The role of combining national official statistics with global monitoring to close the data gaps in the environmental SDGs

Campbell J, Neuner J, See L, Fritz S, Fraisl D, Espey J, & Kim A (2020). The role of combining national official statistics with global monitoring to close the data gaps in the environmental SDGs. Statistical Journal of the IAOS: 1-11. DOI:10.3233/SJI-200648. (In Press)

147534-20-0648-R_PE_JEC_VanRef.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial.

Download (758kB) | Preview


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have elevated the profile of the environmental dimension of development – and how we monitor this dimension. However, they have also challenged national statistical systems and the global statistical community to put in place both the methodologies and mechanisms for data collection and reporting on environmental indicators. According to a recent analysis, there is too little data to formally assess the status of 68% of the environment-related SDGs [1]. Many environment-related indicators were not part of the purview of national statistical systems and did not have a methodology or data collection system in place prior to the adoption of the SDG indicator framework [2]. Moderate improvements have been made, as evidenced by the reduced proportion of environment-related SDG indicators classified as Tier III between the original classification in 2016 and May 2019 – dropping from 50% to 28% [3]. As of March 2020, there are currently no Tier III indicators; however, as many of the SDG indicators have been recently reclassified the data availability and experience in compiling these indicators is severely limited. Socioeconomic indicators have far outpaced environmental indicators in this shift, with only 7% of non-environmental indicators classified as Tier III in May 2019 [1,4,5]. As the custodian agency for 26 of the environment-related SDG indicators, UN Environment is establishing methodologies and mechanisms to collect country-level data. However, many countries currently do not have national systems in place for monitoring these environmental indicators and thus there is a risk that much of the environmental dimension of development cannot be captured by using reporting mechanisms which only include traditionally collected national official statistics. For many of these indicators, UN Environment is exploring new data sources, such as data from citizen science. Citizen science has the potential to contribute to global and local level SDG monitoring. Realizing its full potential however, would require building key partnerships around citizen science data and creating an enabling environment. Global modelling is another approach to fill data gaps. These new types of data could not only improve global estimations but could be incorporated in national official statistics in order to improve nationally relevant data and analysis [6]. The Global Material Flow database, which estimates Domestic Material Consumption (covering SDG indicators 8.4.2 and 12.2.2), and the Global Surface Water Explorer application (covering SDG indicator 6.6.1) are a couple of examples of where UN Environment is complementing national data with global data products in the official SDG reporting process. In these cases the use of globally-derived data has been agreed by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) [7]. Expanding globally-estimated or -modelled data to cover environment-related SDG indicators could build the foundation for a digital ecosystem for the planet, which would provide a basis for developing integrated analysis and insights. A Sustainability Gap Index could be one mechanism to bring together the environmental dimension of development into a single metric, which could inform the achievement of the SDGs, environmental assessments and national policy. This paper presents a summary of how the world is faring in terms of measuring the environmental dimension of the SDGs.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sustainable Development Goals, indicators, citizen science, environment, modelling
Research Programs: Ecosystems Services and Management (ESM)
Depositing User: Luke Kirwan
Date Deposited: 27 May 2020 12:52
Last Modified: 27 May 2020 13:45

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria
Phone: (+43 2236) 807 0 Fax:(+43 2236) 71 313