The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations, which includes ending poverty and providing clean water and sanitation for all nations among others, is an ambitious vision of a better, more sustainable world.
But the nitty gritty of monitoring the progress of each goal can be a headache for researchers. For every goal, there are a large number of indicators to track; and each indicator requires a lot of effort to identify, capture and measure the relevant data.
For instance, one of the SDGs - Goal 14 - is to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources”. One of the indicators is the proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels.
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But different countries use different methods to gather this data. In the Mediterranean, what method do they use? How about in the North-east Atlantic? Some countries have not even started collecting the data.
Inconsistent or missing data was one of the problems researchers in Finland encountered when they started exploring the best way to implement the SDGs in their country.
But they found a way to get around it, which is basically to collate all the available data about the SDGs into one place so that they can see the gaps and overlaps in their information, and what goals need urgent attention.
This repository of information is called the “Findicator” database system, and it includes approximately 100 indicators of social progress that are grouped thematically and by policy issue. These include child welfare, life expectancy, the national fishery catch and the spread of algae in inland Finnish waters.
Besides giving users up-to-date and relevant information on important societal issues, the system provides links to larger information sources and international reference data.
For example, a Finnish user looking at the “Generation of Waste” page would also be able to view the “Eurostats” tables showing how Finland compares with other European Union countries in terms of landfill use, incineration and composting rates.
The use of the Findicator system for measuring SDG targets was introduced by Ari Tyrkkö, the head for Coordination and International Activities at Statistics Finland. He was speaking in a panel discussion on smart data management at the ‘Sustainable Development Goals for Asia and Europe: Delivery Options for Agenda 2030‘ conference.
Held in Stockholm, Sweden on October 19 and 20, the event involved some 100 participants and speakers including government officials, civil society experts and academics.
Tyrkkö explained that the Findicator helps reveal the gap between the data Finland already has and what it needs to work on.
Finland has been monitoring its sustainability goals using its own indicators long before the SDG indicators were announced by the UN. The problem is that only two of Finland’s current 39 sustainable development indicators are included in the SDG indicators.
Of Finland’s indicators, 14 describe similar themes to the SDG indicators, but have a different time series as their basis.
To resolve this, the country uses a method called “GAP-analysis”, helped by the data compiled by Findicator, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the existing data on record for each of the SDGs and charts the gaps.
A colour code characterises Finland’s start point for each of the 17 SDGs in terms of data availability and actual progress for each goal. Green is excellent, yellow is moderate or red is poor.
From the chart, Finland’s strengths lie in good education and competence, as well as societal stability. Its weaknesses include combating climate change and slow economic development.
The conference was organised by the Asia-Europe Environment Forum—an initiative which aims to deepen cooperation on sustainable development between the two regions—in partnership with the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), Government of Sweden and SEI among others.