For 77% of environment-related SDGs indicators, there are either insufficient data to assess progress (68%) or it is unlikely that the target will be met without scaling up action (9%).
Efforts to leverage corporate environmental data to address the SDG data gap are increasingly gathering attention in a number of jurisdictions.
By Pietro Bertazzi and Helen Finlay, CDP
The 2020 HLPF was an important moment for the global policy community to take stock of where we stand on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Yet as we reach one-third of the way into our SDG journey, only 22 out of the 93 (23%) environment-related indicators showed good progress during the last 15 years. For the other 77% of environment-related SDGs indicators, there is either insufficient data to assess progress (68%) or it is unlikely that the target will be met without scaling up action (9%).
Freshwater shortfalls, rate of species extinction, deforestation, and land degradation are accelerating. With a global average temperature increase of 1.1°C above estimated pre-industrial levels, the international community is worryingly off track to meeting either the 1.5°C or 2°C targets called for in the Paris Agreement. Monitoring progress on the SDGs has never been more crucial, as both countries and the international community aim to achieve the Goals by 2030.
The importance of timely, quality, open, and disaggregated data has been brought to the fore by the COVID-19 crisis. Such data are critical in understanding, managing, and mitigating the social and economic effects of the pandemic. They are also essential for designing short-term responses and accelerated actions to put countries back on track to achieve the SDGs. In 2019, most countries reported that they were carrying out a national statistical plan (141 countries, up from 129 in 2018), but according to the UN, the pandemic has caused many National Statistical Offices (NSOs) in low-medium income countries to experience closures, funding cuts, and limitations in face-to-face data collection. These challenges may produce a lasting impact on countries’ abilities to produce timely and high-quality data.
Juxtaposed to this lack of environmental SDG data, sustainability reporting among the private sector has risen dramatically. According to the study run by the Governance and Accountability Institute, companies in the S&P 500 Index disclosing sustainability information rose from 20% to 85% between 2011 and 2017. Better informed investors, conscious of the growing economic importance of ESG indicators, have already been shown to be game changers in accelerating corporate action to tackle climate change. This information can be harnessed to help address the SDG environmental data gap.
It is vital that the private sector sustainability community works with the statistical community to understand each other and advance efforts to capture and analyze relevant data for the SDGs. To explore the role of private sector data in measuring progress towards the SDGs, CDP and GRI held a panel event during the HLPF 2020. Central to this discussion were the findings in the 2020 edition of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Report, which showed large data gaps remaining in the timeliness, geographic coverage, and level of disaggregation required. These gaps, together with the impact of COVID-19, highlight the need for data innovations and new partnerships required to bridge data gaps, including between the public and private sectors.
Two of CDP’s latest reports, on climate and nature-based solutions, demonstrate the need to ensure a conducive policy environment for globally standardized climate-related disclosure, mandating, where appropriate, the adoption of the recommendations of the Task Force for Climate-related Finance Disclosure (TCFD), and to mainstreaming nature-based solutions into legislation and regulatory frameworks for policy coherence between climate change, biodiversity, and sustainable development.
In this SDGs decade of action, the time is ripe to advance the Agenda that we started exploring back in 2012, on the margins of the Rio+20 conference, where the private sector was first recognized as a key actor on sustainable development through the practice of sustainability reporting (paragraph 47). Action does not mean reinventing the wheel. We can begin by looking at what data are already available from business SDG-related disclosure, understand how NSOs can access and use these data, and develop a methodology for the engagement and use of business-generated, SDGs-related data for the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs).
With the 2020 World Data Forum around the corner, efforts to leverage corporate environmental data to address the SDG data gap are increasingly gathering attention in a number of jurisdictions. A strengthened partnership between the public and private sectors will be essential to ensure COVID-19 recovery pathways are inclusive, sustainable, and in line with efforts to achieve the SDGs by 2030. While it will be important to think of new ways to address the effects of the pandemic, a framework response for sustainable development already exists: ensure the achievement of the Paris Agreement’s goals and the SDGs.
This guest article was authored by Pietro Bertazzi, Global Director, Policy Engagement, CDP and Helen Finlay, Senior Global Policy Manager, CDP.