Getting the data right for global development

Getting the data right for global development

Statistics play a vital role as the world community works to enhance development across the globe. Health, the economy, the environment and the Millennium Development Goals; these are just a few of many areas measured and analyzed. On 26 February, the UN Statistical Commission will convene to assess how this work can be further improved to meet new and emerging challenges.

“We are again looking forward to strong participation from Member States. As in past years, we expect about 140 countries to be represented by their experts from the capital, making the Statistical Commission a truly global forum on official statistics,” said Sabine Warschburger, Statistician in DESA’s Statistics Division, who has been coordinating the preparations for the Commission and its many side events for a number of years.

Established as a functional Commission under the UN Economic and Social Council in 1947, the UN Statistical Commission is the highest decision-making body for international statistical activities, especially when it comes to setting statistical standards, the development of concepts and methods and their implementation at the national and international levels. It also oversees the work of DESA’s Statistics Division.

As the World Statistics Day was celebrated a few years back, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored the important role of the Commission, saying that it “has created international methodological standards and guidelines in virtually every area of statistics. It has played a key role in helping governments strengthen their statistical reporting, making data more available and comparable across countries and regions than ever before.”

Linking socio-economic information with geographic locations

This year, the Commission will discuss 13 agenda items including the implementation of the fundamental principles of official statistics; environmental-economic accounting; environment statistics; national accounts; international comparison programme; international trade and regional statistical development in Africa. An additional 16 items will be presented for information, including education, employment, integrated economic statistics as well as development indicators.

Developing a statistical-spatial framework in national statistical systems is this year’s topic of the Commission’s annual in-depth review, which is usually carried out by a Member State. Previous themes have included population and housing censuses, a review of gender statistics, quality assurance frameworks, climate change, employment, education, industry and social statistics. The National Statistical Office of Australia has this year taken the lead in preparing the in-depth report, containing proposals on future work to develop a statistical-spatial framework.

Statistical-spatial information helps advance all development aims, as it links statistical and socio-economic information to a location, bringing much improved understanding and relevance to the data collected. It thereby promotes informed decision-making and policy analysis both at the local and global level.

Need for measuring well-being, progress and sustainability

One of the most anticipated topics this year is the role of statistics in measuring progress within the field of sustainable development. In the Rio+20 outcome document “The Future We Want”, a call was made for broader measures of progress to complement GDP, while asking the Statistical Commission to work on this together with other UN entities and relevant organizations. This mandate presents an increased responsibility for the statistical community to improve existing frameworks and develop new approaches to capture the complex interaction of the economy, society and environment, and address the need for measures of well-being, progress and sustainability.

To help explore views on how the Commission can best respond to the Rio+20 mandate, the Monday High-Level Forum will be devoted this year to the theme of Official Statistics’ Response to the Rio+20 Mandate for Broader Measures of Progress. It will provide a forum of stocktaking and knowledge-sharing among National Statistical Offices (NSOs) and international organizations.

The Commission will address the implementation of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) Central Framework, which has been adopted as international statistical standard by the Statistical Commission in 2012. It will also consider endorsing the revised Framework for the Development of Environment Statistics (FDES 2013) and a plan for its implementation. The main objective of the FDES 2013 is to guide countries to establish and develop their environment statistics, organizing the data into a structure of six different components.

Elements covered are (i) environmental conditions, quality, and their changes due to human influence; (ii) the availability and use of the environmental resources in production and consumption; (iii) the generation, management and disposal to the environment of pollutants and other residuals from production and consumption; (iv) the occurrence and impacts of extreme events and disasters; (v) the quality of human settlements and environmental health; and (vi) the social and economic measures for the protection and management of the environment.

The System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) together with the FDES will help strengthen the measurement of the environmental pillar of sustainable development and the integrated calculation of the environmental, social and economic pillars.

The financial crisis in 2008/2009 revealed the interconnectedness of all economies and showed the economic and financial vulnerabilities of nations based on their cross-border relations. This topic is now discussed under the item on international trade statistics. It covers emerging policy needs for new statistics on international trade, including statistics on multinational enterprises and foreign direct investment, and indicates new initiatives in the measurement of global value chains and trade in value added.

It also expresses concern at the lack of coordination among the many task teams operating in this field and proposes the development of an overarching framework for international trade and economic globalization to ensure consistency in methodology, data compilation and data dissemination and the development of an appropriate mechanism for coordinating this process.

Regional perspectives and fundamental principles

Over the past five years, the Commission has reviewed the progress made in the area of official statistics in all five regions – Africa; Asia and the Pacific; Europe; Latin America and the Caribbean Countries; and Western Asia. In 2008, Africa had kicked off this regional theme and the cycle was completed in 2012 with Europe being presented, when the Commission decided to keep this important regional perspective. Time has therefore come to put spotlight on Africa again, featuring an exhibition as well as two seminars on the census and vital statistics and on agricultural statistics.

The Commission also intends to submit the 10 Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics to the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly for endorsement, following a global survey on their implementation and the creation of a new preamble.

Big data and more

“In 2012, the Commission session was supplemented by a record number of 60 side events. It’s my understanding that this makes the Statistical Commission one of the largest and busiest events held at UN Headquarters,” said Sabine Warschburger, also explaining that a similar number of side events is expected this year.

One of the events is “Big Data for Policy, Development and Official Statistics”, arranged on 22 February and taking a closer look at the fundamental change to the nature of data caused by the arrival of the Internet, mobile devices and other technologies. In addition to delegates from National Statistical Offices, participants included representatives from Google, Amazon Web Services, SAS, UN Global Pulse and OECD.

Other side events through learning centres and lunchtime seminars will focus on the newly revised Framework for the Development of Environment Statistics, the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting, the implementation of the SEEA Central Framework and Trade and Business Registers and will take place on 25, 26 and 27 February.

The vast range of topics and the many side events being arranged, bear testament to the crucial role statistics play for nations worldwide. The Secretary-General has previously also stated, “statistics are a vital tool for economic and social development, including our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. For development to succeed, we need data collection and statistical analysis of poverty levels, access to education and the incidence of disease. Statistics are a central consideration in justifying almost every aspect of budgets and programmes that enable hungry children to be fed or that provide shelter and emergency health care for victims of natural disasters.”

For more information:

44th Session of the UN Statistical Commission

DESA’s Statistics Division

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