SDG data discussion: what next?

By Johannes Jütting, PARIS21 Secretariat Manager

After months of intense discussions, representatives from more than 190 national statistical offices agreed on a global monitoring framework for the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 goals and 169 targets of the framework will be complemented by 230 indicators. This is a huge achievement given the complex political and technical challenges that had to be solved to reach a consensus. Now, the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the United Nations General Assembly formally will endorse the framework.

Avoiding a stalemate with this finish line in sight and addressing the framework’s remaining blind spots require urgent attention. The two main points that still need to be addressed are: i) integrating the SDGs into national priorities and strengthening national statistical capacities for that process and ii) improving the indicator set.

Integrating SDGs into national priorities

The following table captures different reporting levels, organizations in the lead and the purpose of the reporting exercises:

SDG monitoring – roles and responsibilities

Global Regional and thematic National
Responsibility for SDG reporting UN Statistics Division based mainly on national data collected by international agencies Regional organizations, UN and other agencies harmonising SDG methodology for regional reporting National statistical systems and third-party providers supplying national and subnational data
Original data sources Country-level Country-level Country-level
Purpose Global monitoring focusing on world progress overall Regional and thematic monitoring focusing on relevant progress National monitoring focusing on national and subnational priorities

The relationship between UN technical agencies, such as WHO, UNICEF and FAO, and national governments in the production of statistics is complex. Much of the data we have currently on poverty, health, education or nutrition comes from large-scale international household surveys run by these agencies in countries. This is done in close collaboration with national statistical offices and often includes a capacity-building component that is very useful. However, involving agencies in the production of data can be problematic too as they have their own thematic agenda that might not align with national priorities or could even contradict those priorities. With the heavy SDG agenda, this risk increases substantially and could lead to a crowding out of national capacities.

Another equally important issue is the measurement exercise’s purpose. Do we focus all our attention on how best to do global monitoring? Or do we also focus urgently on producing national SDG data roadmaps that identify country-specific baselines, data needs and data filling plans for effective country-level actions? We should not forget that the data are supposed to help policy makers make evidence-based decisions and achieve impact. This happens primarily at national and subnational levels.

Improving the indicators

Even with general agreement on the indicator set, the real work remains. The consensus is clear that the indicators will need to be defined further over the coming months and years. Many indicators are yet to be supported by the required data or methodology. National statistical systems will face trouble with certain indicators or simply will lack the incentives to measure them at all. A good example is indicator 10.5.1 that measures the “financial soundness” of national policies: no government will be motivated to report on this aspect if the country is not doing well, especially given the possible impact on foreign direct investment decisions. Or take indicator 16.4.1 that asks for a country’s total value of inward and outward illicit financial flows. Illicit flows by their very nature are clandestine, making only vague estimates possible at best. Another blind spot is the current indicator on corruption: bribery is measured in the public sector whereas the private sector is not considered. Moreover, the indicator set ignores some important problems entirely. Obesity, for example, is not included but is a growing health problem in many middle-income countries, straining public services.

More technical work clearly is needed. But more importantly, the international community needs to provide the financial means to enable national statistical systems to do the job they are asked to do without undermining national priorities and taking into account their current capacity.

Where to go from here

The agenda needs to move now from the global to the national and finally to the local levels. Building partnerships among public institutions – agencies of the national statistical system – citizens and the private sector at the local level is critical. This hopefully will lead to better planning of conventional statistical operations and to building new models that involve citizens, businesses and nongovernmental organisations.

The conclusion is that achieving the SDGs will depend largely on strengthening national and local capacities in a creative synergy of data producers and users. Only then can we hope that policies will be able to reach those who live on the fringes of society. This is how we can leverage data effectively to fulfil the 2030 Agenda’s promise to “leave no one behind.’’

This blog also appeared on The Huffington Post. Click here to read it anew.

This article should not be reported as representing the official views of the OECD, the OECD Development Centre or of their member countries. The opinions expressed and arguments employed are those of the author.

The SDGs are here… Now what?

By Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and former Prime Minister of New Zealand

We face the challenge of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in a world faced with multiple and diverse forms of crisis. What do the SDGs mean for countries where families have to flee their homes to escape conflict, where rising sea levels threaten lives, livelihoods and infrastructure, and where economies are devastated by the impact of epidemics or terrorism?

Clearly, the effects of such trends are not confined to the countries in which they originate. Instead, they spill over to neighbouring countries and far beyond, with regional and global consequences that are now posing challenges to many countries, north and south.

The interlinked and comprehensive nature of the SDGs challenges us to identify entry points in many different contexts, and to address the critical bottlenecks that must be removed if no one is to be left behind.

Four areas are fundamental to achieving the SDGs.

1)      Strong national ownership and leadership: Theexperience of implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) showed that the most important determinants of progress include strong leadership committed to global goals and proactive and capable governance institutions at the national and local levels to ensure that the global agenda is translated into national strategies, budgets and actions. We need to work together more closely than ever to help strengthen capacities, whatever the country context.

2)      Active coalitions, engaged stakeholders and knowledge exchange: The 2030 Agenda will need to draw on solutions and experiences from across countries, stakeholder groups and sectors. Today’s world offers new and diverse resources and technologies. UNDP values its engagement with the OECD in support of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation that seeks to maximize the impact of development co-operation.

3)      Enabling resources: The 2015 Addis Ababa Action Accord on Financing for Development emphasizes that financing for development requires far more than traditional development assistance. Countries will need to tap all forms of finance — public and private, domestic and international, and environmental and developmental. A critical challenge will be to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable are reached and that Official Development Assistance (ODA) is used in catalytic ways to leverage additional domestic financing. For instance, the UNDP-OECD Tax Inspectors Without Borders initiative works to help local officials in the tax administrations of developing countries access cutting-edge tax audit expertise to increase tax revenue.

4)      Robust follow-up and review: The 2030 Agenda challenges every country to assess progress. Sound accountability mechanisms and timely, disaggregated data are among the minimum requirements for designing, monitoring and evaluating progress towards the SDGs. UNDP and OECD are collaborating closely to help support data-driven decision-making by initiating more open, new and usable data through the new Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.

The 2030 Agenda was adopted by 193 governments, but governments on their own cannot drive the agenda. Leadership is needed from the multilateral system. UNDP is working within the UN Development Group to implement a common approach to SDG implementation. We title our approach MAPS – which stands for Mainstreaming, Acceleration, and Policy Support. This will see the UN development system in-country working to:

  • land the agenda at national and local levels (mainstreaming);
  • target resources at removing bottlenecks to sustainable development (acceleration); and
  • make UN thematic expertise available in an effective and coherent way (policy support).

As the UN’s broad-based development organisation, which also is responsible for leading the coordination of all agencies in the UN development system, UNDP is well placed to play its part in supporting governments to drive forward on the SDGs, in promoting citizen engagement and in convening the broad partnerships necessary for SDG success. We also will support review processes at the global level and the all-important SDG reporting at the national level.

We look forward to continuing our close work with the OECD over the lifetime of the 2030 Agenda — to strengthen analysis to help inform sound policymaking, foster global partnerships, help catalyse the necessary data revolution and foster innovative financing solutions to ensure the realisation of the agenda’s aspirations. The objective is for all people, everywhere, to enjoy well-being and to safeguard the natural environment for future generations.

On Deaton and development: consumption, poverty and well-being

By Marcelo Neri, Director of FGV Social, Professor at EPGE-Fundação Getulio Vargas, Former Brazilian Minister of Strategic Affairs, Executive Secretary of the CDES Council for Economic and  Social Development and President of Ipea Institute for Applied Economic Research

The Royal Sweden Academy of Sciences titled Angus Deaton’s Nobel prize “Consumption, Poverty and Welfare.” The evaluation commission organised Deaton’s scientific contributions during the last 40 years under three headings: i) demand models for groups of consumption expenditures, such as food, housing, etc., that already had earned  his mentor, Sir Richard Stone (1913-1991), a Nobel in 1984; ii) the study of the choice between consumption and saving, which was the object of the prizes awarded to Franco Modigliani (1918-2003) in 1985 and Milton Friedman (1912-2006) in 1976; and iii) studies about “poverty” and “welfare” that already had conferred Amartya Sen with a Nobel in 1998. I would include a fourth element of Deaton’s work, not cited by the commission, on “subjective indicators and well-being” for which Daniel Kahneman earned a Nobel in 2002.

Continue reading

Gender discrimination in social institutions and long-term growth

By Gabriela Ramos, Special Counsellor to the OECD Secretary-General, OECD Chief of Staff and Sherpa to the G20 

Read this post in Spanish

Women’s economic empowerment remains a critical challenge around the globe. Only half of working-age women are in the labour force, earning on average 24% less than men and are less likely to receive a pension (UN Women, 2015). Women are also disproportionately concentrated in informal and precarious employment, and they spend nearly two and a half more times than men in unpaid care and domestic work (OECD 2014). In schools, girls are less likely to choose STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers, choosing other options that are less promising. Continue reading

Why have they chopped Africa in two?


By Laurent Bossard, Director, Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC/OECD)

Read this post in French

The word continent comes from the Latin phrase “continens terra” meaning a vast continuous stretch of land. It is based on this concept that the five continents were defined – not without some difficulty – and which make up, with Antarctica, 150 million square kilometres of land or 30% of the surface of our planet.

Africa is one of these continents – and the most beautiful in my eyes. Her shape brings to mind a powerful animal rearing up, carrying Europe and Asia on its back. To avoid injury, she took care to protect herself with two blue cushions: the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Under her belly, she once held Latin America, which she let go of 120 million years ago. It very much resembles her, only smaller.

Africa is also a land without boundaries. The equator, which runs through its middle, is populated by dense forests that gradually give way, in the north and in the south,  to savannah, covered with trees, then shrubs, then grass.  This in turn imperceptibly transforms into deserts of stone or sand that meet up, once again in the north and the south, with a Mediterranean-like environment. It would take a very clever person to seriously map the precise boundaries between these expanses – to say here is where the savannah ends and the desert begins –  much less those of its inhabitants. This is something only geographers would dare to do and geographers are liars.

Colonial history has turned this vast land into an extraordinary mosaic of  54 countries and three territories (territories for which there is little or no recognition from the international community), of which 14 have no access to the sea and 22 have fewer than 10 million inhabitants. Asia, which is much larger and more populated than Africa, only has 47 countries.

This presents many obstacles for the continent to develop and fit harmoniously within the global economy. Borders hinder trade and limit the size of markets and they also have the annoying and irrational habit of being closed off.

Recognising these challenges, Africans gathered in 1963 and took two decisions that were equally as wise as they were important. First, they agreed that it was better to accept the balkanisation of the continent, rather than see a proliferation of territorial conflicts and wars. This is what is known as the principle of the inviolability of the borders inherited from colonisation. At the same time, they devised a dream of a unified continent where borders would allow people and goods to circulate freely. Thus the Organisation of African Unity was born.

This noble ambition has experienced many ups and downs. If only because until the mid-1990s, there were in Africa – as in the rest of the world – two kinds of countries: those with a market economy and in the American camp, and those with a centrally administered economy and in the Communist camp. In these conditions, it was impossible to form regional common markets. Then came the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet empire; followed soon after by the end of the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Africa reformulated its ambition in the light of this new context. It passed from the dream of unity to one of union. The African Union was born in 2000.

The vision of the African Union is based on the establishment of five major regions (easier to draw on a map than 54 countries) within which national borders would freely allow production, trade and friendship to flourish between peoples; the five groupings ultimately destined to merge into a vast continental whole.

The number of studies demonstrating the “failure of African regional integration” is distressing. Africa only recently began work on this new chapter in its history about ten years ago or so. And the progress made has been spectacular despite what is said by those who forget that the current context is much more difficult than that which prevailed in Europe in the 1950s.

And now, without warning, the international community is chopping Africa in two! It has created (no one knows exactly when) a region unknown to geographers made up of North Africa and the Middle East, known as MENA . In minds and in policies, Africa ceases to be a continent. It is demoted to the rank of “region” and its regions lowered to the status of “sub-regions” (a term unknown in the vocabulary of the African Union). In most international organisations and foreign ministries, “MENA” and “SSA” (sub-Saharan Africa) strategies are now conceived according to different visions by people who do not know each other.

The menacing disorder that has been spreading for several years in the Sahara-Sahel, a shared space common to North Africa and to sub-Saharan Africa, shows that chopping African in two was not a good idea. The many Sahel stabilisation strategies are now de facto limited to the countries on the southern shore of the desert, simply because those on the northern shore do not fall within the same strategies or the same budgets.

It is urgent that Africa becomes a continent once again in international organograms.

Pourquoi ont-ils coupé l’Afrique en deux ?

par Laurent Bossard, Directeur, Secrétariat du Club du Sahel et de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (CSAO/OCDE)

Le mot continent vient de la locution latine « continens terra » désignant une vaste étendue continue de terre. C’est sur la base de ce concept qu’ont été définis – non sans quelques difficultés – les cinq continents se partageant – avec l’Antarctique – les 150 millions de kilomètres carrés (de terres émergées (30 % de la surface de notre planète).

L’Afrique est l’un de ces continents. Le plus beau à mes yeux. Sa forme laisse imaginer un puissant animal cabré portant sur son dos l’Europe et l’Asie. Pour ne pas se blesser, il a pris soin de se protéger de deux coussins bleus : la Méditerranée et la mer Rouge. Il portait sous son ventre l’Amérique latine qu’il a laissé partir il y a 120 millions d’années. Elle lui ressemble beaucoup. En plus petit.

Terre continue, l’Afrique est aussi une terre sans limite. L’équateur qui la traverse en son milieu est le pays de la forêt dense qui laisse progressivement place, vers le nord comme vers le sud, à la savane, arborée, puis arbustive, puis herbeuse qui à son tour insensiblement se transforme en désert de pierres ou de sable rejoignant bientôt des milieux naturels de type méditerranéen, là encore au nord comme au sud. Bien malin celui qui tracerait sérieusement les limites précises entre ces milieux, comme entre les groupes humains qui les peuplent (ici finit la savane et commence le désert) ; il n’y a que les géographes pour oser faire cela. Les géographes sont des menteurs.

L’histoire coloniale a fait de cette terre continue une incroyable mosaïque constituée aujourd’hui de 54 pays et 3 territoires (ces trois derniers non ou peu reconnus par la communauté internationale), dont 14 n’ont aucun accès à la mer, 22 ont moins de 10 millions d’habitants ; autant de records mondiaux. L’Asie, beaucoup plus grande et peuplée que l’Afrique, ne compte que 47 pays.

Autant d’handicaps aussi pour se développer et s’insérer harmonieusement dans l’économie mondiale. Les frontières entravent le commerce et limitent la taille des marchés. Elles ont la fâcheuse habitude de se fermer de façon irrationnelle.

Conscients de ces difficultés, les africains se sont réunis en 1963 et ont pris deux décisions aussi sages qu’importantes. Ils se sont dit d’abord qu’il valait mieux accepter la balkanisation du continent, plutôt que de voir se multiplier les conflits territoriaux et les guerres. C’est ce que l’on appelle le principe de l’intangibilité des frontières héritées de la colonisation. Ils ont en même temps formulé un rêve d’unité du continent où les frontières laisseraient librement circuler les hommes et les marchandises. Ainsi est née l’Organisation de l’unité africaine.

Cette noble ambition a connu bien des vicissitudes. Ne serait-ce que parce que jusqu’au milieu des années 90, il y avait en Afrique – comme dans le reste du monde – deux sortes de pays : ceux de l’économie de marché et du camp américain, ceux de l’économie administrée et du camp communiste. Impossible dans ces conditions de constituer des marchés communs régionaux. Puis est venue la chute du mur de Berlin et la fin de l’empire soviétique ; bientôt suivis par la fin du régime d’apartheid en Afrique du Sud. L’Afrique a alors reformulé son ambition à la lumière du contexte nouveau. Elle est passée du rêve d’unité à celui d’union. L’Union africaine est ainsi née en 2000.

La vision de l’Union africaine repose sur la constitution de cinq grands ensembles régionaux (plus faciles à dessiner sur une carte que 54 pays) à l’intérieur desquels les frontières nationales laisseraient librement s’épanouir les productions, le commerce et l’amitié entre les peuples ; ces cinq ensembles étant à terme destinés à se fondre en un vaste ensemble continental.

Le nombre d’études démontrant « l’échec de l’intégration régionale africaine » est affligeant. L’Afrique n’a véritablement ouvert ce dossier qu’il y a une dizaine d’années. Et quoiqu’en disent ceux qui oublient que le contexte est beaucoup plus difficile que celui qui prévalait en Europe dans les années 1950, les progrès sont spectaculaires.

Et voilà que, sans prévenir, la communauté internationale coupe l’Afrique en deux ! Elle crée (personne ne sait exactement quand) une région inconnue des géographes constituée de l’Afrique du Nord et du Moyen-Orient, connue sous le vocable anglais de MENA. Dans les esprits et dans les politiques, l’Afrique cesse d’être un continent. Elle est rétrogradée au rang de « région » et ses régions abaissées à celui de « sous-régions » (cette dernière notion est inconnue du vocabulaire de l’Union africaine).

Dans la plupart des organisations internationales et des ministères des affaires étrangères, les stratégies « MENA » et de l’Afrique subsaharienne « ASS » sont désormais conçues selon des visions différentes par des gens qui ne se connaissent pas.

Le désordre menaçant qui se propage depuis plusieurs années dans le Sahara-Sahel, espace partagé, commun à l’Afrique du Nord et à l’Afrique subsaharienne, montre que couper l’Afrique en deux n’était pas une bonne idée. Les nombreuses stratégies de stabilisation du Sahel sont aujourd’hui, de facto, limitées aux pays de la rive sud du désert ; simplement parce que ceux de la rive nord ne relèvent ni des mêmes stratégies, ni des mêmes budgets.

Il est urgent que l’Afrique redevienne un continent dans les organigrammes internationaux.


EU-Latin America: Post-Occidental relationship?

By Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Former EU Commissioner for External Relations and Neighbourhood Policy, Former Foreign Minister of Austria and former President of the EU-LAC Foundation

Today more than ever, the European Union and Latin America face the opportunity to advance a post-Occidental partnership. Already, the two regions share the same culture, speak the same language in part and promote the same values and principles enshrined in democracy, the rule of law, human dignity and peace. Such mutual bi-regional respect and tolerance serve as a clear counter-ideology to the surge of extremism and religious fanaticism that we see.

Alain Rouquié, academic, Latin America expert and former French ambassador to Brazil, referred to Latin America as Europe’s “Far West.” Yet, the many changes in the relationship between the European Union and Latin America no longer reflect this definition of the “West.” Thus, building a new enhanced post-Occidental strategic partnership is timely. Indeed, Europe and Latin America could be much stronger allies, politically, socially and economically. What does this mean in concrete terms? Continue reading

How middle class are middle-income households in Latin America?

By Ángel Melguizo (OECD Development Centre) and Nora Lustig (Tulane University)

On labour informality and its causes

 One of the most important achievements of the recent period of economic expansion in Latin America has been the substantial reduction of poverty and the surge of an emerging middle class. According to World Bank estimates (Ferreira et al, 2013), in 2009 the Latin American population with a daily income of between 4 and 50 dollars a day (in parity of purchasing power) represents 68% in the region today, compared with 29% who still are moderate poverty. These ‘middle sectors’ are composed of 38% belonging to a vulnerable population, which has between 4 and 10 dollars a day, and 30% middle class, between 10 and 50 dollars. Continue reading