Statistics Netherlands exploring indicators for Sustainable Development Goals

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
At the end of September 2015, 193 heads of state reached an agreement on an agenda for 2030 in the context of sustainable development, signing up to an ambitious set of objectives: the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Global Goals. These goals apply to the period 2015-2030. All UN member states have committed themselves to contribute to the realisation of the goals formulated on welfare, security and justice. A key question is how to monitor whether countries are on the right track to achieve these goals. National statistical offices play an important part in this area. Hermanus Rietveld, coordinator of SDG activities at Statistics Netherlands (CBS), elaborates on the current state of affairs.

International benchmark

SDGs are the new international benchmark for sustainable development in 193 countries. The core of the '2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development' of the United Nations consists of 17 SDGs including 169 targets. Rietveld: "The 17 goals build on the Millennium Development Goals. Thanks to these goals, a lot has been achieved, but the monitoring was considered inadequate. The governments of the UN member states are primarily responsible for the implementation and monitoring of SDGs. It was agreed that the data will be compiled by the national statistical offices."


How exactly are the 17 goals and 169 targets going to be monitored? Rietveld: "The monitoring will be done by means of internationally agreed statistical indicators. In the past two years, a preliminary list of indicators was drawn up by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal indicators, which operates under a UN mandate. CBS participates in this worldwide Group as one of four European statistical offices. The other three countries are Germany, Italy and Sweden. In April 2016, CBS investigated which of the proposed indicators are already available for the Netherlands and which would have to be developed. As it turned out, 37 percent of indicators are currently available for the Netherlands. That might seem like a small percentage, but scores for other developed countries such as Germany and the US are similar. The percentages for developing countries are often lower."


In addition to checking the availability of SDG-indicators, CBS has to estimate the capacity needed to compile additional indicators. "The monitoring of SDGs is a major challenge, not only for CBS but also for other national statistical offices. It requires a lot of extra effort but also provides opportunities for additional funding." When does Rietveld expect the first results on SDGs to be published by CBS? "A CBS publication concerning an initial exploration in the SDG field is scheduled for November 2016. This publication could signal the start of a broad national discussion on measuring progress in the Netherlands with respect to the Global Goals, involving stakeholders like government planning agencies, research institutes and civil society."

World Bank

In developing countries, it is often difficult to collect adequate statistical information and this certainly applies to the new SDG indicators. Organisations like the UN and the World Bank call on the international community to help establish new information flows. They have high expectations of the 'data revolution', the use of big data sources and new observation tools including sensors and mobile devices. It is hoped that large multinational enterprises and advanced research institutes are willing to contribute, in addition to national statistical offices such as CBS. Last year, the World Bank paid a study visit to CBS and explicitly called upon the office to make available their knowledge and experience. CBS is currently examining how and with which partners meaningful contributions can be realised. This is expected to lead to fruitful cooperation, provided sufficient funding can be secured.