Institute for Sustainability


Quantifying the immeasurable: determination of tier II and III SDG indicators via an integrative geospatial framework

Key Words: geospatial framework; global land cover; indicators; sustainable cities; Sustainable Development Goals


Lead Supervisor: Prof Jon Mills

Project Studentship Code: IFS011

Programme Code: 8040F

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The principal aim of this PhD is to demonstrate the potential of geospatial information to facilitate the integrative monitoring necessary to measure progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To achieve this aim, the project will: (i) comprehensively review the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Indicators (SDGIs) that are quantifiable by geospatial data when augmented with appropriate socio-economic and environmental information, thereby identifying key scientific challenges behind each geospatially-relevant SDGI; (ii) propose a holistic integrative framework to address Tier II and III SDGIs, particularly in data-scarce developing nation contexts; (iii) develop and prove the proposed framework based on selected pilot indicators relating to SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities; (iv) demonstrate the transferability of the framework via application to other SDGs.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development contains a set of 17 SDGs and 169 targets. A preliminary set of 230 specific SDGIs were proposed to measure and monitor these goals using comparable and standardized national official statistics. The Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) classify the SDGIs into three tiers, based on their level of methodological development and overall data availability. Some SDGIs are prescriptive in the data sources and methods of computation (Tier I), whilst others have no specifically-defined data sources (Tier II) and / or explicit methods and standards (Tier III). The efficient measurement and meaningful monitoring of the SDGIs therefore poses a significant challenge, since it requires not only accurate, reliable and authoritative information, but also innovative approaches to data processing and analysis.

In 2012, the United Nations-Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) committee noted, “all of the issues impacting sustainable development can be analyzed, mapped, discussed and/or modelled within a geographic context.” Indeed the UN-GGIM recently estimated that > 40 of the 230 SDGIs, spanning 11 of the overarching SDGs, can be directly or indirectly measured using geospatial information. The 2030 Agenda document articulates the fundamental role that Earth Observation (EO) has to play in achieving the SDGs and reporting on progress towards the associated targets, a fact that the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) recently reiterated in particular relation to the Tier II and III indicators. However, whilst the importance of geospatial information to the SDGs is recognized, and associated national spatial data infrastructures can potentially provide an enabling framework to tackle the goals in a holistic manner, progress has been protracted. Advancement necessitates the joining-up of the geospatial community with contemporary socio-economic and environmental expertise to plug geospatial information into the mainstream sustainability agenda. Moreover, governance requires careful consideration as it plays a critical role in determining how the SDGs are approached and moved from ‘paper policy’ into tangible changes. Via synthesis of the information garnered from UNGGIM, GEO and others, and by leveraging Newcastle’s strengths in sustainable cities, the research will propose a conceptual geospatial global framework within which socio-economic-environmental data can holistically quantify the SDGIs.