Peace and sustainable development: new global audit of SDG16 indicators

Data availability remains a significant issue when measuring the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 16.

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has released the SDG16+ Progress Report for 2019, which provides a comprehensive audit on the available indicators for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG16).

SDG16 identifies peace as a critical component to achieving sustainable development, and acts on lessons learnt from the Millennium Development Goals showing that low peace and weak institutions hinder development.

The latest IEP report, the third in a series, builds on previous work analysing the data available for SDG16 indicators by expanding the scope to include SDG16+. The report includes an overview of accessible data, other sources of data that are useful as proxies, a likely timeline for obtaining missing data, and case studies from ten countries demonstrating ways to collect datasets that are currently unavailable.

SDG16+ is a larger framework of indicators connected with peace, justice and inclusive societies. The framework combines the original SDG16 targets with an additional 24; all of which have been taken from seven other sustainable development goals (SDGs). The total number of targets increases to 36 under the new framework and the total number of measurable indicators rises to 33.

The key finding of the report is that while SDG16 and SDG16+ are conceptually linked, an empirical link cannot be clearly established. The lack of available data measuring SDG16 indicators offers a potential explanation. If more data were available, the empirical link may be easier to decipher. After a comprehensive data audit, the report finds that of the 33 indicators in SDG16+ framework, official data only exists for 15 of these indicators, with only six of these indicators having coverage for more than 100 countries.

Despite the lack of data, the report provides a number of substitute measures that can be used until the appropriate official data sources are developed by countries. Of the 18 additional SDG16+ indicators with no official data source, proxy indicators have been found for eleven. These indicators are robust and provide the ability to track countries’ progress towards meeting SDG16+ commitments with data coverage ranging from 34 countries to 146 countries.

It will be many years before adequate data mechanisms are in place to officially measure SDG16+ within some countries, and third party data providers will play a pivotal role in the meantime. Once relevant statistical capacity is achieved by national statistics offices, third party providers will continue to be important independent benchmarks that will show inconsistencies or irregularities in data.

It is expected that even highly developed countries will find it difficult to collect all the necessary indicators to measure all SDGs, and less developed countries will prioritise data most important to them. To highlight the depth of the problem, only four of the 44 measurable SDG16 and SDG16+ indicators are tracked by data for all 163 countries analysed by IEP in its Positive Peace Index. Only two indicators have a trend series of five or more years for the 163 countries.

Empirical analysis of the available SDG16+ data from official sources find that only two indicators have a statistically significant relationship with SDG16, while four had moderate significance, and nine show low or no statistical relationship. It is possible that stronger statistical results linking SDG16+ with SDG16 could be obtained if more data was available.

Given that the empirical analysis of SDG16+ is hindered by data shortages, the report presents IEP’s Positive Peace framework as a useful tool to assess progress, in the absence of official data sources. The utility of IEP’s Positive Peace framework to SDG16+ is twofold. Firstly, IEP’s Positive Peace Index data covers 163 countries and independent territories, 99.7 per cent of the world’s population. Secondly, Positive Peace shows a statistically significant relationship with 12 of the 15 SDG16+ indicators, where data is available. Given this, Positive Peace acts as a good proxy to measure the broader systemic approach that SDG16+ is aiming to capture. It can also act as a good benchmark to verify or capture inconsistencies with official country data.

The report also includes ten country case studies from multiple regions, each with varying levels of statistical collection capacity and Positive Peace. It highlights that in many cases, existing survey instruments could be modified or extended to collect data for most of the SDG16+ indicators.