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As Chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung and Director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), we are proud to present this joint product of two organizations. This work builds on a pioneering report published last year by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, Sustainable Development Goals: Are the Rich Countries Ready?, which benefited also from the collaboration with the SDSN. Last year’s report described the status of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the 34 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), mostly high-income countries. This report extends the work in several directions, by adding more indicators, refining the methodology, and by taking a global approach including non-OECD countries as well, with a coverage now of 149 of the 193 UN member states.

The purpose of this report is to assist countries in getting started with implementing the new SDGs. The SDGs are a universal agenda of sustainable development, calling on all nations to pursue a holistic strategy that combines economic development, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. The 17 SDGs agreed at the UN on September 25, 2015 embody a shared global vision of how to combine these three dimensions of sustainable development into action at the local, national, and international levels. We are gratified that throughout the world, local and national governments are already rallying around the new goals, seeking ways to incorporate them into planning processes. Businesses, universities, and civil society are also recognizing that the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement (incorporated into the sustainable development agenda as SDG 13) are truly “something new,” requiring a new orientation of strategy.

There is universal agreement not only on the SDGs but also on the fact that they represent an unusually complicated agenda for governments. After all, it’s hard enough to pursue economic development or social inclusion or environmental sustainability. To do all three together, and with investment strategies that must stretch over 15 years if not more, will certainly require a new orientation of governments and a new approach to multi-stakeholder policy design and implementation. Climate change by itself, just one of the 17 SDGs, requires nothing less than a fundamental overhaul of the world’s energy systems in the next 20-40 years. Rising inequality and sluggish growth with weak job prospects urgently demand political action in many countries. The SDGs are certainly not business as usual.

For these reasons, governments, businesses, and civil society are very keen to be able to track the SDGs over time, in order to assess progress, identify priorities, determine weak points in implementation, and to stay on track towards the goals. For this reason, the UN member states are investing considerable diplomatic time and organizational effort to define a new set of comprehensive metrics for the SDGs. An Inter-Agency and Expert Advisory Group (IAEG) was constituted to devise a global indicator framework for the SDGs. Their detailed work is still ongoing and will continue into 2017. The IAEG has already identified three “tiers” of indicators depending on whether the methodology is agreed and data are already widely available (Tier 1), the methodology is agreed but the data are not widely available (Tier 2), and the methodology is still not globally agreed (Tier 3).

While this exacting and laborious effort continues, it is important that countries get started on the SDGs with relevant data already at hand. It is also important that these data should be accessible and understandable not only for experts but also for government officials, business and civil society, and of course, the citizenry. This is precisely the spirit of the present work. Based on our very careful scrutiny of relevant data already available for tracking the SDGs, the SDG Index and Dashboards present these data in a way that we believe to be informative, insightful, and interesting for the public. Where possible we use the official SDG indicators and fill gaps in data availability with variables published by reputable sources.

We also emphasize again that the SDG Index and Dashboards are not an official product endorsed by any governments or the United Nations. We view this work as complementary to, and supportive of the official process on SDG Indicators led by the UN member states with the support of the UN Statistics Division.

The SDG Index creates for the first time a measure of the SDG starting point for 2015 at the country level. It will help every country identify priorities for early action, understand the key implementation challenges and identify the gaps that must be closed in order to achieve the SDGs by 2030. The SDG Index also allows each country to compare itself with the region, with other counterparts at similar levels of overall economic development, and with the entire world, including the best and worst performers. Indeed we have constructed the various measures for each SDG so that they immediately indicate a country’s position on a 0-to-100 spectrum from the “worst” (score 0) to the “best” (score 100).

The report also present an SDG Dashboards, with each goal colored as “green,” “yellow,” or “red”, indicating whether the country has already achieved the goal (green), is in a “caution lane” (yellow), or is seriously far from achievement as of 2015 (red). We are hard graders at this stage, not to be punitive or vindictive, and still less to be pessimistic. The hard grading is to highlight for each country in the world the major priorities that must be addressed in order to achieve the SDG goals and targets. The SDGs are indeed stretch goals for every country, so we recommend that nations carefully study their performance against each indicator to identify the areas where greater progress is required.

We hope that in addition to governments, other SDG stakeholders will find this report interesting and useful. Business, civil society organizations, foundations, universities, the media, and others will all play a vital role in turning the SDGs into practical tools for explaining sustainable development, managing implementation, ensuring accountability, and reporting on progress at local, national, regional, and global levels. This report and the companion website provide rich information to help inform these discussions.

This first SDG Index and Dashboards is bound to have missing data; misclassifications and errors; and out-of-date assessments, for example where data from a few years back are inaccurate regarding the country’s current situation. As highlighted throughout the report data on important SDG priorities are sometimes unavailable or out of date. Filling these gaps will require improved metrics as well as more and better data. One priority for SDG implementation must therefore be to invest in strengthening data collection and statistical capacity in all countries.

We know that some countries may be puzzled by their scores and that some will be unhappy with their place in the global rankings. We ask in advance for understanding on these points, and we will continue to improve the SDG Index and Dashboards. Because the report itself is online, we will have the opportunity to correct errors and update the report as new data become available. And most importantly, the SDG Index and Dashboards are not meant to predict future success or failure, only to measure the starting points as accurately as possible and facilitate a learning process.

Both the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the SDSN are deeply committed to the universal success in achieving the SDGs. As this report is written to help countries start the process of implementing the SDGs, we will jointly produce it for the coming three years. We look forward to the opportunity to improve the quality and coverage of the SDG Index and Dashboards over time. As this is the maiden voyage, we encourage and welcome feedback on the usefulness and limitations of the SDG Index and Dashboards, and advice on how the report can be made more useful and accurate in the coming years.

  • Aart de Geus Chairman and CEO,
    Bertelsmann Stiftung

  • Jeffrey D. Sachs Director,
    Sustainable Development Solutions Network