IEF comments on Indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals

Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 25. April 2015 - 19:26

IEF comments on the UN Statistical Commission report

The UN Major Groups Programme Coordinator in the Division for Sustainable Development requested stakeholder feedback regarding the UN Statistical Commission's technical report on indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals, which are to be adopted in September. The IEF submitted the following comments on the technical report in the limited space provided.

The technical report reflects the present capacity of national statistical services to respond to the aspirations of the SDGs, and they already have the challenge to disaggregate and to speed up reporting, so it is impractical to ask them to take on more immediately. Other proposals like SDSN have gone much further, and these also should be encouraged. A comparison of indicators for ocean and coastal issues from the technical report, SDSN and Global Ocean Commission (Dahl 2015 cited below) shows little overlap between indicator sets and a large potential for new policy-relevant indicators that is beyond the present capacity of national statistical services. This gap should be filled with other processes to develop and test indicators that might ultimately be integrated into the SDG set.

The UN should organize a process with UN task managers for each SDG, as was done for Agenda 21 after UNCED, to improve existing indicators and fill gaps in the targets covered. Other partners (UN agencies, OECD, CSOs) could be responsible for indicators in their areas of competence that are beyond the capacity of national statisticians or need further development. Some international NGOs (Transparency International, etc.) and research centers (Earth Institute etc) already produce useful indicators in complement to official indicators. For higher level integration, UNDP could harmonize all economic indicators, UNEP EMG environmental indicators and the World Bank social indicators. The highest integration would be in the Sustainable Development Report. A broader stakeholder process should encourage complementary indicators at national and local levels, so that the top-down SDG process is supported by a bottom-up response of local communities and the public to the SDGs. The statisticians cannot do it all by themselves.

Indicators are also needed to assess development at the individual level and the role of governments and other institutions in facilitating individual progress and well-being (Dahl 2014). This also would capture the ethical dimensions of justice and equity more effectively than national averages. Such indicators would complement the collective measures in the SDG indicators and give the process a more human face.


Dahl, Arthur Lyon. 2015. Resource efficiency improvements and marine resources management in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Paper presented at the International Resource Panel Scoping Workshop on Marine Resources, UNEP, Paris, 14-15 April 2015.

Dahl, Arthur Lyon. 2014. "Putting the Individual at the Centre of Development: Indicators of Well-being for a New Social Contract". Chapter 8, pp. 83-103, In François Mancebo and Ignacy Sachs (eds), Transitions to Sustainability. Dordrecht: Springer. DOI 10.1007/978-94-017-9532-6_8 and

Last updated 25 April 2015