How can the Sustainable Development Goals benefit from Earth Observation?

Early July representatives of several ministries, governmental organizations, knowledge institutions and the private sector attended a workshop at the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NOW) headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. During the workshop they discussed how earth observation could contribute to the monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) determined on September 2015 in Rio de Janeiro by the UN-community.

Key role for Earth Observation

Earth Observation could play a key role in achieving these SDGs as articulated in the 2030 Agenda document and in monitoring, measuring, and reporting on progress towards the associated targets.

The 2030 Agenda

The 2030 Agenda aims to stimulate action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships. For monitoring SDG progress the 17 global goals are anchored by 1686 targets and 2327 indicators. The 2030 Agenda specifically calls for new data acquisition and exploitation of new data sources to support implementation.

Global indicator framework

The United Nations Statistics Commission created the Inter-Agency and Expert Group (IAEG) on SDG indicators to provide a proposal for a global indicator framework. The United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) is leading the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDG) Working Group on Geospatial Information (WGGI) efforts to integrate GIS and Earth Observation data into statistical data that are essential for the production of a number of Indicators.

Tiers of SDG Indicators, as defined by the IAEG (March 2016):

  • Tier I with approximately 100 indicators (about 40%) for which statistical methodologies are agreed and global data are regularly available;
  • Tier II with approximately 50 indicators (about 20%) for which clear statistical methodologies are agreed, but little data is available; and
  • Tier III with approximately 80 indicators (about 30%) for which there are no agreed standards or methodology and no data is available.

Combining new satellite date with existing datasets

Many of the representatives were surprised to learn about the multiple of contributions Earth Observation can provide with this regard, especially in combining new satellite date with existing datasets, including the preparation of infographics and other visualizations to enhance decision taking processes.

Role for the Netherlands

According to NSO, the organizer of the workshop, The Netherlands can play an important role as “gidsland”. Concerning Earth Observation, The Netherlands are globally in a leading position with expertise developed at universities such as Twente, Wageningen and Delft. Sharing of information and capacity development is starting to take place with CBS, the Court of Auditors (Algemene Rekenkamer), the private sector and NWO.

Transfer from free trade to sustainable trade

The SDGs are interesting and important for the Netherlands from both a national and an international perspective. Internationally especially capacity development (knowledge transfer) and technical assistance are important and the Netherlands is traditionally strong in these fields. Priorities of the European Union and the Netherlands are to transfer from free trade to sustainable trade. The Netherlands aims at a fully circular economy by 2050. This includes Dutch activities in the areas of aid, trade and investments in the rest of the world.

The power of satellite data

According to Hugo von Meijenfeldt, the SDG Coordinator for The Netherlands based at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the power of satellite data lies in providing up-to-date information. “Earth observation seems very useful to monitor the SDGs. We have to determine where exactly Earth Observation can be applied most successfully, and how to combine with other data. The SDGs are very ambitious and require strong policies that are based on reliable data. There is no doubt that satellites will help us to deliver those data”.

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