Promoting SDG Implementation through Data: The Arab Region SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2019
Photo credit: Maid Milinkic
story highlights

The Arab Region SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2019 is the first regional study to track country-level progress on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the 22 Arab countries.

In the Index ranking, five countries emerge as regional leaders with a total index score of 65 or more: Algeria, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan.

Several countries are also on track to achieving targets related to clean water and sanitation, as well as climate action, and there are moderate improvements in performance across several SDGs.

At the same time, Arab countries suffering from poverty and conflict remain far from achieving the SDGs.

Also, significant gaps remain in data necessary to measure sustainable development performance in the region, particularly relating to income and wealth distribution.

Measure to Manage, Track to Implement

In order to manage something, it first needs to be measured. With a little over a decade left to achieve the SDGs, there are still important gaps in availability of data to help governments and other stakeholders evaluate where they stand in implementation and how fast they are progressing towards the Goals.

Worldwide, major data-related challenges still hinder efforts to implement the SDGs: as of November 2019, only half of the official 232 SDG indicators have an internationally-established methodology and data for at least 50% of countries in every region where the indicator is relevant. Moreover, almost half of the 169 SDG targets are not quantified, which greatly complicates measuring progress.

In their political declaration from the SDG Summit held in September 2019 under the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, world leaders stressed the urgency of accelerating efforts on the SDGs and launched “an ambitious and accelerated response to reach our common vision by 2030”. The leaders also stressed that “in this endeavour, we must come together in durable partnerships between governments at all levels, and with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society, the private sector, academia and youth”.

As the regional hub of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), the mandate of the SDG Centre of Excellence for the Arab Region, hosted since 2018 at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, includes supporting SDG implementation in the region through research collaborations with regional and global knowledge networks.

Among our first projects, we partnered with SDSN to develop a regional Index to track SDG implementation in the Arab region’s 22 countries. The study is based on a well-tested and thoroughly-vetted methodology developed by the SDSN and the Bertelsmann Stiftung, which have together published global SDG Index reports since 2016. Compared to the global Index, the Arab Region Index introduces new indicators that reflect regional priorities and challenges. It also omits indicators that are not useful or relevant for the region or where data coverage is currently insufficient.

The intention of the SDG Indices is not to replace the work done by the UN or national governments, but to enrich understanding with readily available, high-quality data and analysis. The SDG Indices seek to help fill some of the existing data gaps because time is running out: the fourth year of implementation of the 2030 Agenda is closing in and we are still far from achieving the Goals.

The 2019 Arab Region SDG Index

The result of our collaboration is the Arab Region SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2019, launched at a high-level event in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on 18 November 2019. The report is the first regional study to track country-level progress on the 17 SDGs in the 22 Arab countries. Its purpose is both to measure progress and identify gaps in implementation and data.

The report also includes case studies from regional experts that dive deeper into key areas of relevance for the region, including water, food, energy, stabilization, policy, capacity building and data. The report also benefited from the inputs of dozens of experts from the region and beyond, who provided inputs in two stages, with ideas for new indicators and comments on the final indicator selection and thresholds.

This first edition of the Arab Region SDG Index contains 105 indicators, each of which have an assigned score between 0 and 100, and a traffic light color to indicate performance or distance to SDG achievement – e.g. green indicating Goal achievement and red indicating major challenges. In addition, for several indicators where time series data are available, the Index assigns arrows to illustrate trends in progress towards achieving the Goals.

Main findings

The main findings of the 2019 Arab Region SDG Index report are the following:

  • The region displays a wide range of sustainable development outcomes: there is significant variation between the 22 countries in performance, which reflects differences in their socioeconomic situations. Common challenges are found around sustainable food production systems (SDG 2) and gender equality (SDG 5), in particular. Overall, the report highlights major challenges in implementation: collectively, the 22 Arab countries receive a red score for 51% of the 17 SDGs.
  • In the Index ranking, five countries emerge as regional leaders with a total index score of 65 or more out of 100. These are Algeria, the UAE, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan. Three countries have achieved less than 50% of the SDGs: Comoros, Yemen and Somalia. The region’s average Index score is 58.
  • Arab countries suffering from poverty and conflict remain far from achieving the SDGs. The region’s six Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and two other countries suffering from conflict, Syria and Iraq, each have more than 10 SDGs in “red” in the SDG Dashboard. These countries will require tremendous efforts to ensure they are not left behind. Regional and international partners will also need to step up support to these countries.
  • There is positive momentum in two important areas relating to environmental sustainability: many of region’s countries show positive trends on the Goals related to water (SDG 6) and climate change (SDG 13). Data for measuring trends on these Goals, however, has only been available for indicators on drinking water and sanitation services and per capita carbon dioxide emissions, and not, for example, freshwater depletion, water management or climate change vulnerability.
  • Significant gaps remain in data necessary to measure sustainable development performance in the region, particularly relating to income and wealth distribution. The most significant data gaps are currently found on SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities). In both areas, the gaps are the result of lack of data on income and wealth distribution. No publicly-available regional datasets were identified in the process of developing the Index. Arab countries should urgently invest more attention and resources to generating and making available data in the areas outlined above. This will be essential not only for tracking SDG performance but also to enable data-driven, science-based planning and decision-making.

The 2019 Arab Region SDG Index and Dashboards Report and underlying data are available on the SDSN’s SDG Index website in English and Arabic, as well as on the Emirates Diplomatic Academy’s sustainable development research publications page, similarly in English and Arabic.

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Dr. Mari Luomi is Senior Research Fellow at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy where she leads a research programme on Energy, Climate Change and Sustainable Development and builds the capacity of UAE diplomats and foreign policy professionals on climate change negotiations and a variety of sustainable development issues. She also writes for the IISD’s Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

Dr. Luomi is lead co-author of the 2019 Arab Region SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2019, along with Grayson Fuller, Lara Dahan, Karina Lisboa Båsund, Eve de la Mothe Karoubi and Guillaume Lafortune. This article is based on, and draws from, the report.

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