What is the strategic importance of geospatial for SDGs (Geo4SDGs or GEO-for-SDGs)?

What is the strategic importance of geospatial for SDGs (Geo4SDGs or GEO-for-SDGs)?

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It was a historical moment in 2000 when 189 countries signed a pact – The Millennium Declaration for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 2015 marked the completion of the monitoring period for the MDGs bringing with it the need for a more comprehensive, holistic and strategic framework, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But, why did the MDGs fail? Why was the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – drafted with ‘geospatial’ as a key component? At last, what is the importance of Geo4SDGs or Geospatial for SDGs? Let’s find out!

Geospatial Information oblivious MDGs

Millennium Development Goals and geospatial or geospatial for SDGsEven though the MDGs received a positive response from the 189 countries, the ambitions set under the goals could not be met. Unrealistic goals, weak governance, mismanagement, lack of an effective implementation and monitoring mechanism, are considered to be few of the reasons why the MDGs failed to connect with the development community. The development community who are primarily focused on action – precisely missed out on the dominant approach that spatial information and technology can bring towards the achievement of these goals. Despite significant efforts being put in achieving the MDG’s, the need for geospatial information was not recognized, and thus the progress of the goals was not tracked and monitored consistently.  Not soon after the MDGs failed, did the policymakers, geospatial industry, and the development community realises the need for an inclusive spatial transformation across and within varied development areas. The stark obliviousness of almost all stakeholders of the MDGs of the use of geospatial information and data resulted in the incorporation of earth observation data and geospatial information as a key facet in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development framework.

Geospatial for SDGs (GEO-for-SDGs) Geospatially sound SDGs 

geo4SDGs or geospaial for SDGs or satellite data for SGDs

Technology, in general, is becoming increasingly integrated into every aspect of our lives. The use of geospatial information and technology is now being viewed as an enabling and coherent capability for achieving the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. The statistical community, the policymakers, geospatial professionals and the development community recognize the need for geospatial ‘open’ data. It has been well understood from the lessons learnt from MDGs that GEO-for-SDGs is an indispensable element for effective development strategies. To support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and to monitor the associated targets and indicators, the Article 76, of the United Nations document on Sustainable Agenda, clearly states, ‘We will promote transparent and accountable scaling-up of appropriate public-private cooperation to exploit the contribution to be made by a wide range of data, including Earth observation and geospatial information, while ensuring ownership in supporting and tracking progress.’ The need to leverage geospatial information (earth observation and geospatial data) is being well understood slowly and steadily. The importance of GEO-for-SDGs is being established such that:

  • The geospatial digital divide inherent in developing economies if reduced will lead to a focused approach to continue the strides of sustainable development
  • Integration of geospatial and statistical data supports holistic monitoring and management of SDGs and helps in delivering better decisions faster
  • Real-time data is critical for the development of a coherent legal and policy framework

At present, there are many successful case studies that showcase how geospatial data and earth observation data is being used to meet the sustainable development goals – directly or indirectly. Geospatial data, when combined with other statistical data, enables nations to create visualization tools that help inaccurate assessment and evaluation of the development impact across the 17 goals in a consistent manner such that accountability is improved. Organizations like UNGGIM and GEO are constantly stressing on and advocating the need for the aggressive use of geospatial information and technology to enable societal benefits of SDGs. These organizations propagate partnership within the geospatial community – such as space agencies, private industry players – with the government, academia, for successful implementation of programs for SDGs.

geo-for-sdgs
Picture Credit: UNGGIM

Moreover, it has been long accepted that geospatial information and earth observation data can support the development of many sectors of a society. The information gathered from various sources is accurate and reliable and by investing hugely in applications developed of the available information, critical challenges pertaining to climate change, food security, natural disasters, safe and secure transport, agriculture, health issues and sustainable life on land and water can be addressed. The understanding of spatial datasets of all these sectors can lead to a quantum leap in how SDGs are being implemented, monitored and tracked. The Geographic Information System (GIS) software, on the other hand, helps create a visual overlay of the available geospatial datasets which can help reveal patterns and trends that may otherwise not be perceived. By creating a ‘geo-design’ framework, GIS helps to solve the complex sustainability concerns in development projects. As Nigel Clifford, CEO, Ordnance Survey puts it, “When geospatial data is visualized as a map and has attribution added to it and/or information layered on top, it is an extremely effective communication tool that transcends language and culture. Complex issues are understood in seconds. As a reporting mechanism, it is unrivalled, and the value of this to the UN and to those reporting back to the UN should not be underestimated.” Thus, for expanding monitoring capabilities at the local, national and regional level, geospatial information and earth observation data prove essential in capturing the sustainability in development efforts.

The Development Community supports GEO-for-SDGs

The development community is not far behind in understanding the importance of GEO-for-SDGs. Organizations like NetHope, ICRISAT and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) are using earth observation data and geospatial data to help meet the SDGs in their own way. The initial hesitation in using geospatial information is now superseded by acceptance of the many benefits that it brings with it. The importance of ‘location’ in achieving the SDGs is being gradually realised and the development community is gravitating towards collaborating with the geospatial industry to explore more dedicated methods of achieving the SDGs. Both the communities are realising the increasing interdependence and are initiating interactions on using GEO-for-SDGs.  The systematic nature of each SDGs is being taken into consideration and the development community through the understanding of various use case studies has begun to adopt the different applications which are spatial in nature for better decision-making. Shaun Ferris, Director (Agricultural Livelihood), CRS emphasises that the possibilities of using geospatial data is limitless. According to him, the geospatial industry has still not lived up to its potential and the crucial role they play in achieving the development goals is still unexplored.

While considerable progress has been made to achieve the goals, the collaboration between the development community and the geospatial community is of most importance. At present, it is crucial to bridge the gap and bring collaboration and liaison among government agencies, commercial sectors, multilateral and international development organizations, and the civil society to initiate detailed discussions on the role of GEO-for-SDGs.

Also read: Why is data revolution critical for achieving the SDGs?

If you are looking forward to understanding more on the strategic importance of geospatial information and data for sustainable development and are looking forward to networking with the stakeholders of the sustainable development and geospatial community, join us at the Geospatial for SDGs (GEO4SDGs) conference at Geospatial World Forum 2018.


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