II. Sounding the alarm: SDG Progress at the midpoint

At the midpoint of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, a sobering reality emerges: the world is falling short of meeting most of the Goals by 2030. While certain areas have witnessed progress, there remains a concerning proportion of targets that are either progressing too slowly or regressing.

This section of the report provides a comprehensive overview of progress under each goal and offers a candid assessment based on the latest available data and estimates from more than 50 international agencies. Through an examination of selected targets under each goal, we uncover both successes and challenges, bringing attention to areas requiring urgent attention. This assessment compels us to acknowledge the existing gaps and calls for a redoubling of efforts on a global scale.

Moreover, this section highlights the remarkable advancements in data availability for SDG indicators and proactive measures taken by the data and statistical community, showcasing the progress made over time. It underscores the vital role of investing in data for accelerating SDG progress. By harnessing the power of data, we can gain valuable insights and drive effective actions towards realizing the 2030 Agenda.

A. Taking stock of SDG progress at the midpoint

A reality check of the progress made on the SDGs at the mid-way point towards 2030 reveals significant challenges. The latest global-level data and assessments from custodian agencies1 paint a concerning picture: of the approximately 140 targets that can be evaluated, half of them show moderate or severe deviations from the desired trajectory. Furthermore, more than 30 per cent of these targets have experienced no progress or, even worse, regression below the 2015 baseline. This assessment underscores the urgent need for intensified efforts to ensure the SDGs stay on course and progress towards a sustainable future for all.

Progress assessment for the 17 Goals based on assessed targets, 2023 or latest data (percentage)

B. Unfolding a remarkable journey of SDG data and monitoring

Despite the challenges in securing timely data across all 169 targets, considerable progress has been achieved in the availability of internationally comparable data: the number of indicators included in the global SDG database has increased from 115 in 2016 to 225 in 2023. The number of data records in the database has increased from 330, 000 in 2016 to 2.7 million as of May 2023. In just seven years, the global SDG database has expanded significantly.

Significant strides have also been made in the methodological development of the SDG indicators as well. In 2016, a concerning 39 per cent of the SDG indicators lacked internationally established methodology or standards. By March 2020, all indicators had a well-established and internationally agreed methodology, which ensure the comparability, accuracy, reliability, and usefulness of our measurements. Continuous refinement and harmonization of methodologies have made the indicator framework more robust. These advancements in methodology provide a solid foundation for monitoring the performance of the SDGs. Moreover, the proportion of indicators that are conceptually clear and have good country coverage has increased significantly from 36 per cent in 2016 to 66 per cent in 2022.

Proportion of global SDG indicators, by availability of standards and national data, 2016-2022 (percentage)

While these achievements are worthy of celebration, we cannot ignore the persistent gaps that still challenge our data landscape. Geographic coverage, timeliness, and disaggregation remain areas of concern. For several cross-cutting goals such as climate action (Goal 13), gender equality (Goal 5), and peace, justice, and strong institutions (Goal 16), less than half of the 193 countries or areas have internationally comparable data since 2015. This stark reality serves as a reminder that we must prioritize gathering essential information on these critical issues that profoundly impact our future and our planet. Furthermore, a significant challenge lies in the timeliness of data, with less than 30 per cent of the latest available data from 2022 and 2023, while over half of the latest data comes from 2020 and 2021. As we embark on delivering a rescue plan for people and planet at the SDG Summit, accelerated action for data is imperative.

National statistical offices are increasingly playing a coordination role, but challenges persist

Empowered by the SDG data requirements, many national statistical offices (NSOs) have taken a bigger coordination or stewardship role within their national statistical systems. In Cambodia, the National Institute of Statistics was mandated by the new statistics law enacted in 2022 to lead statistical data collection and analysis in the country. Similarly, the Philippine Statistics Authority was designated as the official repository of the SDG indicators in the country through a resolution passed in 2016, highlighting their important role in monitoring and reporting on SDG progress.

In Finland, Malaysia and Uganda, the NSOs are leading the national technical working group on SDG data, by providing advice on methodology and ensuring the quality of data from various sources. In the United Kingdom, the Office for National Statistics was actively involved in the 2019 Voluntary National Review from the onset of the process, by supporting a “data-led” reporting and including a dedicated data chapter within the report.

Despite all efforts, challenges remain in the coordination capacity of NSOs within the National Statistical System. A survey conducted in 2021 on the implementation of the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data showed that around 53 per cent of the NSOs expressed dissatisfaction with their coordination role.

Particularly, in low- and lower-middle income countries, as many as 74 per cent of NSOs felt a need for improvement. Inadequate institutional mechanisms, ineffective communication channels for information sharing, and lack of incentives were identified as the top three challenges impeding better coordination.

Coordination capacity of the NSO with partners inside of the National Statistical System, July 2021 (percentage)

The data demand for the 2030 Agenda has unleashed innovation

The unprecedented data demand driven by the 2030 Agenda has acted as a catalyst for data innovation. For example, household surveys, a longstanding data source, are now embracing modern technologies and inclusive approaches, such as using telephone and web data collection methods to make them more efficient and inclusive. Engaging respondents as co-creators, empowering them to contribute to the data collection process, has further enhanced the quality and relevance of the obtained information. Meanwhile, nontraditional data sources such as administrative records, satellite imagery, and citizen-generated data have emerged as valuable sources in bridging data gaps. Another important aspect of innovation focuses on the integration of multiple data sources.

Tanzania's Statistical Master Plan for 2022-2026 exemplifies this innovative mindset, prioritizing the strengthening of administrative data sources from line ministries and embracing data from non-State actors. Colombia has harnessed the power of satellite imagery to monitor SDG indicators, such as all-season road accessibility, which traditional data sources fail to measure properly. Kenya has incorporated citizen-generated data into its national Data Quality Assurance Framework, which outlines principles and processes for ensuring data quality in SDG monitoring. Meanwhile, Ghana has repurposed data from civil society organizations to inform policies on marine litter, helping shape coastal and marine management policies in the country.

Timeliness and disaggregation are vital components of data production, often necessitating the integration of multiple data sources. Bangladesh, with the support of the Data for Now project, has successfully generated poverty estimates for smaller geographical areas by integrating satellite imagery with household survey data.

This innovative approach, known as “small area estimation”, is gaining traction in measuring various SDG indicators related to social protection, health, education and employment. Embracing better data integration and interoperability has also prompted concerted efforts to build data partnerships and enhance policy coherence across government entities.

With more recognition of the importance of innovation, continued support is essential. Nearly 90 per cent of NSOs identified the use of administrative data as a high priority for capacity building. Additionally, approximately 50 per cent of NSOs have expressed interest in harnessing the potential of earth observation/satellite imagery and web-based data collection methods.

Capacity building priorities identified by national statistical offices, July 2021 (percentage)

Important partnerships are being established for better and more inclusive data for development

Recognizing the diverse national capacities in data and statistics, countries agree on the importance of adopting a “whole-of-society” approach to meet the monitoring needs of the ambitious 2030 Agenda. The SDG indicator framework has encouraged NSOs to establish partnerships, both within and outside the national statistical system, at national and international levels.

Within governments, the alignment of the global SDG indicator framework with national policy priorities has fostered collaborative efforts between national statistical offices and line ministries. In Cameroon, Mozambique and Uganda, regular stakeholder meetings on SDG data are organized to review and validate national and subnational SDG reports. Brazil has established a National Commission for the SDGs, involving various stakeholders and the country NSO to develop data action plans for each of the 17 Goals. The United Kingdom's 2019 VNR process saw the participation of over 380 organizations, highlighting a commitment to inclusivity.

The public sector has been the main partner of national statistical offices, with 80 per cent of NSOs having institutional arrangements with other government entities. Collaboration with international organizations is also common, with 66 per cent of countries reporting such partnerships. Additionally, academia, the private sector, and civil society organizations have emerged as important partners for NSOs. However, 13 per cent of countries indicated a lack of arrangements with other stakeholders. Moving forward, it is crucial to make efforts in building partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders to further strengthen data monitoring efforts for the SDGs.

At the international level, the SDG monitoring process has also sparked collaboration among diverse stakeholders. The Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators, responsible for the development and implementation of the global indicator framework for the SDGs, has been instrumental in fostering collaboration among stakeholders from different data communities at local, national, regional, and international levels.

Proportion of national statistical offices with institutional arrangement with stakeholders (percentage)

Programmes such as the SDG16 Survey Initiative have advanced methodologies for areas where official statistics were previously lacking, including discrimination and government transparency. The Collaborative on the Use of Administrative Data facilitates the sharing of tools and experiences to support countries in utilizing administrative data for statistical purposes. Members of the Inter-Secretariat Working Group on Household Surveys collaborate to provide coordinated support to countries on survey activities. Furthermore, the recently launched Collaborative on Citizen Contributions to Data, mandated by the Statistical Commission, aims to strengthen the capacity of NSOs, academia and civil society organizations in leveraging citizen data for the SDGs. Through these international collaborations, innovative approaches and best practices are being shared, empowering countries to overcome data challenges and enhance their data capabilities.

Increased openness, accessibility and effective use of data have helped achieve better data impact

The increased openness, accessibility, and effective use of data have played a crucial role in achieving better data impact. Since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, significant progress has been made by countries in opening up official statistics. According to the Open Data Watch, the median score of data openness among 165 countries increased from 38 in 2016 to 57 in 2022. However, a mean score of 57 out of 100 clearly highlights the need for further efforts to enhance data openness. One key step in adding value to existing data collection is the dissemination of microdata, which allows researchers to conduct more in-depth analysis, promotes transparency and accountability, and fosters collaboration. Only less than half of the low- and lower-middle income countries disseminate survey microdata data through national repositories.

Data plays a pivotal role in shaping policies and driving meaningful change. In Chile, for instance, poverty estimates derived from integrating data from administrative sources and household surveys have informed the allocation of funds to all municipalities. In Moldova, data collected from the Household Budget Survey played a vital role in enabling the government to provide credit to households affected by the energy crisis. The Gambia's national SDG 16 survey, which measures citizens' satisfaction with government services, led to the establishment of a new ministry overseeing public service delivery by the newly elected President. Citizen-generated data, through its citizen-led approach, has also played a significant role in advancing progress on Goal 16, contributing to more inclusive societies and sustainable development.

Investing in better data is key to supporting a rescue plan for people and planet

The need for data capacity building has never been so urgent, as countries face multiple crises on health, food, energy and climate, and need better data to support policymaking. It is also paramount to ensure effective monitoring and reporting on the progress towards achieving the SDGs.

However, NSOs are facing significant funding gap, particularly in low and middle-income countries. Approximately 23 per cent of NSOs in low and lower-middle income countries are experiencing severe funding shortages, with funding gaps exceeding 60 per cent for their statistical programmes. About 50 per cent of NSOs in this group face moderate funding gaps ranging from 20 to 60 per cent. The situation is relatively better for upper-middle-income countries, with around 13 per cent facing severe funding shortages and 50 per cent experiencing moderate levels of funding gaps. These funding challenges pose a significant hurdle to building strong data capacities and hinder effective monitoring and reporting on SDG progress.

In response to the funding gap in data, the recently launched Hangzhou declaration “Accelerating progress in the implementation of the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data”, called for “an urgent and sustained increase in the level and scale of investments in data and statistics from domestic and international actors, from the public, private and philanthropic

sectors, to strengthen statistical capacity in low-income countries and fragile states, close data gaps for vulnerable groups and enhance country resilience in the current context of economic crisis, conflict, climate change and increased food insecurity.”

Funding gap for national statistical offices' work programme, by income level, July 2021 (percentage)