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IISD Publishes Working Paper on SDGs and Indicators

January 2013: The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has published a working paper titled “Measuring Progress Towards Sustainable Development Goals" (SDGs). The paper reviews the intergovernmental process on SDGs and recommends developing SDG Indicators (SDGIs) to inform goal and target setting. 

The paper, authored by László Pintér, recommends identifying common principles for SDG indicator development, before developing the indicators themselves. Pintér highlights the Bellagio Sustainability Assessment and Measurement Principles (Bellagio STAMP) as an example of a coherent, principles-based approach, that builds on two decades of lessons learned in sustainability measurement and allows for flexibility, similar to the principles he argues should inform SDGI design. The approach calls for basing SDGIs on a conceptual framework that includes key dimensions of sustainable development and interlinkages along these dimensions, as well as on common values and relevant science. He also recommends attention to the actors who conceptualize and develop indicators and links to implementation, monitoring and reporting.

Pintér highlights four challenges in developing SDGIs. First, because the SDGs will apply both to developed and developing countries, the process will be more complex and include a greater diversity of perspectives, making negotiations on the goals more challenging. Second, the definition, interpretation and framework for the SDGs have not yet been clearly defined, which has made reaching consensus more complicated. Third, given the cross-cutting nature of the SDGs, the complexity of socio-ecological systems must be considered when selecting and interpreting indicators, thresholds, tipping points and transition pathways. Fourth, addressing data gaps to measure and assess the SDGs will require significant investment and time.

Pintér concludes that the development of the SDGs, a political process, and the SDGIs, a more scientific/technical process, should proceed in parallel. He emphasizes coordination between agendas on goals and well-established measurement initiatives such as "beyond GDP" and the measurement of well-being and genuine progress, to strengthen synergies and the overall process.

The paper was prepared at the request of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) Office of the Executive Coordinators. [IISD Publication Overview[Publication: Measuring Progress Towards Sustainable Development Goals]