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Keeping Track Of Sustainable Development On The Road To 2030

In March 2017, based on the recommendation of the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs), the UN Statistical Commission approved a global framework of indicators to monitor progress towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their 169 targets. But what are these indicators, and how can they help us build a sustainable future?

When the 195 Member States of the United Nations unanimously adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a “plan of action for people, planet and prosperity”, they also agreed that they needed an effective way to track progress and monitor how close each year we get to achieving the 2030 agenda goals.

The indicator framework is a management tool to help countries develop implementation strategies, allocate resources, and ensure the accountability of all stakeholders for achieving the SDGs. For UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), this new framework constitutes an essential point of reference to help its Member States develop concrete policies to carry out SDG 14 to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources”.

“There are potentially four different levels of monitoring, each with overlapping but different sets of indicators. The IAEG-SDGs is responsible for developing the global framework of indicators, but there can be regional and national frameworks, as well as a thematic one,” explains Silvia Montoya, Director of UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics.

Schematic illustration of the indicators for national, regional, global, and thematic monitoring (source)

“The frameworks are developed for anyone to use, but in particular for countries and for organizations, such as the UN, with the mandate for monitoring the SDGs or aspects of the SDGs,” she continued. “Indicators are designed to be cross-nationally comparable. They are typically based on national data reported to the custodian agency for the given indicator; however, they may be adapted.”

IOC is currently the custodian agency for two SDG 14 indicators: for target 14.a, which calls nations to “increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer of marine technology (…)”, and target 14.3, which calls to “minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels”. IOC is also providing technical support to UN Environment on SDG 14 targets related to marine pollution and ecosystem-based management.

All indicators are classified by the IAEG-SDGs into three tiers based on their level of methodological development (are they ready to use or still need fine-tuning?), and the availability of data at the global level (have these data already been collected in the past; are there existing data-sets? Or is it something new?).

UNESCO’s IOC played an active role in informing the stakeholders in charge of defining the SDG indicators and the underlying data standards for the targets under its custodianship. Last November, the IAEG-SDGs reclassified indicator 14.a.1 on the “proportion of total research budget allocated to research in the field of marine technology” from Tier 3 to Tier 2.

“We at IOC are very happy that the international community has recognized the methodology developed for and exploited by the Global Ocean Science Report and the data collection carried out in 25 countries on their national investment in this area. I hope this recognition will encourage more countries to contribute their national data to the Report’s 2nd edition, expected around 2020 or 2021, making it an ever richer and more reliable tracker of the level of international cooperation aimed at conserving and sustainably using our ocean,” lauded the IOC Executive Secretary, Vladimir Ryabinin.

For the other targets and indicators for which it plays the role of “custodian agency”, the IOC will keep on developing further mechanisms to ensure they are operational and routinely measured and reported by Member States.

By analyzing each indicator’s trends over time and comparing with trends for countries or groups of countries in similar situations, governments should be able to determine if they are making adequate progress towards a target and, if not, to take corrective action. The first major review of the monitoring framework will take place in 2019 and be submitted to the UN Statistical Commission for adoption in 2020. A second review will take place five years later. Each year, SDG indicators that are operational are compiled and presented in the UN SDG Report.

“In addition, there will be a wide range of reports, including at different levels of monitoring, which will provide examples of good practice, identify main factors impeding progress towards a given target, and propose possible solutions. These will be a rich source of information for governments to help address similar problems they may be facing,” added Dr Montoya.

Given the breadth of national contexts, countries will likely adopt a variety of indicators. In the context of SDG 14 – the ocean SDG –, for example, landlocked countries would not report on many of the indicators, while numerous coastal countries who rely heavily on marine activities and resources may consider these indicators insufficient. This is where additional indicators or frameworks would come into play.

“A ‘regional’ framework designed for all coastal countries could be developed by an appropriate body or group of partners, or it could be defined as a thematic framework. The framework could then contain additional indicators of relevance. However, it is unlikely that the global framework will be expanded to cover all the variety of situations that could exist in the world,” concluded Dr Montoya.

For more information on the SDG indicators and monitoring framework related to IOC, please contact:

Julian Barbière (j.barbiere(at)

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