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More “joined-up” approaches to measure and monitor sustainability are needed to sharpen policies in UNECE region 

Nexus measuring and monitoring

More robust monitoring and measuring systems are required to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to a UNECE report on Measuring and Monitoring progress towards SDGs that uses a “nexus” approach to chart a course for more “joined up” activities. 

High-quality statistics are vital for all stakeholders – from national governments, local authorities, regional and global organizations, civil society, the private sector and the general public – to measure progress towards the SDGs and take informed action. However, the new report finds that the unprecedented data demands of the 2030 Agenda bring important measurement and monitoring challenges for all countries, underscoring that cooperation and collaboration remain a challenge despite strong progress being made at national, regional and global levels. 

It also stresses that measuring and monitoring sustainable development goes beyond purely statistical activities, calling for a holistic approach to ensure the 2030 Agenda flows through all policies and initiatives. This is vital to ensure that, for example, infrastructure projects are aligned with SDG targets, and that trade or transport policymakers ask the right questions to ensure that all aspects of sustainability are taken into account. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the value of informed decision-making in times of crisis to the fore, emphasizing the need for integrated, relevant, timely and easily accessible information, robust data and indicators, and their appropriate assessment. To achieve this and to ensure that necessary measures are taken on time to protect the most vulnerable, adequate monitoring programmes, information management systems and assessment and reporting routines must be in place. 

In response to measurement challenges, coordinated efforts can catalyse sustainability  

“Without good data, without official statistics, the implementation of the SDG agenda will be random and will be based on serendipity".  So said Julio Santaella, the president of The National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) of Mexico, which contributes alongside over 60 countries to the cutting-edge work of the UNECE Conference of European Statisticians (CES).   

Drawing on a questionnaire to uncover member States’ experiences, the report found that all countries face challenges in measurement and monitoring, whether in terms of finding suitable methodologies, the quality of underlying data, the management and sharing of information, inadequacy of human and financial resources, or the ability to report indicators with the desired degree of disaggregation. While the sheer scale of the measuring and monitoring challenge for the 169 SDG targets is vast, the report highlights effective and successful actions already taken by governments at the national level, and by UNECE and other organizations at the regional and global levels.  

In terms of national responses, the report showcases a broad range of coordinated approaches taken, many of which involve National Statistical Offices (NSOs). These include: 

  • Belarus established a Council for Sustainable Development with the NSO (Belstat) as a member and head of the sub-group charged with coordination of indicators. Belstat also prepared a statistical road map for the compilation of the SDGs (based on the CES Road Map developed at UNECE) and formed a working group on the use of remote-sensing technologies for SDG measurement and monitoring. 
  • Statistics Ireland has prepared a statistical road map and created an SDG indicators data hub. 
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina has made use of the UNDP Rapid Integrated Assessment tool to facilitate the mainstreaming of SDGs into national and local plans. 
  • In Canada, a member of the NSO is co-located within the policy unit of the country’s employment and social development ministry responsible for coordination of the SDGs. 
  • Denmark is establishing a partnership for SDG data comprising governmental agencies, civil society, academia, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders. 
  • In Israel, an inter-governmental committee was established for coordination and sharing of SDG-related data. Thanks to its work, the country was able to develop new SDG indicators related to policy and legislation. 
  • Kazakhstan has created an intergovernmental coordination committee with five working groups chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, with the Ministry of National Economy as the coordinating body. 
  • In Kyrgyzstan, the NSO is a member of five working groups created under the Vice-President to coordinate the national response to the 2030 Agenda; the NSO leads the working group on monitoring and evaluation. Interdepartmental working groups and committees of similar sorts have been created as well in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Czechia, Georgia, North Macedonia, Russian Federation, Slovenia, Tajikistan and Turkey. 
  • In the Netherlands, the NSO works with municipalities to improve the quality and timeliness of data for SDG measurement and monitoring through the Urban Data Centres initiative. 

Connecting expertise to accelerate progress: the role of UNECE tools 

Building on successful approaches and to help countries address measurement and monitoring challenges of in a joined-up way, UNECE employs a “nexus” approach to bring expertise together from across its multidisciplinary work.  

The report notes that environmental statistics are relatively underdeveloped, yet key to SDG measurement and monitoring. It highlights the role that the UNECE set of environmental indicators can play in measuring and monitoring, and the contribution they can make to a circular economy in the region. Notable UNECE efforts to support improvement of environmental statistics include its Task Force on Waste Statistics; the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution, which supports air quality monitoring via a network of over 150 sites that collect data to help assess the environmental and health impacts of air pollution; the integration of SDGs into national Environmental Performance Reviews for some 20 countries to date; and recommendations on the role of official statistics in measuring hazardous events and disasters. 

The report draws upon materials available from UNECE and many other global and regional institutions, including other UN agencies. UNECE examples include its coordinating role as co-custodian or partner agency for SDG indicators relating to transboundary water cooperation and transport; as well as regional coordination mechanisms such as the creation of the Steering Group on Statistics for Sustainable Development, and knowledge sharing initiatives such as the SDG Knowledge Hub. The publication contains recommendations for both member States and to further sharpen cooperation under UNECE auspices. 

UNECE will continue to assist member States with all aspects of measuring and monitoring activities, supporting cooperation to develop state-of-the-art tools and building capacities to use them to inform polices for the SDGs. 


Note to editors 

About UNECE’s “nexus” approach 

UNECE is supporting countries to address some of the key sustainable development challenges facing the region, which can help steer efforts for a green and inclusive socio-economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.   

Through an integrated, multisectoral approach leveraging UNECE norms, standards and conventions, and by building capacities and providing policy assistance, UNECE is helping to accelerate countries’ implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  

This cross-cutting work is helping to drive progress towards 9 core SDGs where UNECE has particular strengths, namely SDGs 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13 and 15. Partnerships (SDG 17) and gender equality (SDG 5) underpin all UNECE activities.   

At the crossroads of all UNECE programmes and expertise, UNECE has identified 4 high-impact “nexus” areas where multiple SDGs converge.  

  • Sustainable use of natural resources 
  • Sustainable and smart cities 
  • Sustainable mobility and smart connectivity 
  • Measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs. 

This report is one of four flagship publications prepared by UNECE to support countries’ SDG progress in these key areas. 


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