Australia presents first VNR to the UN and highlights data as key focus for tracking SDG progress

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Image of Gillian Bird, Australia's ambassador to the United Nations delivering Australia's Voluntary National Review (VNR).

Gillian Bird presents Australia’s Voluntary National Review at the UN. Photo: @AustraliaUN/Twitter


On Tuesday 17 July, Gillian Bird, Australia’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN, delivered Australia’s Voluntary National Review (VNR) to outline Australia’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In signing up to the 2030 Agenda, countries also undertook to provide two Voluntary National Reviews to the High Level Political Forum at the United Nations before 2030. This was Australia’s first.

The Australian Government has described its VNR as a ‘whole of Australia’ report – combining the efforts of the business sector, civil society, academia, communities and individuals.

Of most interest to the data community, was what actions the Australian Government has taken to plug existing data gaps to monitor progress towards the SDGs.

In New York, Ambassador Bird underlined the need for relevant, quality and timely data to track progress against the 230 individual indicators.

In addition to the VNR, the Australian Government also launched a new platform for SDG data on Tuesday. The platform makes publicly available the data Australia has to track progress against the indicator framework.

Like most Governments that have worked to make this information available, Australia has found that it has a number of data gaps. The platform provides an incentive for the Government to improve its ability to report against the indicators and to make regular updates to the information.

This is very welcome and responds to the need for countries to make progress from wherever their starting point. It is also vital to have undertaken this exercise in its own right so that Australia is best able to support neighbouring countries to meet their own data challenges.

Image of a screenshot, taken from Australia's new data portal for tracking SDG data. The image shows 9 SDG gender indicators, with colours red, amber or green to denote progress of data collection for each indicator.
A snapshot of SDG 5 indicators for gender equality, showing data available to the Australian Government, as well as data gaps that need to be resolved.

Being able to see the data that is available, and the data that is not available, highlights some of the risks around data gaps. For example,  just 34% of all SDG 5 indicators (for gender equality) have an agreed methodology and regular data production.

This puts the remaining indicators for this Goal at risk of being dropped in 2020 if no new methodologies have been agreed upon.

Across the entire indicator framework, the Australian SDG Data Platform shows that 57 of the 244 indicators are not applicable—this is their terminology for those without agreed methods of collection.

Classifying these 57 indicators as ‘not applicable’ means nearly a quarter of all indicators are not being reported against and signals the vulnerabilities in the indicator framework if efforts are not invested in determining and agreeing pathways to reporting.

Despite challenges in collecting data against the full indicator framework, Australia’s investments in data remain a significant contribution to overall efforts to plug data gaps.

Following the official presentation of its VNR, Australia hosted an official side event to showcase its approach to data investment. The event, titled From Up There to Down Here was a chance to explore Australia’s  earth observation data investments.

In opening remarks Ambassador Bird noted, however, that Australia is investing in both ends of the data spectrum with significant focus on individual level measurement, as well:

Australia is contributing to methods to address the challenge of disaggregating data to ensure no one is left behind. This includes our support for the Washington Group on Disability Statistics and the development of the Individual Deprivation Measure.

The Individual Deprivation Measure represents a part of Australia’s commitment to supporting an end to end approach to data investment for the SDGs. This measure will provide a more nuanced picture of the lives of individuals in the household.

Australia’s commitment to data was showcased through this VNR process, with a focus on contributing to the development of methods that give policy makers a nuanced understanding of policy potential and impacts at the individual level. 

Attending the High Level Political Forum in New York, the Director of the IWDA IDM Team, Jo Pradela, highlighted the importance of this end-to-end approach that the Australian Government has taken in their data investment:

Earth observation data provides a macro framework for what is changing—weather patterns, forests and oceans. The IDM provides the vital context: for whom is it changing? With what impact? To what extent? Taken together policy makers have vital new evidence from which targeted and effective policy decisions can be made to target root causes of deprivations and to advance the 2030 Agenda.


Read Australia’s full VNR here.

Browse the Australian Government’s new SDG Data Portal site here.