Gold Standard, Partners Issue Guidance for Activity-level SDG Impact Reporting
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Gold Standard, SDSN, the Swedish Energy Agency, SustainCERT, myclimate and ClimateSeed released a guidance document to facilitate the identification of climate action projects’ impacts on SDG achievement.

The document introduces a set of best practices and five principles to harmonize reporting, as well as a three-step approach that enables selection of appropriate indicators.

The guidance cautions against “SDG washing,” and describes a standardized, modular approach to the development of SDG impact reporting tools.

29 August 2019: Gold Standard and a group of partner institutions have released a guidance document for identifying climate action projects’ impacts on SDG achievement. The document presents an approach to developing tools and selecting indicators that enable meaningful and credible performance reporting, using a principles-based approach.

The guidance has been developed by Gold Standard, Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), the Swedish Energy Agency, SustainCERT, myclimate, and ClimateSeed.

The document targets stakeholders with a broad interest in independent, robust and standardized monitoring of SDG contributions of climate actions, including policymakers, verifiers, project proponents, tool developers and civil society. The guidance thus aims to be “project-type neutral,” to help identify impacts and indicators across a wide range of projects spanning energy, waste, agriculture, water and urban development, among others. Further, it is “standard neutral,” or agnostic in terms of standards schemes (whether Gold Standard or others), and can be applicable in the context of market mechanisms and national monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) systems.

Without demonstration of good governance practices, claims about projects’ impacts could be unsubstantiated, false or exaggerated.

The authors contrast the consensus-led nature of the SDGs’ development with the bottom-up design of implementation actions, noting that this increases the risk of erroneous, non-standardized, or otherwise misleading claims and reporting of progress towards targets. The guidance document introduces a set of best practices and five principles to harmonize reporting approaches. The principles are: credibility, efficiency, comparability, flexibility and “compelling” ways of reporting.

To identify impacts, the document presents a three-step approach that enables selection of appropriate indicators:

  • list potential impacts of the project;
  • refine the list and map it to SDGs and targets; and
  • identify indicators based on the targets and develop MRV guidance as needed.

For each step, the guidance document spells out necessary actions to help users build out the impacts list, SDG mapping, and identification of indicators.

On indicators, the guidance adapts principles for global monitoring indicator selection previously developed by SDSN. Noting that the SDGs are reviewed and monitored differently across countries and development contexts, the document summarizes ways of localizing indicators and reporting tools. These include: selecting specific indicators based on relative importance; country, sector, or city-specific categories of impact; and aligning indicators with national priorities or placing them in the context of national development plans.

The guidance cautions against “SDG washing,” flagging that reporting must identify projects’ negative effects and impacts on the SDGs, in addition to their contributions to progress. It emphasizes that, without robust stakeholder engagement and demonstration of good governance practices, there remains a risk that claims about projects’ impacts will go unsubstantiated, and may be false or exaggerated.

The final section describes a standardized, modular approach to the development of SDG impact reporting tools. It recommends that each module be developed with common structural elements such as impact categories and indicators selected from a default list.

An annex to the guidance articulates the relationship between the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Gold Standard has launched a programme for the development of SDG impact tools. The programme promotes transparent and standardized quantification and reporting of climate interventions’ sustainable development impacts.

The programme has issued a public call for co-creation of these activity-specific SDG tools, based on the guidance document. The call is open to expressions of interest until 6 September 2019. [Gold Standard Guidance Document]

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