Halfway to 2030: A Global Goals Data Update

Launched in 2015 as a successor to the Millennium Development Goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or Global Goals) are seven years into implementation. How is the global community doing in tracking their progress?

SDG Counting


All official SDG data can be searched in UN Stats’ SDG Global Database: https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/dataportal

Key Take-Aways

  • The two primary sources of official SDG data are the official indicators that provide a standardize mean to collect data across all countries (horizontal reporting) and the Voluntary National Reviews, which are country specific (vertical reporting).
  • Over 40% of the official indicators still lack the ability to fully track pgrogress even halfway through the 2030 timeline.
  • All Tier 3 indicators (those without the ability to accurate measure and report on) were resolved in 2020.
  • At the current pace, we are not only not on track to complete the Global Goals — we won’t even be able to measure our progress on all indicators.
  • Whereas progress on global indicator availability continues to lag behind, countries are widely implementing the VNR reporting system and continue to provide meaningful updates.

2015 to Now: The First Seven Years of Counting

We created SDGCounting in 2015 to follow the tracking and measurement of the SDGs and to provide insight into the “counting” process as a whole. In our earliest articles, just after the UN adopted these new Global Goals, we identified the challenges of coordinating hundreds of indicators across tens of thousands of organizations from every country in the world.

Over the last seven years, we have seen immense progress on how the global community counts the SDGs — and persistent issues that it has failed to adequately address. In this article, we will examine the two primary sources of official SDG data and outline developments to date:

Whereas official indicators provide a standardized means to collect data across all countries (horizontal reporting), the Voluntary National Reviews focus on country specific progress and challenges (vertical reporting). Together, these represent the most holistic picture of how the world tracks SDG progress.

Official Indicators — What are we counting?

When our coverage of the SDGs first began in 2015, the UN had settled on the 17 Goals and 169 Targets for the Global Goals, but not on a firm list of indicators to track progress. Within the first year of the 2030 Agenda, the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDG) presented a proposed list of 230 indicators which served as a working framework until the UN General Assembly formally adopted them in July 2017.

The IAEG-SDG has refined the working list of indicators over the last seven years with the most significant changes coming in 2020 when it completed a comprehensive review. This review resulted in 36 changes including 14 indicator replacements, 8 revisions, 8 additional indicators and 6 deleted indicators.

You can find a full list of indicators as they currently stand on the UN Statistics Division website:

Understanding the Tier System of Indicators

Having a list of indicators to track progress is essential in development. As the old adage goes, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” However, having accurate global statistics requires coordination and compliance among hundreds of agencies and countries. In order to assess the ability of the UN to track these indicators, a tier system was developed. We wrote about this in detail when it was first released in 2016, but in short,

  • Tier 1: Good to Go — conceptually clear, established methodology and standards available and data regularly produced by countries.
  • Tier 2: Almost There — conceptually clear, established methodology and standards available but data are not regularly produced by countries.
  • Tier 3: Not Quite — no established methodology and standards or methodology/standards are being developed/tested.

Upon this system’s release in 2016, just over 40% of the agreed upon indicators had Tier 1 status.

  • Tier 1: 97
  • Tier 2: 77
  • Tier 3: 64
  • Mixed Status: 6

According to the IAEG-SDGs’ most recent report, “The updated tier classification contains 136 Tier I indicators, 91 Tier II indicators and 4 indicators that have multiple tiers.

The current tier classifications show a marked improvement, especially seeing the elimination of indicators lacking methodology and standards, but over 40% of indicators still lack full tracking even halfway through the 2030 timeline.

Timeline of progress

The IAED-SDG maintains a full record of their meetings and the resulting changes to indicators on their website. From that information the following timeline of improvements emerges:

  • 2016 — Initial list of indicators along with their tier structure is published. Additionally, an initial list of possible custodian agencies (those responsible for tracking specific indicators) is released.
  • 2017 — Various updates to tier classifications are made as are adjustments to custodian agencies.
  • 2018 — Ten indicators receive slight refinements for better clarity.
  • 2019 — Tier classifications continue to improve and planning begins for the comprehensive 2020 review.
  • 2020 — Comprehensive review is completed with the first significant adjustments to indicators. With the changes detailed above, all Tier 3 indicators have been resolved.
  • 2021 — Nine indicators receive refinement.
  • 2022 — Continued updates to the Tier classification system based on progress and adjustments.

Looking back over the last seven years, it is clear the global community has made significant progress in their ability to count the SDGs. However, at the current pace, we are not only not on track to complete the Global Goals — we won’t even be able to measure our progress on all indicators.

For full details on these indicators, the tier classification system, custodian agencies, and the statistics collected to date, visit the SDG Indicators Database from UN Stats:

Country Specific Insights — Voluntary National Reviews

In addition to specified goals, targets, and indicators that are compiled at the international level for all countries, individual nations can also report on their progress through the Voluntary National Review process. These reports allow UN member nations to submit data and narrative that is unique to their specific situations.

According to The Economic and Social Committee which manages the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development where these reports are delivered,

The voluntary national reviews (VNRs) aim to facilitate the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The VNRs also seek to strengthen policies and institutions of governments and to mobilize multi-stakeholder support and partnerships for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In the initial year of reporting, 22 countries presented their VNRs. Since then, every year at least 40 countries have submitted.

  • 2016: 22
  • 2017: 43
  • 2018: 46
  • 2019: 46
  • 2020: 47
  • 2021: 41
  • 2022: 44

To date, 185 entities have submitted at least one VNR with 87 countries having presented at least twice. Two countries have submitted four times (Togo and Uruguay).

Countries that have not yet conducted and presented a VNR since the process began in 2016 include Haiti, Myanmar, South Sudan, the United States, and Yemen.

In our write-up of the first year of VNR submissions, we noted, “Civil society has called for at least three Voluntary National Reviews for each country over the next 15 years. There is no current follow-up process for this.”

Six years later, we are making good strides on regular VNR reporting. However, a system to ensure best practices are followed by member nations still fails to exist.

Whereas progress on global indicator availability continues to lag behind, it is encouraging to see the country specific reporting system is being widely implemented and countries continue to provide meaningful updates.

All documents related to these reports can be found on the VNR website:


Most would have hoped to see even more progress towards the Global Goals — not just in terms of achieving the ambitious aims, but also in ensuring robust systems exist to track the SDGs. Undoubtedly the threats currently facing global development in recent years have contributed to some set backs. These include a war in Europe, a pandemic, growing concerns about climate change, and most recently, a threat of global recession.

Despite these challenges, we also have successes which deserve celebration. Significant progress has been made in our ability to count the SDGs — both locally and globally. National Statistics Offices and international monitoring agencies are better equipped to track development data than ever before. Perhaps most importantly, the world continues to understand the importance of quality data and is more willing than ever to leverage it for improvement.

We look forward to continue tracking these topics in the coming years as the 2030 deadline quickly approaches.

SDGCounting is a program of StartingUpGood and tracks the progress of counting and measuring the success of the SDGs. Check us out on Twitter.



SDG Counting

Keeping track of progress on trying to count and measure the success of the Sustainable Development Goals.