Commenting on the development of indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), civil society organizations (CSOs) have raised concerns about the process, neutrality of statistics, and socially stratified data collection.
A coalition of European NGOs urges the European Commission (EC) to maintain a high level of ambition on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) invites comments on its 'SDG Index,' and others address climate change, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Financial Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, and the role of the private sector.
February 2016: Commenting on the development of indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), civil society organizations (CSOs) have raised concerns about the process, neutrality of statistics, and socially stratified data collection. A coalition of European NGOs urges the European Commission (EC) to maintain a high level of ambition on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) invites comments on its ‘SDG Index,’ and others address climate change, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Financial Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, and the role of the private sector.
According to an open letter to the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) Chair and the Inter-agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) Co-Chairs, contributions from civil society have not been adequately reflected in the proposed indicators. In “sharp contrast” to the level of participation in negotiations on the 2030 Agenda, the letter says, the indicator process has been characterized by limited participation, transparency and inclusion, and “patchy” involvement of civil society. The signatories – about 170 civil society groups around the world – recommend extending the timeline for finalizing the SDG indicators from March to August 2016 to allow for meaningful stakeholder consultations and ensure that quality is not sacrificed for speed.
Jan Vandemoortele, a “co-architect” of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), argues that statistics are not neutral, and the focus on a data revolution and “no one left behind” has detracted from measuring what is really important. Vandemoortele outlines specific ways the proposed SDG indicators would not measure the associated targets or would measure progress only for some countries or sectors. For example, the proposed indicator for Target 16.5 on reducing corruption and bribery only measures corruption and bribery among public officials, not in the private sector, Vandemoortele says. Similarly, Target 2.1 on ending malnutrition only addresses under-nutrition and does not consider obesity. Vandermoortele argues this formulation will focus attention on hunger in the least developed countries (LDCs) while ignoring challenges in the food industry in high-income and middle-income countries (MICs). Finally, Vandermoortele notes that Target 10.1 on income growth for the bottom 40% and its corresponding indicator “circumvent the issue of inequality” by not including the Palma ratio, among other factors.
Reflecting on health interventions in Northern Nigeria, Tony Klouda and Cathy Green write that “achieving truly universal health care means being able to identify the groups left behind and having the means to track inequalities on an ongoing basis,” in a Deliver 2030 blog post. The authors note that pressure to achieve logframe targets and value for money can make it difficult to adjust health programmes to reach the least-supported. A monitoring and evaluation framework that tracks progress towards social inclusion would make programme staff more likely to invest the time to target the least supported, most isolated and least respected. They also emphasize the importance of socially stratified data collection to ensure no one is left behind.
The EU must go beyond policy-as-usual to aim for the highest level of ambition on the 2030 Agenda and ensure that it “does not cherry-pick the easiest or preferred goals,” asserts a coalition of EU-based NGOs in a letter to EC Vice President Frans Timmermans. The groups call on the EU and its Member States “to develop an overarching Sustainable Development Strategy with a timeline of 2030 and a concrete implementation plan which coordinates the achievement of the 17 goals, 169 targets and their indicators.” The coalition requests the EU to, inter alia: review existing EU policies to identify gaps that need to be addressed to achieve the 2030 Agenda in its entirety; review its budget to ensure alignment with European and global challenges and with windows for more holistic approaches; and design a strong monitoring, review and accountability mechanism. The NGOs add that the EU should identify parts of the Agenda where an EU lead is necessary, versus those for which Member States are primarily responsible.
SDSN has invited comments on a draft country-level SDG Index, which aims to measure achievement across the 17 SDGs. In particular, SDSN requests suggestions on data that is both relevant for the SDGs and available for at least 80% of countries. The public consultation is open until 31 March 2016. To compliment the SDG Index, SDSN also produced a SDG Dashboard for OECD countries, which visually presents SDG progress for each goal and country.
Independent carbon standards and voluntary carbon markets have shown it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, achieve poverty reduction and promote healthy, resilient ecosystems, states a briefing paper by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). The paper elaborates that such standards can play a role in aligning the interests of the private sector with smallholders, local communities and ecosystems. At the same time, the paper argues, these projects need to work at a much larger scale to effectively combat climate change and achieve the SDGs. To scale up voluntary carbon standards and markets, the paper recommends enacting legislation that requires companies to offset their emissions and brings carbon prices closer to the real economic and social cost of climate change. It provides concrete examples of how Plan Vivo, an independent carbon standard, can contribute to achieving at least seven of the SDGs.
“There is a lot to welcome” in the ‘The Financial System We Need: Aligning the Financial System with Sustainable Development,’ the October 2015 report of the UNEP Financial Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, writes Aldo Caliari, on Righting Finance. He praises the report for its: “systematic ambition;” warnings about the implications of financial short-termism in contrast to a long-term view needed to deliver sustainable development; and adequate descriptions of the contradictions between public awareness and political engagement in pursuing sustainable development alongside accelerating environmental deterioration; and its methodological contribution of categorizing instruments for aligning the financial systems with sustainable development. He highlights several weaknesses in the report, from the admitted omission of illicit financial flows and direct investment, to a failure to explicitly address human rights. He also observes “naiveté” in the report, which overstates a “quiet revolution” on natural wealth and the circular green economy, and uncritically accepts private sector claims of sustainable practices.
Also on the role of the private sector, the UN Global Compact and KPMG International are showcasing private sector actions related to the SDGs in a series of sector-specific publications. ‘The SDG Industry Matrix’ provides industry-specific ideas for SDG actions with the aim of inspiring the private sector to identify opportunities in addressing environmental and social challenges and inspiring action to drive inclusive, sustainable prosperity. The series includes publications on financial services, transportation, climate, industrial manufacturing, health care and life sciences and food, beverage and consumer goods. The financial services sector publication, for instance, proposes a range of opportunities for shared opportunity on increasing financial inclusion, investing in renewable energy and other infrastructure, and positively influencing environmental, social and governance practices. [Open Letter] [Vandermoortele Blog] [Lessons from Health in Nigeria] [Letter to EC Vice President] [Consultation on SDG Index] [Carbon investors and smallholders: a symbiotic relationship] [Righting Finance Blog] [SDG Industry Matrix]