The United Nations is inching closer toward establishing a global framework to measure the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, more than one year after the universal poverty, health, inequality and climate change agenda was approved.
But lack of available data and clarity on how these ambitious targets can actually be measured will likely leave the new U.N. monitoring system in flux for the next several years. That uncertainty could make it challenging to track progress on benchmark goals such as universal health coverage and whether violence against children has decreased leading up to 2030.
“It will be a process of refining the message and refining the indicators,” said Tom Slaymaker, senior statistics and monitoring specialist at UNICEF. “This is a long-term project and we have to be realistic about what we can expect to be able to report in the short- and medium-term.”
U.N. officials admit it could take years to finalize this global framework, so they are urging countries not to wait.
Some countries, such as Mexico and Colombia, are already adopting this framework — a 30-page document with 230 indicators, tiered from I to III based off of their readiness to measure progress — into their national implementation strategy. Other countries are moving ahead on custom tailoring the Global Goals, as they are known, without universal benchmarks officially in place.
“I think it could be years past until there is a kind of global reporting system that covers all [countries],” said Grete Faremo, the executive director of the United Nations Office for Project Services. “If you think of it as a universal system that would encompass everything I think it will take time as I say if you look at it bottom up a lot of countries are all already showing their cards and asking for help and ready to support each other.”
A U.N. meeting next week in Geneva will focus attention on finalizing the framework and the potential refinement of 10 indicators that have been singled out either because of their lack of alignment with a SDG target or methodological soundness. It’s the fourth of four SDG framework meetings led by the Inter-agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators, or IAEG, made up of representatives from 28 countries’ statistics offices.
The U.N. Statistical Commission has been tasked with interpreting the unfolding recommendations of the IAEG, which formed in March 2015, and translating them into written indicators. The General Assembly is then expected to consider and vote on the framework in March 2017.
Next week’s conference, running on Nov. 15-18, will give civil society a chance to voice concern about how their voices are being incorporated into the document.
John Romano, coordinator of the Transparency, Accountability and Participation network, a coalition of NGOs working for an open 2030 development agenda governance process, is one of the 50 civil society, academic and private sector representatives set to attend.
“They [the IAEG] haven’t been as transparent as they could, and that is a criticism not just from civil society, but from U.N. agencies as well,” Romano said.
“I would be really surprised to see any of civil society organizations’ inputs reflected in what they currently have in the tiering system. Civil society is consulted, in theory, but when the inputs are not being reflected in the outcomes, what does that say?”