Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) takes more of an integrated approach when compared to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
A number of environment goals have been included in the new set of development goals, which is a major transformation from the MDGs. Accordingly, environment related indicators and targets, takes prominence in the SDGs.
In the MDGs, there was only one goal dealt with environmental sustainability, which was measured by 10 indicators. In contrast, SDGs address issues on biodiversity, climate change, ocean resources and sustainable consumption and production aspects in separate goals.
In addition, energy resources, sustainable cities, water usage are some of the aspects incorporated to some other goals. Environmental aspects are also underpinned in most of other SDG goals, demonstrating inter-linkages with other goals and environment related goals.
However, measuring the progress of SDGs seems a challenging task, given the increased number of goals, indicators and targets and their cross-cutting nature. Therefore, at the outset, it is important to identify their national relevance and challenges to ensure that the progress of reporting is conducted in an effective manner.
Environment related SDGs seems to be broadly in line with the National Action Plan for Haritha Lanka, which highlights the short, medium and long term targets in addressing the key environmental issues in Sri Lanka.
The ten broad missions/thrust areas covered by the programme are: (a) Clean Air - Everywhere, (b) Saving the Fauna, Flora and Ecosystems, (c) Meeting the Challenges of Climate Change, (d) Wise Use of the Coastal Belt and the Sea Around, (e) Responsible Use of the Land Resources, (f) Doing Away with the Dumps, (g) Water for All and Always, (h) Green Cities for Health and Prosperity, Greening the Industries, and (i) Knowledge for Right Choices. The Plan is also in the process of revision. The environment related SDGs are in line with the broad missions of the environment sector in Sri Lanka.
According to experts in the sector, certain indicators of these SDGs range from a ‘less relevant’ end to a ‘highly relevant’ end. This however, is normal as a single set of indicators cannot be practically developed to suite the conditions of many countries.
There are several challenges ahead in reporting the progress of the environment related SDGs. They mainly include resource related constraints and data issues.
Financing is viewed as a major barrier for implementing the SDGs and relevant indicators, which are specially based on scientific and technical estimations. Also the lack of expertise will be an obstacle for certain indicators, which are not currently been implemented at national level. For instance, when it comes to indicator under Goal12 - Strategic Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Required, the Cabinet has approved to carry out Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) in the case of Sri Lanka. SEAs take a holistic approach when assessing environmental impacts and is well ahead of the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), which are used at present. Conducting SEAs require a lot of expertise, and the lack of experts to carry out the tasks has been a significant challenge in implementing the SEAs.
In addition, the lack of staff in certain institutes is also a constraint in measuring certain indicators proposed along with the SDGs. For certain indicators, data are not being collected at present due to financial and staff limitations. Measurement of fish stocks (in relation to indicator 14.5) is an example. Lack of required equipment is a constraint in generating regular data for certain indicators. For instance, regular air quality measurements for indicator 69 under goal 11 have been largely constrained due to absence of required equipment.
Lack of data
As per the current mechanism available in Sri Lanka, all the data required to monitor SDGs are not being compiled by the National Statistical Agencies such as the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS), Central Bank, etc.
Mostly, in the case of environmental sectors, data are produced by the agencies, which handle the various related subjects such as the Forest Department, Sustainable Energy Authority, etc. As at present, there is no mechanism to measure, compile and share the information, which are generated by a number of agencies.
Absence of baseline data for monitoring the progress also remains a main issue with regard to a number of indicators under the SDGs. The issue is mostly in indicators related to environmental aspects. Therefore, when implementing SDGs, generating baseline information should be the first step. Generating baseline data helps to understand the gravity of the issue in relation to particular goals in achieving sustainable development. Though some of the environmental issues are considered as national priorities, most of such issues are explained qualitatively due to absence of data.
As highlighted above, degree of relevance of SDGs, their targets and indicatorsare different in the Sri Lankan context. While Sri Lanka takes steps to measure SDGs to the maximum extent possible, the country should also develop its own indicators for environmental sustainability. This might require comprehensive stakeholder consultations.
A high degree of coordination is a must in relation to SDGs, as environment related indicators are scattered under several goals. Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment and the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife have the mandate with regard to environmental sustainability of the country.In addition, there needs to be an effective coordination mechanism among other sectors, since many economic sectors have various inter-linkages with environment and natural resources.
(This article is based on a study by the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS) titled ‘National Level Implications of Implementation of SDGs: The Case of Sri Lanka’ funded by the Southern Voice Secretariat. The author, Kanchana Wickramasingha is a Research Economist at IPS. To view the article online and comment, visit the IPS blog ‘Talking Economics’ – www.ips.lk/talkingeconomics)