New MRI Publication | Challenges and Opportunities in Assessing Sustainable Mountain Development using the UN Sustainable Development Goals

A new working paper compiled jointly by the MRI and the Centre for Development and Environment offers an evidence-informed preliminary assessment of a subset of UN Sustainable Development Goal indicators tailored to a sustainable mountain development context.

To achieve sustainable development, mountain communities and ecosystems must overcome challenges and make the most of opportunities that are specific to the mountain context. Monitoring the progress of mountain regions as they work towards sustainable mountain development therefore needs to be contextualized to effectively guide, coordinate, and assess development efforts. To support this process, the MRI is developing an approach for assessing sustainable mountain development using the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) framework.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated SDGs represent a comprehensive approach to sustainable development, covering multiple dimensions of sustainability and allocating responsibility at the national level for prioritization, monitoring, and reporting. Within the SDG framework, concerted efforts to acquire and globally harmonize indicator data offer opportunities to assess and track sustainable development. It is hoped that this new, focused approach for assessing sustainable mountain development, developed by the MRI in collaboration with the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), will help contextualize and highlight the specific needs and challenges faced in mountain areas, and inform policy and decision-making at all levels. 

This work is being undertaken as part of the Sustainable Mountain Development for Global Change (SMD4GC) programme, financed by the Swiss Development Cooperation.

As a first step, the MRI conducted a survey of mountain researchers interested in sustainable development to identify a subset of SDG indicators that are relevant for monitoring and reporting on sustainable mountain development. Next, to investigate data availability and accessibility for these indicators in countries in the SMD4GC regions, the MRI performed a desktop study with selected SMD4GC partners. 

Now, a newly published working paper presents the outcomes of this study. It identifies challenges to and opportunities for reporting on the indicators that are representative for sustainable mountain social-ecological systems, and offers recommendations for further work.

The following key conclusions are outlined in the working paper:

  • Disaggregating the SDGs to subnational levels and applying subsets of SDG indicators to monitor their status are two emerging considerations in reporting on SMD, and can meaningfully guide global, national, and subnational efforts to achieve the SDGs in mountains. The general need for disaggregated data to achieve the 2030 Agenda has been recognized by a wide range of actors and institutions. Nonetheless, little guidance exists on methodology for disaggregation of SDG data that takes mountain-specific challenges into account. For example, for more than half of the indicators selected for this study, no internationally established methodology or standards are available for data collection and/or data is not regularly produced. Thus, proxy data is required. However, the use of proxy data can make it more challenging to compare progress between mountain regions.

  • The capacity to spatially disaggregate existing SDG indicator data is relatively underdeveloped in the countries that are the focus of this paper: Ecuador, Chile, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Methodologically robust and timely subnational data is not consistently available across all four countries. However, there are many sources of proxy data that can be used to help fill gaps in SDG data. Collaboration with local partner organizations is important, as they have good knowledge of local conditions, relevant actors, and sources of data. Fostering this level of collaboration offers a key opportunity for enabling the monitoring and reporting of SMD through SDGs.

  • There is no commonly agreed delineation of mountain areas, since such delineations depend on the information needs of the end-user, among other factors. Often, countries apply their own definitions of mountain areas, making it difficult to compare results across different countries. Efforts to monitor SDGs should therefore be decentralized at the regional level using a jointly agreed approach.

DOWNLOAD THE FULL PAPER: Bracher C, Wymann von Dach S, Adler C. 2018. Challenges and Opportunities in Assessing Sustainable Mountain Development Using the UN Sustainable Development Goals: A Report Compiled by the Mountain Research Initiative (MRI), in Collaboration with the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE). CDE Working Paper 3. Bern, Switzerland: Centre for Development and Environment (CDE).