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SDG Counting

2021 SDG Data Event Highlights

SDGCounting’s primary focus is tracking the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a particular emphasis on how data is being collected, analyzed, utilized and shared. A significant part of that work involves following the top events related to the Global Goals. As 2021 wraps up, it is our chance to reflect on the biggest takeaways from the most important events in global development.

Each year three events are the first to be penciled into our calendars due to their significance when it comes to tracking data around the SDGS:

Due to the ongoing nature of the COVID pandemic, a significant portion of the content discussed at these events was made available online. With so much information to process, here is what you don’t want to miss.

Photo Credit: United Nations Photo, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

HLPF on Sustainable Development: July 6–15


The mid-year High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) focuses on two main aspects of tracking the SDGs: providing a setting for countries to submit and discuss their individual progress through Voluntary National Reviews, and engaging the global community to focus on particular goals.

This year 42 countries presented their Voluntary National Reviews with eight of those being first time submissions. Our analysis indicates that despite the challenges of COVID, reports remained generally positive with a focus on Health and Education in particular.

This year the forum focused on the goals related to Poverty, Hunger, Health, Work, Inequality, Consumption, Climate, Peace, and Partnerships. The conclusions of the body related to these topics can be found in the Ministerial Declaration that was adopted during the meeting. IISD provides an excellent summary of the process and outcomes.

The HLPF also often serves as a launch setting for key reports and documents. Two stand out as warranting attention:

1 The UN’s annual summary of the SDGs outlines progress and constraints in light of the COVID19 pandemic. If you only read one report on the Global Goals, this should be it.

The report outlines the challenges of the last year:

The global extreme poverty rate rose for the first time in over 20 years, and 119 to 124 million people were pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020. There is a risk of a generational catastrophe regarding schooling, where an additional 101 million children have fallen below the minimum reading proficiency level, potentially wiping out two decades of education gains. Women have faced increased domestic violence, child marriage is projected to rise after a decline in recent years, and unpaid and underpaid care work is increasingly and disproportionately falling on the shoulders of women and girls, impacting educational and income opportunities and health. Notwithstanding the global economic slowdown, concentrations of major greenhouse gases continue to increase. With the global average temperature reaching about 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels, the climate crisis has well and truly arrived, and its impacts are being felt across the world. The pandemic has also brought immense financial challenges, especially for developing countries — with a significant rise in debt distress and dramatic decreases in foreign direct investment and trade.

2 Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s index and dashboard is a useful tool for getting a snapshot of country progress as well as how the world is doing on each goal.

It is notable that:

For the first time since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015, the global average SDG Index score for 2020 has decreased from the previous year: a decline driven to a large extent by increased poverty rates and unemployment following the outbreak of the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Among the reports key findings are:

  • Lower income countries have had more significant setbacks due to COVID
  • Recovery may provide the opportunity to reinvest in the Global Goals
  • Multi-lateral systems are required to address global problems
  • Rich countries are undermining other countries’ ability to achieve their goals
  • COVID has emphasized the need for health as well as technology improvements
  • The pandemic highlights the need to improve data and statics capacity

Global Goals Week: September 17–26

For the past 5 years Global Goals Week (GGW) has been held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly. Rather than a single event, GGW focuses on raising awareness around the SDGs as a whole and serves as the framework for partners to gather and present.

According to organizers, over 127 events were held in collaboration with 139 partners. This included Climate Week NYC with over 500 activities for participants and the SDG Action Zone which coordinated over 100 million activities.

Goalkeepers Report

One of the most anticipated and cited documents to come out of GGW was the Gates Foundation release of their annual Goalkeepers report.

This year’s report revealed that “an additional 31 million people have been pushed into extreme poverty as the result of COVID-19” and gaps in education have continued to grow. Additionally, child health has been impacted with fewer youth accessing life saving vaccines, although the effects have not been as devastating as initially projected.

A full outline of indicator assessments from the Gates Foundation can be found here.

Other events our team followed include:

International Conference on Sustainable Development

With an impressive cadre of government officials, development experts and on-the-ground implementers, you will want to check out the playlist of their sessions.

WEF Sustainable Development Impact Summit

The World Economic Forum conducted a four-day event exploring the impacts of COVID, the role of business in achieving the SDGs, and how to improve the sustainability of development activities. Over 40 sessions are now available for viewing.

Global Compact SDG Business Forum

This three day event highlighted companies creating positive change in the development sphere. A subset of sessions is available for viewing.

UN Food Systems Summit

The Food Summit provided a cross-cutting dialog on food systems by combining elements of goals related to poverty, hunger, water, work, sustainability, consumption, climate, and partnerships,.

From a data perspective, the FAO report on the State of Food and Agriculture is worth checking out:

UN World Data Forum: October 3–6

This year’s World Data Forum brought together users and producers of development data and statistics from nearly every country in the world. While some participants attended in person in Bern, the majority followed the dialog virtually. This technological change ensured that over 80 sessions were made available. This content is accessible via a YouTube Playlist.

The most significant achievement of the Data Forum was the launch of the Bern Data Compact designed to encourage “high-quality, timely, open, reliable and disaggregated data for evidence-based decision making” and calls for commitments in six areas:

  • Develop data capacity
  • Establish data partnerships
  • Produce data to leave no one behind
  • Understand the world with data
  • Build trust in data
  • Increase data investment

A second significant development was the launch of a Clearinghouse for Financial Development Data by the Bern Network. This online platform provides data on over 36,000 projects. It includes dashboards on funding commitments and receipts, as well as a searchable database of documents and shared resources.

The final development of note coming from the World Data Forum was the introduction of the Global Data Facility from the World Bank. This fund is designed to support data and statistic priorities in order to:

enable exponential improvements of and strengthened human capacity for data collection, data management, data governance, data analysis, data sharing, and data use and reuse for transformational social and economic development.

Preparing for 2021

With the new year coming, it is time to jot down the events for the 2022 events:

High Level Political Forum will take place July 5–15 and will focus on five of the SDGs: 4 (Quality Education), 5 (Gender Equality), 14 (Life Below Water), 15 (Life on Land), and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).

Global Goals Week will be held during the 2022 UN General Assembly on September 13–27.

The next UN World Data Forum will be hosted by the People’s Republic of China, in Hangzhou, in early 2023.



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