Indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals

Submitted by admin on 31. January 2015 - 17:55

Indicators and a Monitoring Framework for Sustainable Development Goals:
Launching a data revolution for the SDGs

A report by the Leadership Council of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network
Revised working draft for consultation, 16 January 2015

Download the report (160 p.) at:…

As the Sustainable Development Goals and targets go through governmental review and approval this year, one area of unfinished business is to identify the indicators that will be used to measure progress towards the ambitious goals for 2030. The SDSN has taken up the challenge, and its report proposes 100 global indicators for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be calculated for all countries, as well as 141 complementary national indicators to be used on an optional basis depending on the national situation and priorities. All the global indicators are discussed in detail for methodology, data availability, and responsible organizations. The aim is to provide the scientific backing for decisions governments will take this year to adopt the SDGs, to be ready to start implementation in 2016 of at least a partial set of indicators ready for use. The revised working draft was open for two weeks for expert comments, and IEF submitted a short version of its analysis below.

An indicator process, especially one as complex as that required for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is quite technical and not easily accessible to the general public. Yet, as the International Environment Forum has already pointed out in comments on the SG's Synthesis Report, the whole UN process is basically, and by necessity, top-down, setting an agenda but weak on implementation. It is necessary and highly desirable to have this global vision, but not sufficient. If it is not supported by a bottom-up process from the people most directly concerned, which is all of us, governments will not move, vested interests and inertia will slow or block progress, and we shall as usual do too little, to late. A much greater effort is needed, by the UN and all the partners in this process, to make this challenging and inspiring post-2015 agenda relevant to and accessible by people everywhere, to build public buy-in and ownership, and to motivate ordinary people to start applying at least the SG's six essential elements in their own neighbourhoods and communities without waiting for governments to act.

Indicators need to be part of this process (Dahl 2012). A review in 2008 of the use of environmental and sustainability indicators since 1992 (UNEP 2008) showed that complex national indicator systems were simplified over time into a few headline indicators for public use. This should be built into the SDGs indicators process, with the foundation of indicators as described in the SDSN report generating a much smaller number of indicators for public use. These would not have the same scientific rigour as the full set of SDG indicators and complementary national indicators, which serve their own purposes, but would communicate more effectively, much like the Human Development Index or the Ecological Footprint.

The report would be enriched by demonstrating different ways that the indicators can be used to demonstrate the interdependence of the SDGs. Annex 4: Cross-cutting issues in the indicator framework, does this for some major themes. The Secretary-General's Synthesis Report describes six essential elements that underlie and regroup the SDGs. It would therefore be highly relevant to add an annex to the SDSN report similarly regrouping the indicators in support of these six essential elements. These could then be the basis for a few headline indicators more accessible to both decision-makers and the public at large.

Extending this process further, a small selection of indicators should be identified that can be calculated and used at the local level in communities or neighbourhoods. This would provide a bridge between global SDGs and local goals, make indicators immediately relevant to local concerns and priorities, provide measures of progress that people can understand, and motivate action. Such indicators could be piloted by local authorities or by NGOs and citizen groups. They could include the proportion of poor in the community, a relevant health indicator, employment, GHG emissions, the state of local ecosystems, participation in governance, and transformative partnerships.

One important dimension of national sustainability, that is not captured in the indicators as presently designed, is the impact of nations beyond their borders as parts of an integrated world system. Wealthy nations have been outsourcing polluting activities and the damage associated with natural resources exploitation, and poor nations have suffered the damage while the benefits have largely been exported. Material flows accounts have been used to estimate this, and trade statistics are also available. Current accounts balances can also reflect how a country is doing on long-term financial sustainability. With some additions and adjustments in global and complementary national indicators (66 and 80 GHG emissions, 10.3 migration, 73 resource-based contracts, 12.3 chemical pollution, 78 decarbonization, 17.2 debt sustainability, 17.6 tariffs, 17.7 LCD exports), it should be possible to include in the SDG indicator set a few essential measures that would allow calculating a nation's economic, social and environmental footprint beyond its borders in the global system. This is an essential part of each nation's responsibility for global sustainable development.

Specific indicators of interest

Several indicators are of particular interest to IEF. Under the goal on education, there is complementary national indicator 4.1 [Percentage of girls and boys who acquire skills and values needed for global citizenship and sustainable development (national benchmarks to be developed) by the end of lower secondary] – to be developed. IEF has been involved in EU-funded research on values-based indicators of education for sustainable development ( and follow-up in applying these indicators in secondary schools through the Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living (PERL): The first toolkits for teachers on measuring skills and values are available on the IEF web site and in press. This research could contribute to a methodology for preparing this new national indicator.

There is also complementary national indicator 8.9. [Indicator on implementation of 10-year framework of programs on sustainable consumption and production] - to be developed, which relates to our work on sustainable consumption and participation in networks like the Global Research Forum on Sustainable Production and Consumption, and PERL. SDSN also recognizes the problem of extremes of wealth, with Goal 10, indicator 67 [Indicator on inequality at top end of income distribution: GNI share of richest 10% or Palma Ratio], and the need for a complementary national indicator on migration: 10.3. [Indicator on migration] - to be developed, another subject on which IEF has contributed to the international discourse.

Under Goal 12, indicator 74 Global Food Loss Indicator [or other indicator to be developed to track the share of food lost or wasted in the value chain after harvest] acknowledges the need to reduce the third of food that is produced but never eaten, and complementary indicator 12.1. [Strategic environmental and social impact assessments required] - to be developed, calls for such assessments to be required everywhere. Among the environmental indicators are complementary indicator 15.3. Vitality Index of Traditional Environmental Knowledge, and 15.9. Living Planet Index. The issue of values is also touched on in the last global indicator under Goal 17: 100 Evaluative Wellbeing and Positive Mood Affect, to be developed by SDSN and the OECD.

Sustainable Development Solutions Network

Launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in August 2012, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) mobilizes scientific and technical expertise from academia, civil society, and the private sector in support of sustainable development problem solving at local, national, and global scales. It aims to accelerate joint learning and help to overcome the compartmentalization of technical and policy work by promoting integrated approaches to the interconnected economic, social, and environmental challenges confronting the world. The SDSN works closely with United Nations agencies, multilateral financing institutions, the private sector, and civil society.

Dahl, Arthur Lyon. 2012. Achievements and gaps in indicators for sustainability. Ecological Indicators, vol. 17, p. 14-19. June 2012.
UNEP. 2008. Overview of environmental assessment landscape at national level: State of state-of-the-environment reporting: Note by the Executive Director. UNEP/GC.25/INF/12/Add.1, 45 p.

Last updated 31 January 2015