Sustainable development goal 6: two gaps in the race for indicators

Abstract

Monitoring national-level progress of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 through internationally agreed indicators has been the focus of intense scrutiny and considerable resourcing by international organisations and national governments, suggesting a ‘race for indicators’ has begun. However, in the eyes of many water experts, SDG 6 indicators are far from perfect. It is important to systematically identify and prioritise the gaps and weaknesses in the SDG 6 indicator framework to address them effectively. This paper identifies two potential gaps: first, between the aspirations captured in SDG 6 targets and what will be measured by the relevant indicators; and second, between what is being measured in ‘means of implementation’ indicators and what the key means of implementation achievements of many countries are expected to be under SDG 6. Three existing mechanisms—complementary indicators, international support and an integrated approach—are briefly described, and it is proposed that they may potentially be harnessed to assist national governments to address the two types of gaps identified for SDG 6. There is also an opportunity for stakeholders to help erase the gaps in a comprehensive review of SDG indicators, though how open and participatory the full review process will be is not yet clear.

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Fig. 1

Source: adapted by authors from UN-Water 2015

Notes

  1. 1.

    See www.unwater.org/what-we-do/monitor-and-report/.

  2. 2.

    See sustainabledevelopment.un.org/hlpf.

  3. 3.

    See www.unwater.org/what-we-do/monitor-and-report/.

  4. 4.

    http://www.sdg6monitoring.org and http://www.unwater.org/publication_categories/integratedmonitoring/.

  5. 5.

    Tier I indicators have an established methodology and standards, and data are regularly produced by countries; tier II indicators have an established methodology and standards, but data are not regularly produced by countries and tier III indicators lack established methodology and standards (see unstats.un.org/sdgs/iaeg-sdgs/tier-classification/for definitions and www.unwater.org/publications/sdg-6-indicators-tiering-system/ for up to date tier classifications for SDG 6).

  6. 6.

    See www.unwater.org/publications/integrated-monitoring-guide-sdg-6/.

  7. 7.

    with nine indicators repeated under two or three different targets, there is a current total of 244.

  8. 8.

    UN-Water Inventory, 15 January 2018, used with permission from UN-Water.

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Acknowledgements

The United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) is funded by the Government of Canada. The SDG Policy Support System mentioned was developed in partnership by UNU-INWEH, the United Nations Office for Sustainable Development, the Korea Environment Corporation (Keco) and the Ministry of Environment, Republic of Korea.

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Correspondence to Lisa Guppy.

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Handled by Sharachchandra Lele, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, India.

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Guppy, L., Mehta, P. & Qadir, M. Sustainable development goal 6: two gaps in the race for indicators. Sustain Sci 14, 501–513 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-018-0649-z

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Keywords

  • 2030 agenda
  • Sustainable development goal 6
  • Monitoring
  • SDG indicators
  • WASH