Sustainable development key focus at StatCom annual meeting

/ Author: Masja de Ree
© Hollandse Hoogte
On 10 March 2017 the conference of the Statistical Commission of the United Nations (UN) adopted a resolution on the 230 indicators to be used to measure progress on the UN’s sustainable development goals. Every year national statistical institutes come together at the annual meeting of the Statistical Committee (StatCom) to approve international standards and methods.

Sustainable development

The UN has established seventeen sustainable development goals for the period 2015 to 2030 (Agenda 2030). How progress towards achieving these goals should be measured was the main item on this year’s StatCom agenda. Deputy Director General of Statistics Netherlands (CBS) Bert Kroese, international policy advisor Daan von Berg and the Director of Curacao’s statistics bureau Sean de Boer represented the Netherlands in New York. Kroese: ‘The UN is aiming high with its seventeen goals for sustainable development in the area of economy, social affairs and the environment. Reliable monitoring of progress in terms of achieving these goals will increase the likelihood of their being realised.’ Together the 230 indicators cover a wide range of domains: from environmental pollution and use of renewable energy to poverty, and from quality of education to gender equality.

Tough negotiations

The Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators has spent the last two years drafting a preliminary list of 230 indicators. The Netherlands, represented by the CBS, is a member of this group. Last year StatCom endorsed the list as a practical starting point for monitoring and evaluating the sustainable development goals. However, as no agreement was reached on the text of the resolution to be tabled at the general assembly of the UN, the topic reappeared on this year’s agenda. ‘It took three days of tough negotiations behind the scenes and a lot of persuasive power to agree on the text of the resolution,’ according to Von Berg. ‘The resolution states that the list of 230 indicators should officially be adopted by the UN as the global framework, but also that the list can be fine-tuned and improved in the coming years. It was decided to review the list in 2020 and 2025, to adapt it where necessary.’


All data published by CBS are available as open data. In this way, the CBS contributes to transparent government



How can we ensure that every country will be actually able to introduce all these sustainability indicators? Von Berg: ‘The handling and feasibility of the number of indicators was an important discussion point. As this requires money, the necessity of sufficient funding for the SDGs was underlined. This is not only true for developing countries, but also for developed countries like the Netherlands. The CBS conducted a study of the availability of the indicators last year. This revealed that information was already available for 37 percent of the indicators; the remaining indicators have still to be developed. The World Bank, the IMF, regional development banks and national governments have an important role in this respect.’ The resolution is expected to be adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2017.

Environmental accounts

In addition attending to the plenary session, the CBS gave a number of presentations for the StatCom and chaired a number of commissions. Among other things, Kroese presented the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting, which provides a consistent description of environmental factors and how they relate to the economy. This can be used as a basis for a number of the 230 sustainability indicators. Kroese is Chair of the commission that endorses the worldwide introduction of these environmental accounts. ‘Other countries are queuing to learn from our experience in this domain. We received many positive reactions during StatCom, resulting in very useful discussions, among other things about whether international organisations may publish reports on countries that themselves do not have the capacity to introduce the SEEA.’ During the meeting in New York agreements were made about further promotion of the introduction of environmental accounts.

Open data

Another important topic on the StatCom agenda was open data. Many countries are aiming to make all government data available as open data: i.e. data that are accessible via the internet free of charge and can be used by everybody - via an open connection – for websites and apps. All published CBS data are available as open data. Kroese: ‘In this way we contribute to transparent government and help researchers and businesses who want to use our data without delay.’ However, by far not all data of government institutions are open data. The CBS wants to help improve this situation. ‘Remember, it’s our task to provide society with the information it needs. We have the technology at hand and extensive knowledge about data protection and security. Other countries are interested in our technological developments. The Netherlands is a leader in this field. And we in turn can learn from Canada and New Zealand, for example, where statistics institutes have a coordinating role in the process of making all government data accessible.’