Institute for Sustainability


Measuring up to the SDGs in the UK: a data availability and performance gap analysis

Lead author: Dr Graham Long, Politics

SDG indicators and targets for UK

UK's Performance Against UN Sustainable Development Goals Infographics

The Sustainable Development Goals are universally applicable – commitments not just for developing, but developed countries. Nevertheless, they need translation to differentiated country contexts. In “Transforming Our World: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development” (the SDG summit outcome document - A/RES/70/1), countries’ commitments to implementation of the goals should be followed by “ambitious national responses” (para 78) to the SDGs. Countries also commit to implementing the goals in a way (1) that “leaves no one behind” (para 4; 74e) – focusing on the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalised groups within society – and (2) respects the “integrated and indivisible” nature of the SDGs – placing a premium on policy coherence in response.

This research project addresses two key questions prompted by attempts at SDG measurement and implementation in a UK domestic context.

(a) How many of the applicable SDG indicators are currently measured in the UK?

(b) What do these measurements tell us about where the UK sits in respect of the ambitions expressed in the global targets?

This ongoing project takes the current agreed SDG indicators for targets applicable to the UK domestic context (excluding goal 17 because of its focus on global partnership), and then searches for, and garners expert evaluation of, commensurable indicators. The linked document constitutes a full current table of results for over 170 indicators – over 100 pages of data. The project is not currently complete: as it moves towards completeness – not least through interviews with more area experts and further collaboration with ONS, DEFRA, and other data sources and users, it will become more robust and comprehensive.

In phase one, the project employed experienced researchers to sweep for global, regional and national metrics and data that mapped on to the SDG indicators, from government and non-government sources. Phase two, currently underway, consults academic experts, data users and sources to maximise the comprehensiveness and robustness of this evaluation.

As such, the data presented possesses some limitations. The timeliness of the data, and issues of comprehensive coverage of data gathered across the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, are not, currently, systematically examined. As detailed at points in the table, almost every indicator is accompanied by ambiguities and issues of interpretation. The comparative element, against other OECD or EU countries, say, is deliberately not widely and systematically addressed. Lastly, while an attempt has been made to identify the extent of data disaggregation as a precursor of “leaving no one behind”, this exercise is currently incomplete in both breadth of coverage and depth.