10 March 2020
UN Statistical Commission Adopts 36 Changes to SDG Indicators
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The UN Statistical Commission approved a set of changes to the global indicator framework for the SDGs.

The changes were recommended following the ‘2020 comprehensive review’ conducted by the UN Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators.

The UNSC met for its 51st session in New York, US, from 3-6 March 2020.

The UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) has approved a set of changes to the global indicator framework for the SDGs. The changes were recommended to the Commission as the outcome of the ‘2020 comprehensive review’ conducted by the UN Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs).

The UNSC met for its 51st session in New York, US, from 3-6 March 2020.

Introducing the IAEG’s report on the proposed changes on 3 March 2020, IAEG co-chair Viveka Palm (Sweden) said the Group had developed 36 “major changes” to the framework, including by replacing, revising, and deleting current indicators, as well as adding new ones. In total, the revised framework would have 231 indicators, approximately the same number as in the original framework. She also provided an oral update to the report, noting that on indicator 3.8.1, the refinement has been changed to “coverage of essential health services,” meaning that the indicator “basically goes back to what it was before.”

She also highlighted that:

  • The IAEG proposes establishing a working group for measuring development support more broadly than through official development assistance (ODA) – “total official support for sustainable development (TOSSD)”. An additional indicator on TOSSD had been proposed during the comprehensive review process, but members differed over the methodology. The Group agreed to work further on this potential indicator for submission to the Commission in 2022, and to establish a working group to this end.
  • Data disaggregation is a main area of work for 2020, to ensure “no one is left behind,” and the IEAG aims to develop guidelines on tools and methodologies on data disaggregation and to help build national capacity; and
  • The Group has issued a report on interlinkages between the Goals and targets both statistically and through a policy and legislation lens, to support deeper analysis of the 2030 Agenda.

Member States, some of whom are IAEG members, made numerous remarks. Several welcomed the fact that the changes to the framework had been limited so as not to increase the overall burden on national statistical organizations, while increasing the quality of the framework. Some expressed support for specific changes, such as the addition of an indicator on civil justice (16.3.3), the additional of an indicator on total greenhouse gas emissions per year (indicator 13.2.2), and in a revision to indicator 15.9.1, the integration of biodiversity into national accounting under the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting.

Speakers expressed concern on the proposed deletion of indicator 8.9.2 on employment in sustainable tourism.

On other changes, the speakers expressed concern, including on the proposed deletion of indicator 8.9.2 on the proportion of jobs in sustainable tourism industries out of total tourism jobs. China voiced concern about, among others, the addition of the GHG emissions indicator, noting that the global response to climate change should focus on equity and preserve each country’s equal right to development.

The United Arab Emirates suggested “cancelling” all indicators that remain in Tier 3, given the relatively short time left to implement them. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) lamented the lack of an indicator for older persons under SDG target 2.2. on malnutrition.

The African Group recommended reinforced collaboration and coordination with regional commissions. Others called for improved coordination between the custodian agencies for the indicators and national governments.

Revisiting the discussion on 6 March 2020 with the aim of approving the Commission’s report on the proposed changes (E/CN3/2020/L.3, draft decision 1), many delegations reiterated their concern about deleting indicator 8.9.2 on sustainable tourism employment.

The Director of the UN Statistics Division Stefan Schweinfest recalled that the comprehensive review process had been lengthy and “very complex” and had resulted in a “package deal.” This would make reconsidering the decision on one indicator a “dangerous path,” he said, urging delegations to accept the premise of a compromise. Speaking on the “painful” impacts of deleting 8.9.2, Suriname urged that the report reflect that “part of the Commission does not accept this…. Some countries are saying this is not okay.” 

The report of the IAEG was adopted as orally revised, and it “agreed to and adopted the proposed major changes and minor refinements … while noting concerns regarding specific indicators, and recognized that the work on SDG indicators is work in progress.” The amended text also indicates that the IAEG is requested to continue its annual refinement, research and methodological work including on “policy issues such as sustainable tourism and climate change.”

Another oral revision to the report adds wording on “the importance of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting for SDG monitoring.”

At the closing of the 51st session, Commission Chair Shigeru Kawasaki (Japan) expressed satisfaction that “the SDG indicator framework is advancing, although there is still some room for improvement … we are in a very promising situation.” [Meeting webcast, 3 March 2020] [Meeting webcast, 6 March 2020]

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