The United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 to answer this very question. These goals range from eradicating poverty and ending hunger, to reducing inequalities, halting climate change, and restoring ecosystems. The UK’s Office for National Statistics helped develop a statistical framework to measure global progress towards the goals.

By setting goals which each country measures using their national data, it is possible to get an unbiased, evidence-based picture of how well each country and the international community are performing against these challenges.  The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) are made up of 169 targets which are measured by 244 indicators, covering a wide range of areas across five main themes: people, protecting the planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships.

These themes are embedded and interlinked throughout the goals. For example, while goal 13 focuses on the plans governments have in place to tackle climate change – including air quality – air pollution is also considered under goal 3, about good health and wellbeing, and goal 11, about sustainable cities.

The ONS is responsible for finding the right data to report against these indicators on behalf of the UK.  So far, data for 187 out of the total 244 indicators has been sourced and is reported on our National Reporting Platform.

While the ONS, as the largest independent producer of official statistics in the UK, has access to a lot of the data needed for these indicators, we have also been working with government departments and other organisations to explore what additional data exists which can help to make sure we can give a full picture of the UK’s progress and fill any evidence gaps.

17Number of sustainable development goals identified by the UN

People, planet, prosperity, peace, partnerships The five themes that encompass the goals

2015 Years the goals were launched

187 Number of indicators – out of a total of 244 – for which data is already reported publicly by ONS

Using data from Public Health England and the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU) at the University of Oxford, we are able to report the rate of HIV infections, malaria cases and maternal mortality in the UK. This has highlighted to us that, in the UK, while we have relatively low maternal mortality rates, there are significant differences in outcomes for different groups of women. For example, in England, maternal mortality rates are considerably higher for black women than for all other ethnic groups.

We sourced data from Forestry Commission GB and the Forest Service in Northern Ireland to understand how the coverage of our forests change over time and how well they are being looked after.

Using the ESRI geographical information system, we separated forest and non-forest land on the Ordnance Survey Mastermap to create an overlay representing the forest land coverage of the UK. This allowed us to provide breakdowns down to local authority district level, giving local authorities key information pertaining to forest cover in their area. Our next steps are to publish this local authority data on our National Reporting Platform and we are working on automating this analysis and scaling it up for use by other countries around the world.

Read the rest of  Fiona Dawe’s article at Public Technology.net