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FEATURE STORY August 23, 2017

Using Satellites to Monitor Progress toward the SDGs


The plummeting cost of satellite data in the past decade has made earth observation (EO) and geospatial information more attractive than ever for addressing poverty, monitoring environmental changes, and stimulating economic growth – among other objectives. It is especially valuable in developing countries, which often do not have adequate monitoring systems to track progress on the Sustainable Development Goals and other global and national goals.

To harness this extraordinary source of data on behalf of its clients, the World Bank Group is working with the European Space Agency (ESA) and other groups to integrate of EO into the SDG framework. In 2015 the two institutions signed a Memorandum of Intent to partner on the use of EO-based information in support of sustainable development. The agreement—and similar agreements signed by other international financial institutions—is part of ESA’s new Earth Observation for Sustainable Development (EO4SD) initiative, which is initially addressing three thematic areas: urban development, agriculture and rural development, and water resources management; currently being extended to a further four areas: climate resilience, disaster risk reduction, fragile and conflict states, ocean resources and marine environment.

EO can be used to monitor progress on many of the 17 SDGs’ 169 targets and 230 indicators (see a recent report by the Group on Earth Observations GEO and the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites CEOS). Examples include:

  • monitoring air and water quality, mapping land use, development, and infrastructure while assessing compliance with land use regulations and property rights
  • assessing and monitoring the potential for solar, wind, hydropower, and biofuel development
  • mapping and monitoring forests, by identifying degradation, rehabilitation, and recovery
  • providing early warnings of vector-borne diseases and natural disasters
  • mapping and monitoring urban settlements and housing
  • providing information on crop health and yields, market access, and pests and diseases
  • mapping potentially dangerous infrastructure (such as waste management facilities and nuclear facilities).

To discuss the potential for geospatial information, senior officials and executives from national geospatial information and statistical authorities and international geospatial experts, including World Bank and ESA representatives, met in New York August 2–4 for the Seventh Session of the UN Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM). To see the results of the proceedings, click here.