From Work-in-Progress to Progress Reports: Update on the SDG Indicators
Photo by IISD/ENB | Pamela Chasek
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When governments finished negotiating the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development last August, two key elements were left as works-in-progress: the follow-up and review framework, and the indicators by which the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would be measured.

When governments finished negotiating the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development last August, two key elements were left as works-in-progress: the follow-up and review framework, and the indicators by which the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would be measured. During the past several weeks, headline events at the UN put the follow-up and review framework in the spotlight, as the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development began its assessments of progress on the Agenda. The other unfinished piece, the SDG indicators, has been moving along more quietly, but making progress nonetheless.

This policy brief describes the process to develop the indicator framework to date, and reviews current and upcoming work to advance this piece of the 2030 Agenda.

What is an Indicator?

The indicators are the data points by which each SDG target will be measured. For example, SDG 11 (Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable) includes a target to “ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums” by 2030 (target 11.1). But how will the international community know whether such access has been ensured, and slums have been upgraded? The Inter-Agency and Expert Group on the SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs), established by the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC), debated this question and decided that the best measurement for this target is “Proportion of urban population living in slums, informal settlements or inadequate housing” (indicator 11.1.1).

Several targets have more than one indicator, in some cases because the target is considered to be a “compound” target that addresses more objectives than can be measured by one indicator. For example, target 3.3, to “end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases” by 2030, has five proposed indicators, one on new HIV infections, one on tuberculosis incidence, one on malaria cases, one on new Hepatitis B infections, and another on neglected tropical disease interventions.

The total set of 231 global indicators proposed by the IAEG-SDGs and agreed by the UNSC in March 2016 as a “practical starting point” is already being used to assess achievement of the SDGs, but the IAEG-SDGs’ work continues. It is tasked with crafting a plan for the “further technical refinement” of the indicators during the SDGs’ 15-year period, and other key areas of work.

Tasks Underway in the IAEG

One area for attention in the coming months is the need for “methodologies” for many of the indicators. About 40% of the proposed indicators currently do not have an agreed methodology (and are thus classified as ‘Tier 3′ in the framework). Another area for attention is the need for capacity to produce the indicators by gathering adequate data and assessing it. For the indicators currently labelled “Tier 2” in the IAEG-SDGs’ framework, insufficient data are available. Building extensive statistical capacity is a large part of the “data revolution” that is considered an integral component of the 2030 Agenda.

The IAEG is currently at work on: finalizing the tiers classification, including a review of international agencies’ plans to develop methodologies for Tier 3 indicators; refining indicators where necessary; and crafting a plan to refine and revise the indicator framework during the 2030 Agenda timeframe. The Group is expected to discuss this plan, including a policy and timeline, at its fourth face-to-face meeting, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in October 2016. The outcome of the discussion will be presented to UNSC 48, in March 2017.

In addition, the IAEG was mandated to establish a working group on data disaggregation, jointly with the High-level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (HLG). The sub-group is tasked with developing a plan to address immediate statistical capacity building priorities for the implementation of the global SDG indicators. In June 2016, UNSC Chair Wasmália Bivar reported that the sub-group had been established.

Indicators Put to Use in First SDG Progress Report

While data and methodology do not exist for all of the global indicators, a selected set of indicators were assessed in the first SDG Progress Report. This annual report is expected to serve as a benchmark for assessing implementation of the 2030 Agenda throughout the next 14 years.

This year’s report is available both as an official report of the UN Secretary-General (E/2016/75), titled ‘Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals,’ and as a web-based publication with charts and infographics, titled ‘The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2016.‘ On the basis of the latest available data for indicators, the report highlights the most significant gaps and challenges in implementing the 17 SDGs. An accompanying database provides the available country-level data used to compile the report.

Member States Approve Indicators

In July, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) adopted the Ministerial Declaration of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), welcoming the UNSC’s decision on the indicator framework and reiterating that it serves as a starting point. The ministers also looked forward “to its implementation and continual improvement in an inclusive and transparent manner.”

Next, the indicator framework must be approved in the UN General Assembly (UNGA). This approval is required by the mandate in the 2030 Agenda (paragraph 75), and would be the first decision on the proposed indicators by all UN Member States. Watch this space for more information on the approval and use of the SDG indicator framework.

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