Viveka Palm is an adjunct professor in applied environmental economics and environmental statistics, as well as a Deputy Director at Statistics Sweden.
The 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals was adopted by the Members of the United Nations in September 2015. Statistics Sweden has been tasked by the Government to analyse how well Sweden currently complies with the 2030 Agenda. Statistics will then be used as a basis for the action plan for Sweden’s implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for the national progress report on the 2030 Agenda that will be presented at a United Nations meeting in July 2017.
“Sustainable development is a challenge, because we want to know the situation in the economy, the environment and social aspects of society at the same time. Statistics provide a good basis for understanding these issues. Of course we need to mobilise our efforts to produce good statistics, but in the long run it is a good investment, because making decisions without background data is costly,” says professor Palm from Statistics Sweden.
The SDGs are not separate goals
As one of 28 experts from various countries, professor Palm is working on the indicators that are used for following up the Global Goals. An indicator for the Global Goal on good health and well-being can be, for instance, the number of people who die from a particular illness. The aim is for the 2030 Agenda to have an integrated nature. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals should not be seen as separate goals, but rather, it should be possible to see, for instance, how the economy affects social conditions and vice versa.
“It will be a challenge for the statistical systems to carry out such analyses. At Statistics Sweden, we have experience of this in our environmental accounts, where we have combined environmental statistics with economic statistics to see how they are connected and can answer questions that frequently pop up in the public debate or in inquiries. In the same way, we now have to understand which data needs to be combined and which questions will be asked in order to achieve the Global Goals.”
The system must provide good comparability
Another challenge is that it must be possible to use these indicators throughout the world. Poverty is one example.
“In the western world, we can take a measure of income for poverty that we already use, while many developing countries do not have this type of income statistics at all. Perhaps a large part of their population works with agriculture and lives off what they can produce. There are no registers that provide information about their incomes. Therefore we need to use another kind of measurement. The system must be capable of handling that difference and still providing good comparability.”
Capacity is a necessary part of the efforts
“Many countries have well-developed statistics authorities, while others have not come as far. Capacity building in these countries is a necessary part of the efforts in the coming years. One example of this is the cooperation that Statistics Sweden has had with statistics offices in low- and middle-income countries over the past 40 years. Currently, there are projects underway in Albania, Cambodia and Somalia. These are long-term collaborations that aim to strengthen statistics and improve usability.”
“It is also a matter of establishing continuous operations, in which knowledge is retained even though people come and go. It is a question of building institutions and a lasting infrastructure.”
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are ambitious. What do you think - will the world succeed?
”The 2030 Agenda leads to a more integrated policy effect at country level and a focus on the use of data as a basis for decision-making in governance. The 2030 Agenda is likely to bring more attention to issues that can make a difference in people’s quality of life, such as education, a peaceful society and the need to invest in clean energy.
My hope is that we can improve cooperation, and that this is an opportunity to find common ground on issues of development. Ultimately, the outcome will depend on what actions are taken, so it is important that we measure and maintain a focus on issues that function well and those that do not.”
Interview: Andreas Rosander