UK implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals Contents

6Monitoring and accountability

The SDGs indicators

110.International progress on the SDGs will be tracked against a set of global indicators agreed by the UN Statistical Commission in March 2016.177 These will guide the development of national level indicators, which will allow countries to adapt them to “different national realities”.178 As outlined in the final report of the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG indicators:

“Member States committed themselves to the systematic follow-up and review of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda at the national, regional and global levels and to the agreement that global indicators will be complemented by indicators at the regional and national levels to be developed by Member States (resolution 70/1, paras. 72 and 75). Member States will develop their national indicators in line with the principle of the 2030 Agenda that targets are defined as aspirational and global, with each Government setting its own national targets guided by the global level of ambition but taking into account national circumstances (ibid., para. 55).”179

This ambition is highlighted in Christian Aid’s evidence, which states that there may be a need for the UK to “set additional indicators to supplement the global set”. Christian Aid’s evidence also emphasised that “the SDGs should not displace existing targets or indicators” so, where relevant indicators already exist (such as the Sustainable Development Indicators) they “remain relevant and should be reported against”.180

111.All signatory countries will be expected to submit statistical data on their progress against the SDGs annually, to inform the Secretary-General’s report on global progress, which will be reported on at the High Level Political Forum in July each year. As the Agenda 2030 document states:

“follow-up and review at the high-level political forum will be informed by an annual progress report on the Sustainable Development Goals to be prepared by the Secretary-General in cooperation with the United Nations system, based on the global indicator framework and data produced by national statistical systems and information collected at the regional level”.181

Data for development

112.On the importance of data to the SDGs, UK National Statistician John Pullinger told us:

“if we do not know what is going on, we cannot work out what to do […] Data gives us that map that enables us to judge which way to turn to ensure that no one in the world is left behind.”182

With such a large number of targets and indicators, a huge amount of data will be required to establish baselines and track progress towards the Goals. All countries will have gaps in the data sets required, but for developing countries these gaps will be vast. At the launch of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, the Secretary of State highlighted that, “Just 28 of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa had a household survey between 2006 and 2013. We’re working out how many people are living in chronic poverty based on surveys from 2005 or earlier.”183 In evidence to us, Johannes Jutting of PARIS 21, an organisation which promotes the better use and production of statistics throughout the developing world, emphasised the huge challenge that these gaps presents:

“The challenge is that producing this data in many countries, in particular the poor countries in which we as PARIS21 work, is huge, because we do not even have the raw data, not to speak about disaggregated data.”184

Table 3: SDG Monitoring - Roles and Responsibilities


Regional and Thematic


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


Global monitoring focusing on world progress overall

Regional and thematic monitoring focusing on relevant progress

National monitoring focusing on national and subnational priorities

Source: ”SDG Data Discussion: What next?”, OECD Development Centre Blog, 5 April 2016

113.Following the SDGs Summit in September 2015 DFID announced that the UK Government would be an ‘Anchor Partner’ in the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. In her speech at the launch on the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, the Secretary of State stated:

“A data revolution is as fundamental as anything to achieving the Global Goals. What gets measured gets done. And when lots gets measured, lots get done. Only by collecting and using good, measurable, open, accessible and disaggregated data can we leave no one behind.”185

114.A number of submissions to the inquiry highlighted the important role DFID has to play in improving data capacity in developing countries, with a focus on support to National Statistical Offices, increasing capacity in traditional forms of data collection such as household surveys and censuses, but also investing in innovative new data sources and enabling citizens to access and use data to hold their governments to account. UNDP stated in its written evidence:

“The UK has played a key leadership role investing in statistical capacity to measure progress, including in countries to which it provides bilateral assistance. The UK could support innovation in data sources and metrics that go beyond traditional household surveys and censuses […] Particular attention should be paid to the need for investment in data to analyse the challenges facing the very poorest people and communities, and to involve them as users of data.”186

At the launch of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, the Secretary of State highlighted that the UK was “the third largest provider of support to statistics globally” and committed an additional £16 million in funding to the World Bank Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building.187 This was promptly followed by a pledge of an additional £6 million to Paris 21.188 John Pullinger also emphasised the capacity building work undertaken by the ONS:

“[…] the UK Government Statistical Service, including DFID, has a very proud tradition of working with developing countries to help strengthen their statistical systems, particularly in Africa but also in a lot of small island states in the Pacific […] We have traditional ties to many countries and I am continually welcoming people wanting to learn from us into my office in Newport and many other Government Departments also.”189

115.Much of the evidence we received highlighted the importance of ensuring that data is disaggregated (for example by sex, race, age, disability) so that progress against the Goals for marginalised groups is properly monitored, to ensure that no one is left behind.190 Johannes Jutting highlighted the challenge this presents, stating “It is a tremendously important area to have disaggregated data but, in many instances, we have to be honest; it is a long shot”.191 Harpinder Collacott urged that DFID play a strong role in ensuring disaggregated data remains firmly on the agenda. She told us:

“Although I agree with Johannes that it is a long shot […] This is where DFID can be playing a role, because we need to look at disaggregated data across all of the indicators, on age, gender and disability, if we are serious about leaving no one behind, but also on income quintile and location as well. Absolutely it is going to be a challenge, but this agenda is about setting a challenge and looking at how we meet that challenge. I would urge DFID to play quite a strong role in ensuring that disaggregated data, just because it is a tough challenge, does not fall off the agenda.”192

116.In order to tackle the challenge associated with collecting data for the SDGs, UK National Statistician, John Pullinger, recommended that DFID should:

(1)Continue to fund Paris 21, as it has for the last 15 years, to strengthen the capacity of national statistical offices to collect the data required;

(2)Take forward its work as an anchor partner in the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, which is championing innovative forms of data collection; and

(3)Support the localisation of data collection initiatives, by engaging young people and encouraging the use of mobile phones for data capture, and to work in partnership with the private sector as has been done in Cote d’Ivoire, where it is working with Orange to collect census data.193

117.We welcome the Secretary of State’s continued commitment to increasing the capacity of developing countries to collect and use data. We recognise that establishing where countries currently stand will be essential for identifying how far they have to go to achieve the Goals. We appreciate the vital role that data can play in enabling national governments to track progress against the SDGs, and for citizens and civil society to hold government to account on areas where they are falling short. We understand the importance of collecting disaggregated data to ensure no one is left behind, despite the clear challenges this presents.

118.We urge DFID to continue to take a leading role in the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, encouraging innovation, localisation and partnership to find new ways of collecting data to establish baselines and track progress towards the SDG indicators. DFID should also continue to support capacity building in developing countries, through Paris 21 and the World Bank, but also bilaterally sharing the skills and knowledge housed within the Office of National Statistics to provide support and training for others.

UK reporting against the SDGs

119.As the International Development Committee, our primary focus is how effectively the UK Government contributes to the global achievement of the SDGs and, in particular, the effectiveness of its support to developing countries to make progress against the Goals. Although domestic performance against the SDGs is not our primary concern, the SDGs will only be achieved in developing countries if there is progress on global public goods such as climate change, and if developed countries lead by example on national implementation. Therefore, on these issues, the government’s domestic achievements will be of vital concern to the international development community.

The UK’s support for global progress

120.At the domestic level, the ONS will report on the Government’s progress against the SDGs in the UK, but there are currently no plans for it to report against the UK’s support for international progress through development cooperation and policies, and it would undoubtedly be very difficult to do so. This lack of data presents a challenge for Parliament, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), civil society organisations and citizens who will want to hold DFID to account on its performance.

121.During the latter period of the MDGs’ implementation, DFID used UN data to track progress against each of the Goals in its priority countries and recorded this in its annual reports,194 reflecting on the contribution that DFID had made. This provided some indication of DFID’s contribution to achievement of the MDGs in those countries.

122.The UK Government should report annually on its contribution to SDG progress in all of DFID’s priority countries. This would be a helpful internal process for DFID, to assess where they are contributing to success and where their efforts are falling short, and thus where they need to take further action or reprioritise its efforts. It will also enable us, as a Committee, to scrutinise the efforts of the Government to support implementation of the SDGs overseas. The report should include the contributions of all government departments towards progress in those countries, including the positive and negative effects of government policies such as on tax, trade, the environment, migration and peace and security.

123.The Government will be reporting against its domestic progress on the SDGs annually, as part of its responsibility to the UN’s global monitoring process. This report, and a full breakdown and analysis of the data (disaggregated where relevant) must be made publicly available, to enable the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) and departmental select committees to track progress and hold relevant Government departments to account on any areas where it is falling short.

Parliamentary scrutiny of the SDGs

124.Effective scrutiny of the Government’s progress against the SDGs will be essential to ensure that there is continued momentum and scrutiny behind the Government’s contribution to reach the Goals by 2030, both domestically and internationally. As the final Agenda 2030 document states:

“We also encourage member states to conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels which are country-led and country-driven. Such reviews should draw on contributions from indigenous peoples, civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders, in line with national circumstances, policies and priorities. National parliaments as well as other institutions can also support these processes.”195

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has already engaged with the SDGs. The Committee’s inquiry into the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’, which reported in December 2014, aimed to influence the ambition of the Goals that were yet to be agreed.196 More recently, the Committee has addressed the Government’s commitment to the Goals through its ongoing inquiry into the ‘Government’s approach to sustainable development’.197 In addition to the EAC there has been considerable engagement with the SDGs from Members of both Houses. Twelve debates have been held on the SDGs across the House of Commons, House of Lords and Westminster Hall, including a recent debate on implementation of the SDGs, sponsored by Women and Equalities Committee member Ben Howlett MP following a Committee visit to the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The Goals have received 532 spoken references in Parliament and been the subject of 32 written statements by Government ministers.198

Box 5: The SDGs in the UK Parliament

  • 532 spoken references in Parliament
  • 32 written statements from Government ministers
  • 12 parliamentary debates
  • 3 select committee inquiries
  • 1 All Party Parliamentary Group

Source: Hansard, as at 4 May 2016

125.A number of organisations recommended that a new parliamentary committee should be set up to monitor government performance on the SDGs. VSO told us, “[…] parliamentary scrutiny would be enhanced through the creation of a] new parliamentary subcommittee on the SDGs, bringing together chairs from relevant select committees.”199 Similarly, Bond Beyond 2015 stated:

“[…] we recommend the introduction of a cross party Select Committee bringing together chairs or representatives from the committees on health, education, energy and climate change, international development, justice and women and equality.”200

However, as we have discovered through the course of this inquiry, the Government’s response to the SDGs should include all government departments as well as encouraging a coherent approach across government. Parliamentary scrutiny is therefore likely to involve an even broader range of parliamentary select committees than Bond has suggested in its submission. We would therefore recommend using the established and effective mechanisms already in place to scrutinise the Government’s implementation of the SDGs and that an additional committee would be a weaker, rather than stronger, instrument of scrutiny. However, this approach does require strong engagement in the SDGs from existing select committees, and we are aware that this does not yet exist. Current parliamentary engagement with the agenda falls far short of what would be required to ensure effective scrutiny of progress against the SDGs over the next 15 years.

126.We welcome the Environmental Audit Committee’s continued engagement with the SDGs and the recent interest shown by the Women and Equalities Committee. We also note the establishment of the cross-party, bicameral All Party Parliamentary Group on the SDGs, the numerous debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords Chambers on the SDGs and the substantial number of Parliamentary Questions, which have been submitted relating to the Goals. The continued support for, and interest in, the domestic and international implementation of the SDGs is clear across Parliament and should be noted by the Government.

127.We also welcome the Environmental Audit Committee’s ongoing work monitoring domestic sustainable development performance, which will be a big part of the UK’s response to the SDGs. We believe also that it is in the interests of other departmental select committees to engage with the Goals early, in order to assess any potential gaps in progress against the SDGs for which their department is responsible. It will also enable them to push for ambitious national indicators in a broad range of areas and to hold the government to account on anywhere it may fall short on these over the next 15 years.

128.We recommend that all House of Commons departmental select committees engage with the SDGs, particularly those goals and targets most relevant to their departments. We encourage committees to: push for ambitious national indicators against the SDGs; monitor departmental progress against these indicators, once formulated, and use the data produced by the ONS annually to hold departments to account on their performance. Ideally, this scrutiny would culminate with an annual session with the relevant Secretary of State in advance of the High-level Political Forum on global SDG progress in July. The Liaison Committee may also wish to question the Prime Minister annually on progress.201

180 Christian Aid (SDG0080) para 7.4

182 Q72

183 “Data Matters: The Global Partnership for Development Data”, Speech given by Justine Greening, 28 September 2015

184 Q74

185 “Data Matters: The Global Partnership for Development Data, Speech given by Justine Greening 28 September 2015

186 UNDP (SDG0021) p. 3

187 “Data Matters: The Global Partnership for Development Data, Speech given by Justine Greening 28 September 2015

188 Global Partnership for Development Data, “Data Commitments”, accessed 26 May 2016

189 Q80

190 For example see Bond Beyond 2015 UK (SDG0046) para 38, Save the Children (SDG0018) para 5.1, Age International (SDG0087) para 44

191 Q74

192 Q74

193 Q81

196 Environmental Audit Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2014–15, Agreeing Ambitious Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, HC452

198 Hansard, ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (as at 4 May 2016)

199 VSO (SDG0035) para 18

200 Bond Beyond 2015 UK (SDG0046) para 32

201 See Q238

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2 June 2016