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Status of SDGs Land Indicators: Overcoming the Barriers and Bridging the Yawning Data Gaps

EGM to develop essential survey questions for monitoring indicator 1.4.2 organized by UN-Habitat, World Bank and GLII- May 2017. Photo: GLTN/UN-Habitat

A part of the Land and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Blog Series, a joint initiative of the Land Portal Foundation, UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s Thematic Network on Good Governance of Extractive and Land Resources, and the Global Land Tool Network to provide new perspectives, encourage innovative thinking, incite healthy debate and provoke lively discussions on these issues.

By Dr. Robert Ndugwa (UNHABITAT) and Everlyne Nairesiae (GLII Coordinator)

The inclusion of Sustainable Development Goal 1.4.2 and other land related indicators in the 2030 agenda remain a key achievement for global monitoring of land rights. However, such an achievement will only remain fruitful if we, as a global community, invest appropriately in the capacities and systems that are needed to activate the global reporting on these indicators at scale and in all countries.

We are in the fourth year of implementation of the Agenda 2030, and we have witnessed UN member states and Governments, development agencies, the private sector, CSOs and communities across the world translating this shared vision into national development plans and strategies that ensure they ‘leave no one behind’.

Achieving the land rights-related SDGs requires clear plans, strategies and new partnerships for implementation, monitoring and evaluation of key targets, including eradication of poverty and food insecurity, improved security of land tenure rights for men and women, peace and stability and overall reduction of inequality, among other issues.

The monitoring of the SDGs is guided and supported by a global monitoring framework based on comparable indicators and standardized national data to be obtained through well-established reporting mechanisms from countries to the international statistical system. Such mechanisms can be improved by strengthening the coordination function of national statistical offices within the national statistical and geospatial systems. Similarly, producing reliable and regular data at national level requires strong political commitment, dedicated resources and capacity strengthening of data and statistical systems. Quality data are vital for governments, international organisations, civil society, the private sector and the general public to make informed decisions and to ensure an accurate review of the implementation of the SDGs.

Progress made in monitoring land indicators in the SDGs

Following adoption of Agenda 2030, the land community has achieved several milestones. The global recognition of importance of land in the SDGs and the inclusion of explicit land targets and indicators for measuring progress of land rights in SDGs including land tenure security was certainly a ground-breaking achievement. Relentless efforts marshalled by the land community through the Global Land Indicators Initiative (GLII), and with the support of the Global Donor Working Group on Land (GDWGL) and other actors, successfully accompanied and supported the UN Custodian agencies to deliver the reclassification of land related indicators including 1.4.2 from Tier III to Tier II by the IAEG-SDGs.

Since then, a joint questionnaire module for data collection needed to compute land indicators 1.4.2 and 5.a.1 has been developed by custodian agencies, building on the similarities and complementarity between the two indicators. This is expected to increase efficiency and reduce the operational cost for generation of this essential land rights data at national and sub-national levels.

There is no doubt that the approved methodology for measuring these two indicators is a major achievement in the history of monitoring land governance and this is expected to transcend the timelines for the SDGs in addressing the struggle for women, men and vulnerable populations to have their land tenure rights documented, monitored and policy issues informed by reliable data and evidence.

The make or break of land indicators in the SDGs by 2020 – What’s hanging in the balance?

Despite the milestones recorded towards securing the land indicators in the SDGs, including the agreed global methodologies approved by IAEG-SDGs, the main accomplishment can only be realised when land data is generated and used in planning and policy decision-making at local and national levels.

Group discussion at EGM on Securing Women’s Land Rights held in New York, co-organized by GLII-GLTN/UN-Habitat, Oxfam International and other partners. Photo credit – GLTN/UN-Habitat.
Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on use of administrative data in the monitoring of indicator 1.4.2 organized by the World Bank and UN-Habitat in Barcelona, Spain, July 2017. Photo: World Bank

As António Guterres, Secretary-General of United Nations observed in the 2018 SDGs Progress Report, without evidence of where we stand now, we cannot confidently chart our path forward in realizing the Sustainable Development Goals. This situation applies to a significant number of indicators in the SDGs monitoring framework including the land tenure indicator 1.4.2 among others. Tracking progress on key targets in the SDGs requires the collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of land data and statistics, and geospatial data at subnational, national, regional and global levels, mainly those generated from official statistical systems and from new and innovative data sources.

As long as data production remains a challenge, accurate and timely information about certain aspects of people’s lives including their relationship with land will remain unknown and “invisible”, risking living many especially the poor, women and vulnerable populations behind.

Development actors including governments, donors, private sector and the CSOs require regular and sex disaggregated data on land tenure and other aspects of land governance to ensure accountability, measure impact and assess value for money on investments including achievement of key targets in the SDGs. To influence policies that secure land tenure rights, the land community along with collaborative partnerships must therefore inject a sense of urgency and execute relevant actions at country level to realise land data collection and reporting. This includes direct country level support to NSOs to accelerate generation of survey data, and integration of other data sources including use of Geospatial data and related technologies.

Partnership with CSOs and private sector could be further explored. Dedicated efforts by the custodian agencies backed up with a well-coordinated strategy towards capacity development for national statistical systems and other data producing agencies for sustainable data production and reporting on the land indicators including 1.4.2 and 5.a.1 is key to success. Although this effort has started, more needs to be done to scale it up. We need to mobilize political support and resources required to accompany country data production and reporting processes to meet the required threshold for Tier 1 status by 2020;.This means to ensure that 50% of all countries produce data for these land indicators with a good coverage at the population level across the globe and remain representative of all the world’s regions.

Tier I status for land indicators by 2020, what is at stake and what you need to know

Tenure security indicators 1.4.2 and 5.a.1, now classified under Tier II; both have globally agreed methodology and a joint questionnaire for data collection at country level developed by the custodian agencies (UN-Habitat, World Bank and FAO). This success is no achievement if data is not collected and used for planning and policy decision towards secure tenure rights for all and ensure no one is left behind. Although we all are proud of the milestones achieved so far, the journey continues, and we are yet to cross the finishing line–which is the need to translate land tenure data into meaningful and tangible outcomes in peoples’ lives.

As it stands now, few counties will be able to comprehensively report on indicators 1.4.2 and 5.a.1 by the year 2020. Our projections show that nearly 14 countries have planned household surveys that have featured the essential questions for the monitoring of these land indicators. Another 12 have censuses lined up for the period 2019 to 2022 with these essential questions planned for integration in their modules.  The IAEG-SDGs is expected to review progress made in data collection and reporting on all SDGs indicators – mainly those under Tier II and Tier I. Although no official communication from the IAEG-SDGs on what should be expected of Tier II indicators come next year- 2020, our unwavering commitment and focus should remain in getting as many countries to collect data and report. Securing Tier I status by end of next year is the preferred case of many land community actors who have continued to invest and support this journey.

There is no doubt that countries that will regularly collect land data will be able to measure progress on tenure security, especially for the poor, women and most vulnerable members of the society, and in doing so use data for planning and policy decisions towards responsible land governance as inspired by VGGTs. Without regular land tenure data, governments, the private sector, donors and other development will not be able to plan, assess progress and measure impact of their interventions towards the SDGs.

As we all remain committed to achieve Tier I status, the following are points to note:

  • Custodian agencies, and with the support from GLII, the Global Donor Working Group on Land and other actors continue to make contact with NSOs in several countries globally, disseminating the approved methodology for monitoring tenure security indicators 1.4.2 and 5.a.1. This is expected to intensify country level support for integration of the essential questions in relevant national surveys for sustainable production of land data. Inadequate financial resources remain a setback on achieving this objective at scale.
  • GLII continues to coordinate, advocate and support the efforts of custodians in accessing relevant regional and global platforms for NSOs, and facilitate access to learning and capacity development workshops for dissemination of joint module for data collection and ensure synergies and complementarity of custodians and other actors.
  • Use of geospatial data and its link to statistical data on land remains under explored and custodians will aim to address this in the long run.
  • Use of data from the private sector and CSOs is yet to be fully explored and made complementary to official data. More will need to be done to enhance quality and comparability of relevant aspects of the data and increase its use for policy decisions at national, regional and global level.
  • Overall coordination of the land community toward achieving comprehensive land governance remains paramount. With increase in access to data from various sources, global tracking and reporting of progress made is necessary to profile key trends and enable data visualization to facilitate policy dialogues at national SDG platforms, regional and global levels including UN High Level Political Forum. Custodians, CSOs, private sector among other actors have a role to play.
  • To achieve the SDGs, it requires that we implement actions that foster sustainable change in land governance at policy and practice, focus on building capacity of development actors at the local level to finance and deliver services that change the lives of people in their communities. This way, data collected will demonstrate real value towards sustainable development and ensure no one is left behind.
  • Financing and advocacy are still essential elements needed for the achievement of all the land indicators milestones. The upcoming first ever UN-Habitat Assembly scheduled for May 2019 provides a great opportunity for more advocacy to member states to do more in terms of investments in systems for monitoring land rights.

The global land community and collaborating organisations have to keep moving forward and sustain the momentum. The vision and aspirations need to go beyond 2020 expected Tier re-classification decision of IAEG-SDGs, and even transcend the 2030 agenda, all in pursuit of responsible land governance including tenure rights for all. We need to focus and put our resources where they are mostly needed and will soon reap the fruits of our labour.

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