duurzaamheid.

Three thematic chapters

In addition to providing a general picture of the level of sustainable development in the Netherlands, the Sustainability Monitor for the Netherlands 2011 also discusses three important topics in relation to sustainable development. These topics are of a more exploratory nature, and concern:

  1. the relation between international trade, economic growth and the environment;
  2. a low-carbon society;
  3. policy coordination versus policy competition.

The Sustainability Monitor is a collaborative product

The Sustainability Monitor for the Netherlands 2011 is a joint publication by Statistics Netherlands (CBS), CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP).

More information:

Author(s)CBS, CPB, PBL en SCP
Publication date13-09-2011
LanguageEnglish