There’s been quite a hubbub in the land community the last month over the reclassification of two land indicators from ‘Tier III’ to ‘Tier II’. So what’s this all about? For the uninitiated, each SDG indicator has to go through a validation process before it gets included in the formal SDG reporting process that will run from 2020 to 2030. An indicator starts off at Tier III when the methodology is still undefined; it moves to Tier II when a global group of stats experts (the Inter Agency Expert Group or IAEG) signs off on the proposed methodology and there is already some pilot data collection; and then it finally crosses the finish, or rather, start line to Tier I, when 50% of countries in all regions (covering at least 50% of the population in that region) are collecting and reporting on that indicator. Each indicator has been assigned one or more official ‘custodians’ – mostly international organisations – tasked with leading the reclassification work.
In November the IAEG agreed that two proposed SDG land indicators, 1.4.2 and 5.a.1, should be reclassified to Tier II (that’s what the hubbub has been about). This is a huge step forward and moves these two indicators into reclassification ‘business class’. Unlike the MDGs, SDG indicator collection and reporting are to be led and owned by each country’s National Statistical Office (NSO). Most NSOs can’t report on over 200 indicators (that’s how many proposed indicators there are!) so they have to prioritise and they are much more likely to prioritise indicators that are at Tier II.
But why does it matter at all having a land indicator in the SDGs? Well, the SDGs matter because, like the MDGs, they signal to governments, to development partners, international organisations, CSOs and businesses what will be counted and, therefore, what counts (or vice versa) in the main global development framework. Historically, land rights and land reform have tended to get side-lined in the really big global agendas: land governance and land rights are ‘too complicated’ or ‘too political’ and they are necessary but not sufficient to achieve the things that do end up centre stage. But making sure everyone’s legitimate tenure rights are recognised and protected (especially women’s and poor people’s) matters and lots of things, like women’s empowerment, food security, and responsible and profitable investment in agriculture and energy, are hard to achieve without them. A global land indicator will also enable us to assess progress and measure whether all the work on land governance actually makes men and women feel more secure on their land or in their homes.
So getting a land indictor into the SDG is important but we’re not there yet. How do we get to Tier I and what difference will it really make? There is no hiding from the fact that getting 50% of countries in all regions to report on the land indicators is a huge task and challenge, as it will be for many indicators. This is a political and a technical challenge: political, because some countries may prefer not to have a global indicator shining a light on land governance and because indicators are all competing for NSOs’ attention; technical, because the methodology has to be robust and you have to get the right questions inserted into the right surveys and that will take a lot of planning, training and follow-up across dozens of countries. It will take a huge collaborative effort led by the Custodians with donors, CSOs and other actors all working together (hopefully). To support this effort, we have set up a small group called the ‘Friends of the Custodians’, comprising donors CSOs and delivery agencies (DFID, Global Affairs Canada, Omidyar Network, International Land Coalition and GLTN), which I co-chair, to help coordinate action across different stakeholder groups and ensure we leverage existing projects and target new ones where they are most needed.
Getting two SDG land indicators up and running by 2020 would be a major achievement and DFID will be working alongside our colleagues in the ‘Friends’ group and the Global Donor Working Group on Land over the next two years to support the Custodians towards this goal. Having said that, it’s good to remind ourselves that one or more land indicators in the SDGs are not going to change the world. The SDGs can provide a fillip for action on land governance but many other things will need to fall into place for sustained change. One of these is a much clearer and more compelling link between the high-level indicators on land and what needs to happen on the ground. This is where the dotted lines between the VGGTs, VGGT monitoring and SDGs need to be joined up in a more coherent policy framework, and where initiatives like PRIndex can ensure critical indicators on progress, such as people’s perceptions of tenure security and how these relate to other outcomes, are communicated in a compelling and persuasive way to decision-makers (in ways that SDG reports alone will not). There also needs to be a much more coordinated and joined-up donor offer of support on land governance so governments that want to act can access effective support where it is needed. And then, an SDG push for action on land governance could begin to make a real difference.