Tracking Sustainability Goals with Creative Data Sources – Eos
The United Nations has created 17 interlinked Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that “recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth—all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.” The SDGs were unveiled in 2015 and are intended to be reached by 2030 in a process nicknamed Agenda 2030. Achieving the SDGs will be a challenge of scientific know-how, technical creativity, and political will.
But there’s one challenge that often slips under the radar: How do we actually track how well we’re doing? It turns out there are insufficient data for 68% of the environmental indicators needed to assess progress on the SDGs. Several areas with limited data are biodiversity, ecosystem health, and the concentration of pollution and waste in the environment.
“If we are going to be able to measure the environment in a way that allows us to make better interventions and investment, then we need better data,” said Jillian Campbell, head of monitoring, review, and reporting at the United Nations (U.N.) Convention on Biological Diversity, at a recent U.N. World Data Forum webinar.
“When you are missing data, it creates sort of a vicious cycle where you are making decisions on data that you don’t have, and you are also making a deprioritizing investment in the collection of that data,” she said.
Traditionally, data from academia, official statistical agencies, central banks, the private sector, and nonprofit organizations are gathered through surveys and censuses. To plug data gaps in these sources, experts are turning to geospatial technologies, crowdsourced science initiatives, and greater partnerships with Indigenous Knowledge holders.