10 March 2021
Statistical Commission’s 52nd Session Advances Beyond GDP Approach
Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash
story highlights

The UN Statistical Commission reached agreement on a revised “beyond GDP” approach to measuring economic wellbeing while accounting for natural capital.

The Commission also agreed to nine refinements to the SDG indicators, and supported the ‘Data for Now’ capacity building initiative for utilizing new data sources.

A High-level Group is preparing for the third UN World Data Forum in Bern, Switzerland, in October 2021.

The UN Statistical Commission convened for its 52nd session and the first conducted by virtual means. Governments reached agreement on a revised “beyond GDP” approach to measuring economic wellbeing while accounting for natural capital. The Commission also agreed to nine refinements to the SDG indicators, and supported the ‘Data for Now’ capacity building initiative for using new data sources. The draft decisions will be considered final following a silence period that ends on 10 March 2021.

The Beyond GDP framework is formally known as the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting-Ecosystem Accounting. A committee of experts worked for the past year to finalize revisions to the system through global consultations.

UN Chief Economist Elliott Harris said, “We’ve treated nature as if it were free and as if it were limitless.” This leads to “using it up without really being aware” of what is being lost. The revised accounting framework aims to show how nature affects humans and how human economic activities may affect ecosystems, with a goal of achieving prosperity without damaging nature.

Statisticians should work with the biodiversity community on the monitoring framework for the post-2020 biodiversity agenda.

The Commission:

  • Encouraged countries to implement the SEEA Ecosystem Accounting
  • Requested the Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting to create an implementation strategy, as well as guidance materials for countries
  • Drew linkages to monitoring the post-2020 biodiversity agenda, encouraging the Committee to help connect the official statistical community with the biodiversity community
  • Supported establishing a working group on ocean accounting (SEEA Ocean) and a working group on business accounting and the SEEA

A Statistical Framework for Measuring the Sustainability of Tourism is also being developed.

On the global indicators for the SDG framework, the Commission reviewed the report of the UN Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) and agreed to the Group’s proposal to refine nine of the global SDG indicators.

The refinements are wording changes that clarify how the indicator is to be measured. For example, for SDG target 4.c, the indicator will now assess the proportion of teachers “with the minimum required qualifications,” rather than “qualified in basic education.” For SDG target 4.2, the indicator will assess the proportion of children “aged 24-59 months” rather than “under 5 years of age” who are on track in health, learning, and psychosocial well-being.

The other indicators that have been refined relate to SDG target 2.5 (maintain genetic diversity in food production), SDG target 3.d (improve early warning systems for global health risks), SDG target 10.7 (responsible and well managed migration policies), SDG target 12.c (remove market distortions that encourage wasteful consumption), SDG target 13.2 (integrate climate change measures into policies and planning), SDG target 13.b (promote mechanisms to raise capacity for planning and management), and SDG target 14.1 (reduce marine pollution).

The IAEG will continue to refine the indicators on an annual basis as needed, while a comprehensive review of the indicators will take place in 2025.

Also on the IAEG’s work on the SDG indicators, the Commission:

  • Encouraged piloting new indicator methodologies in countries with different contexts to improve capacity;
  • Requested the IAEG-SDGs to work with relevant custodian agencies to develop and test a methodology for indicators on sustainable tourism in time for the 2025 comprehensive review;
  • Encouraged the IAEG-SDG to explore ways to connect their work with the UN’s regional commissions and other international bodies; and
  • Requested the IAEG-SDGs and the custodian agencies to enhance the data flow process for global SDG reporting.

The Commission welcomed the IAEG’s work on SDG monitoring amid COVID-19, and noted the resource titled ‘COVID-19 and the global SDG indicators’ to help countries identify SDG areas highly impacted by the pandemic.

On other work of the UN on the SDGs, the Commission expressed support for the ‘Data for Now’ capacity-building initiative to help countries use new data sources. It also welcomed implementation of a federated system of national and global data hubs, and welcomed a survey to monitor the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on national statistical offices (NSOs) that can help allocate support.

The Statistical Commission also took up a report on activities related to data and metadata, and endorsed the vision and way forward on creating a UN data hub as the “main entry point to authoritative statistical data and metadata” from the UN system and other international and regional organizations, “in line with countries’ priorities and with the Data Strategy of the Secretary-General for Action by Everyone, Everywhere,” which was approved in April 2020, as well as the road map for innovating UN data and statistics developed by the UN system’s Committee of Chief Statisticians. The Commission endorsed the establishment of an Inter-Agency and Expert Mechanism to develop and implement the UN data hub and agreed with its proposed Terms of Reference.

The High-level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is preparing for the third UN World Data Forum in Bern, Switzerland. The Forum was originally scheduled for October 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic, and a virtual forum took place instead. The Third Forum is now planned to take place from 3-6 October 2021. [Draft decisions as of 5 March] [UNSC 52 webpage] [Webpage for revisions to SEEA] [UN press release]

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