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The Importance and Challenge of the SDGs
Role of EO Data in Support of the SDGs
Institutional Roles
Future Challenges
Where to Find EO Data and Help
spacer The Importance and Challenge of the SDGs

The SDGs represent a data-driven, evidence-based approach to sustainable development.

The Global Indicator Framework is the means by which national governments can practically monitor achievement on, and report progress toward, the Targets.

Historical context

Underlying the concept of sustainable development is the recognition that (1) planet Earth has finite resources; (2) that mankind is increasingly efficient at the extraction and conversion of those resources and (3) when combined with significant population growth and displacement over the last century, our development and consumption patterns are fundamentally becoming unsustainable, with increasingly significant environmental, social, economic, and political consequences.

The United Nations (UN) system has a long history of seeking to promote and address sustainable development across society and to establish governance frameworks to achieve it:

− 1972: UN Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm), the first major conference on environmental sustainability marking a political turning point;

− 1992: UN Conference on Environment and Development (The Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro) that included Agenda 21 calling for global action in all areas of sustainable development spanning social, economic and environmental issues, and initiation of the three Rio Conventions on sustainable development (UNFCCC – the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; CBD – Convention on Biological Diversity; and UNCCD – the UN Convention to Combat Desertification);

− 2000: The Millennium Declaration that sought to reduce poverty and set out targets for the year 2015 – known ultimately as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs);

− 2002: The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD also known as ‘Rio+10’, Johannesburg);

− 2012: The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (‘Rio+20’, Rio de Janeiro) that resulted in ‘The Future We Want’ political outcome document, with practical measures for implementation of sustainable development principles and a path to development of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

spacer The Sustainable Development Goals

The long heritage of efforts to characterise and address sustainable development culminated in the adoption by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 of what is known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The 2030 Agenda (or Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development) provides a framework to guide the way that countries should collectively manage and transform the social, economic and environmental dimensions of our society and planet over the next 15 years.

Whilst the MDGs of the previous 15 years (2000–2015) focused primarily on the needs of developing countries to tackle poverty, the 2030 Agenda is extremely broad and ambitious in scope and addresses well-being and sustainability in all countries and at all levels. It addresses the root causes of poverty and the universal needs for sustainable development, such as reduction of poverty and inequality, economic growth and job creation, as well as sustainable use of natural resources.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to assist countries to measure, manage and monitor progress on economic, social and environmental sustainability, with the basic principle that no one is left behind. The aim is to integrate the principles of sustainable development into national policies and processes.

Although previous efforts expressed the importance of measurement and monitoring of progress towards sustainable development, insufficient attention was paid within the MDGs to the practicalities of clear targets and the data and evidence required in the measurement and monitoring of efforts to achieve them. The 2030 Agenda process sought to learn from this experience and has resulted in the definition of 17 SDGs and 169 Targets. These SDGs and Targets have been adopted by world leaders as the drivers for the 2030 Agenda and will be the foundation for sustainable development efforts for the next 15 years, for both the UN and its Member States.

The SDGs will inform the way in which countries and the international community will measure, manage, monitor progress and communicate on economic growth, social inclusion and environmental sustainability, as the pillars of sustainable development.

Just as the UN negotiations on climate (through the UNFCCC and its 21st Conference of Parties in Paris in late 2015) learned the importance of nationally determined contributions, so too has the sustainable development process, with the SDGs recognising the diversity in national circumstances and capacities. Each government defines its own targets guided by the global level of ambition but taking into account their national circumstances.
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Figure 1: The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda

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spacer spacer Measuring and Monitoring – the Global Indicator Framework for the SDGs

One the key lessons learned from the review of the MDGs and highlighted in the 2014 report A World That Counts, Mobilizing The Data Revolution for Sustainable Development was the recognition of the indispensable role of data in sustainable development and the importance for all stakeholders – governments, donors, UN Agencies, etc. – to be able to effectively track and monitor progress in a consistent and comparable way.

In support of the measurement and monitoring of progress towards the 17 SDGs, the UN has established a Global Indicator Framework, designed around 232 SDG Indicators. These Indicators represent the means by which national governments can practically monitor achievement on, and report progress toward, each of the 169 Targets of the 2030 Agenda. Links to the full set of 17 SDGs, 169 Targets and 232 Indicators can be found at the end of this section.

Sample Targets and Indicators for SDG #15 (Life on Land: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss) are shown in Figure 2 to illustrate the nature of the Targets and corresponding Indicators.

The scale and scope of the Indicator framework is daunting even to the most developed countries and there is a broad recognition that there will be substantial requirements for supporting data involved in the measuring and monitoring of so many Indicators at different scales.
Figure 2: Reporting progress through the use of global Indicators, and key areas of national data inputs for the production of the SDG report on the global and regional progress toward the SDG Goals and Targets.

Recognising the scale of the challenge in ensuring appropriate methodologies, data availability and consistent and comparable reporting by countries, the UN has appointed specialised Agencies to play a coordinating role as Custodians of SDG Indicators relevant to their area of expertise. Each Indicator has one nominated Custodian and further partner Agencies. These Custodian Agencies have the mandate to compile monitoring guidelines for measuring and reporting on the Indicators, to support countries on their implementation and strengthen national statistical capacities, and to collect national data for the global reporting mechanism.


Goal 1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere.

Goal 2 End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

Goal 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

Goal 4 Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Goal 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Goal 6 Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Goal 7 Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

Goal 8 Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Goal 9 Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

Goal 10 Reduce inequality within and among countries.

Goal 11 Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Goal 12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Goal 13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Goal 14 Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Goal 15 Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Goal 16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Goal 17 Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
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Measurement of some of the Indicators is entirely achievable for many countries today, whilst tracking other Indicators will require further improvements in availability of underlying data and statistics, as well as corresponding availability of robust methodologies for National Statistical Offices (NSOs) and the relevant ministries responsible for the subject Indicators to be able to develop consistent and comparable information. In order to establish a sense of priority for implementation and of the scale of the task ahead in relation to the availability of new data and new methodologies, the Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) created by the UN Statistical Commission to develop and implement the SDG Global Indicator Framework, developed a tier classification system, based on the level of methodological development and overall data availability:

− Tier 1 for Indicators that are conceptually clear, have established methodologies, standards are available and data are regularly produced by countries (at least 50 per cent of countries and of the population in every region where the Indicator is relevant).

− Tier 2 for Indicators that are conceptually clear, have established methodologies, standards are available but data are not regularly produced by countries.

− Tier 3 for Indicators for which there are no established methodologies and standards or methodology/standards are being developed/tested.

As of 15 December 2017, the updated tier classification contains 93 Tier I Indicators, 66 Tier II Indicators and 68 Tier III Indicators. In addition to these, there are 5 Indicators that have multiple tiers (different components of the Indicator are classified into different tiers).

The Indicators will be refined annually by the IAEG-SDGs and reviewed comprehensively in 2020 and 2025. The tier classification is expected to change as methodologies are developed and data availability increases.


As an illustration, examples of Tier 1, 2, and 3 Indicators and Custodians are:

− Tier 1: Indicator 15.1.1 – forest area as a proportion of total land area. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is the Custodian Agency for a total of 21 Indicators across SDGs 2, 5, 6, 12 and 14 that are mainly related to agriculture and forests, and is a contributing Agency for six more.

− Tier 2: Indicator 11.3.1 – ratio of land consumption rate to population growth date. UN-Habitat is the Custodian Agency as a part of a total of eight Indicators, and contributing agency for another five Goal 11 Indicators.

− Tier 3: Indicator 6.6.1 – change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time. The UN Environment Programme (UN Environment) is the Custodian Agency (for a total of 30 Indicators, and Contributing Agency to 50 more).

In addition, as Custodian Agencies, these organisations have the mandate to:

− support governments to set and report on national priorities and Targets;

− foster strong and coherent institutional and policy environments;

− support national statistical institutions to produce national Indicators and contribute to the Global Indicator Framework;

− support governments to report on challenges and results;

− contribute to mobilising resources, including data, in support of national efforts.

Such support is likely to be vital as countries – particularly developing countries or those without sophisticated national spatial data infrastructures – get to grips with the challenge around monitoring progress towards their Targets and reporting against the many metrics.

The Global Indicator Framework will be the basis for the routine annual reporting of progress towards the SDGs at the High Level Political Forum each year. The High Level Political Forum is the main UN platform on sustainable development and has a central role in the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at global level. The Forum meets annually under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and every four years at the level of Heads of State and Government under the auspices of the General Assembly.
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spacer spacer Further Information

UN Resolution on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:

UN Sustainable Development Goals:

SDGs Knowledge Platform:

Sustainable Development Goal Indicators Website:

Rio+20, The Future We Want:

Data Revolution Report, A World That Counts:

List of SDG Indicators:

Tier Classification for Global SDG Indicators:

UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development:


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