Progress Measurement for Canada’s Sustainable Development Goals


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a blueprint for improving the economy, society, and the environment in a sustainable manner. At its heart, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people globally can enjoy peace and prosperity.

The goals are underpinned by a framework of global indicators that allow Canada and other countries to monitor and report on progress. They cover a broad range of social, environmental, and economic issues with a focus on the most vulnerable and a commitment to “leave no one behind”. To complement the global goals, countries are encouraged to develop a national implementation plan that focuses on country-developed indicators to address specific national contexts and priorities to achieve the SDGs.

To support Canada’s domestic implementation of the SDGs that the Government of Canada has committed to, a national strategy has been established. In addition, the development of a Canadian-specific indicator framework was an opportunity to elaborate on the UN goals with a set of indicators that align more closely with Canada’s domestic priorities related to sustainable development.

Measuring Progress

Measuring and monitoring progress with reliable information is key to understanding how Canada advances toward the achievement of the SDGs.

Closely monitoring the progress of each indicator not only illustrates where Canada is making progress or areas where progress is not being made and Canada can focus its efforts, but also communicates how Canada is doing in an open and transparent manner. A robust measure of progress quantifies an indicator’s progress towards reaching the target in a scientific manner and can used as a tool to better understand success of policies and actions taken to achieve those targets. It can also act as a clear signal to decision-makers to re-adjust or develop effective evidence-based policies to help ensure Canada achieves its targets.

Methodology Adopted

The Canadian Indicator Framework (CIF) lays the foundation for Canada to measure and report its progress on the 17 SDGs within the Canadian context. The CIF focuses on Canadian priorities for sustainable development and can be considered a complement to the Global Indicator Framework. In the CIF the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are complemented by 31 ambitions and 76 indicators that are Canadian specific. However, unlike the Global Indicator Framework where every indicator has a target, less than half of the indicators in the CIF currently have a defined target, either quantitative (e.g., target 11.5 By 2030, 22% of commuters adopt shared or active transportation) or aspirational (e.g., target 5.2 Greater representation of women in leadership roles).

To complement the CIF, Statistics Canada has developed a robust and simple method of measuring progress which can be reported using visualizations that allow data users to easily see areas of progress or weakness. Even in the absence of specific quantitative targets, an estimate of progress can inform whether undesired trends are being observed by reporting progress deterioration. In essence, this measure of progress provides a simplified illustration of Canada’s progress toward achieving the SDGs, assuming that the current trends are maintained.


Statistics Canada identified essential requirements for the adopted methodology. The guiding principle for the methodology was the necessity of a consistent and easily interpretable measure that could reach a broad audience while maintaining scientific integrity.

More specifically, the methodology must:

  1. Allow for different data periodicity and timeliness: Data series available in Canada have various collection calendars and reference periods. Some are collected every year while others every few years. Furthermore, the time required between the collection of data and release of official statistics varies greatly between programs.
  2. Provide a calculation for measuring progress in the absence of a quantitative target: To gain a greater understanding of policy impacts and progress towards the achievements of the SDGs, it is crucial to be able to assess progress in the absence of a specific numerical target.
  3. Allow for the calculation of an aggregate measure, whether at the target, ambition, or goal level: When used appropriately, a composite measure of progress is valuable to leaders and policymakers to help steer policy and actions towards making progress to achieve the SDGs.

The adopted methodology cannot rely on:

  1. The need to create a target when there is none. As a statistical agency, we remain politically neutral. Therefore, it is outside the scope of our mandate to assign targets. Thus, the methodology must be valid even in the absence of a target.
  2. Indicator-specific thresholds for progress categories: It was assessed that using different criteria for each indicator would put too much emphasis on the method rather than the message and overall progress. Therefore, the methodology developed uses a straightforward and consistent method across all indicators.
  3. The existence of extended time-series: Many issues covered in the SDGs haven’t been measured for an extended period. Opting for a methodology that is robust despite a shorter time-series allows for a considerable increase in the number of indicators for which progress can be calculated.
  4. Modelling: Similar to item 3, modelling usually requires a longer time-series which will reduce the number of indicators eligible for calculation of the progress measure.


The progress measure consists of a measure of observed growth compared to an evaluation of the proximity to achieving the target under current conditions. In situations where no quantitative target is provided, the time series is evaluated on the apparent trend of the data.

Keeping in mind the limited number of data points in each time series and a desire to keep the methodology simple and transparent, the optimal methodology for measuring progress closely mirrors the progress methodology used by Eurostat1.

Progress is measured using the growth over the observed period and is calculated by a compound annual growth rate,

CAGRo is the observed compound annual growth rate between t0 and ti
yti is the value of the indicator at time ti
ti is the most recent year where data is available, and
t0 is the base year, 2015, unless otherwise specified.

Indicators with quantitative targets

In the case where a quantitative target for the indicator is provided, the observed CAGRo is compared to the theoretical CAGRr, which represents the growth required to achieve the target, by calculating the ratio (Ro/r) as follows:

Growth ratio


Theoretical cumulative annual growth rate

xtT is the target value of the indicator in the target year, tT.

The result is compared against a set of thresholds2 and assigned a progress category, described below:

Ratio of observed over required growth rate Category Symbol
Target is achieved Target achieved
Ro/r ≥ 95% On track Guage icon with four equally sized colour segments (from left to right): red, orange, yellow, green. A black needle points at the middle of the green segment.
60% ≤ Ro/r < 95% Progress made but acceleration needed Guage icon with four equally sized colour segments (from left to right): red, orange, yellow, green. A black needle points at the middle of the yellow segment.
0% ≤ Ro/r < 60% Limited progress Guage icon with four equally sized colour segments (from left to right): red, orange, yellow, green. A black needle points at the middle of the orange segment.
Ro/r < 0% Deterioration Guage icon with four equally sized colour segments (from left to right): red, orange, yellow, green. A black needle points at the middle of the red segment.

Indicators without quantitative targets

In the case where no quantitative target for a given indicator has been provided, CAGRo is compared to a pre-determined fixed growth rate and the thresholds have been fixed at 0%, 0.5% and 1.5%.

Ratio of observed over required growth rate Category Symbol
CAGRo ≥ 1.5% On track Guage icon with four equally sized colour segments (from left to right): red, orange, yellow, green. A black needle points at the middle of the green segment.
0.5% ≤ CAGRo < 1.5% Progress made but acceleration needed Guage icon with four equally sized colour segments (from left to right): red, orange, yellow, green. A black needle points at the middle of the yellow segment.
0% ≤ CAGRo < 0.5% Limited progress Guage icon with four equally sized colour segments (from left to right): red, orange, yellow, green. A black needle points at the middle of the orange segment.
CAGRo < 0% Deterioration Guage icon with four equally sized colour segments (from left to right): red, orange, yellow, green. A black needle points at the middle of the red segment.

Aggregation at the Goal Level

To determine an aggregate level of progress (for example overall progress at the goal level, or if there is more than one indicator for a target or ambition), the methodology developed by Eurostat is once again the preferred methodology. The progress measure for each indicator is converted into a score, and then averaged at the aggregated level. Each indicator within a goal (or target or ambition) are equi-weighted. The score, both at the indicator and goal/ambition/target level, varies between -5 and 53.

Aggregation for indicators without quantitative targets

The scoring function for indicators without a quantitative target is a linear transformation of the CAGR thresholds described above. The cut-off points for a score of ±5 are set to ±2%, as illustrated in Figure 1 below.

Scoring function for indicators without a quantitative target

Aggregation for indicators with quantitative targets

The scoring function for indicators with a quantitative target reflects the thresholds used to categorize the indicators and uses cut-off values of 130% for a score of +5 and -60% for a score of -5. This is illustrated in Figure 2 below.

Scoring function for indicators with a quantitative target

Considerations and Exceptions

Due to the nature of the data, a series of considerations and exceptions have been defined:

  1. Should there be no data in 2015, the first available year following 2015 will be used.4
    a. For indicators with a reference period across two years, for example a reference period of April 1, 2015- March 31, 2016:
    i. The first year is used as the reference period (e.g., if the reference period is 2015-16, then 2015 is used).
    b. Even when the target results from a policy that was implemented after 2015, the base year for calculating the progress measure will be 2015 when data exists. This aligns with Statistics Canada quality dimensions coherence and comparability.
  2. Similar to (1), should the target year be March 20xx, then 20xx-1 will be used as the target year in the calculation since it is the last complete year of data. For example, the year 2022 will be used in the calculation of the progress for an indicator with a target of March 2023.
  3. If the target value is zero, it will be replaced by 0.001 in the calculation of the progress measure.
  4. In the absence of a specified target date, it is assumed that 2030 is the target period.
  5. Should the target year be in the past, the following will be done:
    a. Calculate using the methodology with target until the target year (y).
    b. Continue calculating using the methodology with target, keeping the now obsolete target value and year.
    c. Include a note to users explaining how to interpret the information.
    d. Should a new target value and year be introduced, start using the new values in the calculation, and recalculate from y+1.
    e. Include a note to users explaining the change.
  6. A minimum of two years of data is required to calculate the progress measure.
  7. To calculate the summary measure for a target, ambition or goal, a minimum of 60% of indicators for which it is possible to calculate a progress measure is needed.
  8. The progress estimates oversimplify reality. Users should use the progress measure in addition to specific indicator values and other relevant information.
  9. The impact of policies takes time to be reflected in the data; the longer the time series, the better the methodology will be to measure progress.
  10. The progress measure for indicators that start above the target at their base year for which progress then declines will be automatically overridden to “Deterioration”5.
  11. Binary indicators will be assigned one of these 2 categories:
    a. “Target achieved” if “yes”.
    b. “Target not achieved” if “no”.
  12. For indicators with two targets, for example CIF target 3.8 - By 2025, 95% coverage of all childhood vaccines and 90% coverage of all adolescent vaccines, the result that is the farthest from its target is used as progress measure.
  13. Specific exception: CIF indicator 5.3.1 - Proportion of time spent on unpaid domestic and care work is reporting the proportion of day spent on unpaid domestic and care work, by sex. To be able to calculate the progress toward the target Equal sharing of parenting roles and family responsibilities, the indicator will be modified prior to calculation. A ratio of the proportion of time for women to that for men will be used, with a desired target of 1.

Future Work

Statistics Canada’s SDG team is working with the Open SDG community to integrate the indicator-level progress measurement into the back end of the Open SDG platform. It will be represented by a label and an icon describing the most recently calculated progress for each indicator. Once implemented, the functionality will be available for all Open SDG users. Due to the complexity of the indicator frameworks, the functionality will only include indicators that report an aggregate value at first – indicators composed solely of sub-components, such as CIF indicator 3.9.1 - Incidence of selected diseases, will require manual calculation and manual input of the progress labels to be displayed on the Open SDG data hub. The Statistics Canada team will continue improving the automatic calculation, as well as developing the aggregate measurement to be integrated into the platform.


Canadian Indicator Framework
Indicator number Indicator name Desired direction
1.1.1 Poverty rate, as measured by Canada’s official poverty line Decrease
1.2.1 Prevalence of asset resilience Increase
2.1.1 Prevalence of food insecurity Decrease
2.2.1 Index of Agri-Environmental Sustainability Increase
3.1.1 Percentage of Canadians who report eating fruits and vegetables 5 or more times per day Increase
3.2.1 Prevalence of vaping among youth Decrease
3.3.1 Percentage of the population that is overweight or obese Decrease
3.4.1 Prevalence of harmful alcohol use Decrease
3.5.1 Percentage of Canadians who are satisfied or very satisfied with their life Increase
3.6.1 Percentage of Canadians who perceived their overall health and social well-being as very good to excellent Increase
3.7.1 Percentage of Canadians who perceived their mental health as very good to excellent Increase
3.8.1 Vaccination rates for selected diseases Increase
3.9.1 Incidence of selected diseases Decrease
3.10.1 Mortality rate for selected causes of death Decrease
3.11.1 Tuberculosis incidence per 100,000 population in Inuit Nunangat Decrease
3.12.1 Incidence of opioid and stimulant overdose related harms Decrease
3.13.1 Prevalence of cigarette smoking Decrease
4.1.1 High school completion rate Increase
4.2.1 Post-secondary education attainment rate Increase
5.1.1 Proportion of the population who self-reported being sexually assaulted in the last 12 months Decrease
5.1.2 Proportion of women and girls aged 15 years and older subjected to physical, sexual or psychological violence by a current or former intimate partner in the last 12 months Decrease
5.2.1 Proportion of leadership roles held by women Increase
5.3.1 Proportion of time spent on unpaid domestic and care work Decrease
6.1.1 Number of long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserves Decrease
6.2.1 Percentage of municipalities across Canada with sustained drinking water advisories Decrease
6.3.1 Water use growth rate Decrease
6.4.1 Water quality in Canadian rivers Increase
7.1.1 Annual energy savings resulting from adoption of energy efficiency codes, standards and practices Increase
7.2.1 Total energy consumption per capita Decrease
7.3.1 Proportion of electricity generated from renewable and non-greenhouse gas emitting sources Increase
8.1.1 Unemployment rate Decrease
8.2.1 Proportion of employees earning less than 66% of the median hourly wage for permanent full-time employees Decrease
8.3.1 Proportion of youth not in education, employment or training Decrease
8.4.1 Rate of involuntary part-time work Decrease
8.5.1 Gross domestic product per capita Increase
8.6.1 Proportion of jobs in the environmental and clean technology products sector Increase
9.1.1 Proportion of innovation in environment-related technology Increase
9.2.1 Gross domestic expenditure on research and development intensity Increase
9.3.1 Proportion of households that have access to broadband Internet service at speeds of 50/10 Mbps Increase
9.4.1 Proportion of Canadians that have access to the latest generally deployed mobile wireless technology Increase
9.5.1 Greenhouse gas emissions per dollar of value-added from the production of infrastructure assets Decrease
9.6.1 Number of low carbon recharging and refueling stations under development and completed along major highways, and in rural and urban areas across Canada Increase
9.7.1 Number of low carbon recharging and refueling stations under development and completed in public places, on-street, at apartment buildings, retail outlets, and the workplace Increase
10.1.1 Gini Coefficient Decrease
10.2.1 Proportion of the population reporting discrimination or unfair treatment Decrease
10.3.1 Median hourly wage ratio Increase
10.4.1 Median household after-tax income Increase
11.1.1 Growth rate of people experiencing chronic homelessness Decrease
11.2.1 Proportion of households in core housing need Decrease
11.3.1 Percentage of the population living in areas where air pollutants concentrations are less or equal to the 2020 Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards Increase
11.4.1 Percentage of the population living within 500 meters of a public transport stop Increase
11.5.1 Percentage of the population using shared or active transportation for commuting Increase
11.6.1 Total waste disposal per capita Decrease
11.7.1 Percentage of the population aged 12 and over who reported their sense of belonging to their local community as being very strong or somewhat strong Increase
12.1.1 Proportion of new light duty vehicle registrations that are zero-emission vehicles Increase
12.2.1 Proportion of businesses that adopted selected environmental protection activities and management practices Increase
12.3.1 Total waste diversion per capita Increase
13.1.1 Greenhouse gas emissions Decrease
13.2.1 Frequency of selected natural disasters Decrease
13.3.1 Proportion of municipal organization who factored climate change adaptation into their decision-making process Increase
14.1.1 Proportion of marine and coastal areas conserved Increase
14.2.1 Proportion of fish stocks that are sustainably harvested Increase
15.1.1 Proportion of native wild species ranked secure or apparently secure according to the national extinction risk level Increase
15.2.1 Proportion of species at risk showing progress towards their population and distribution objectives Increase
15.3.1 Proportion of terrestrial (land and freshwater) areas conserved Increase
15.4.1 Proportion of the forest area under an independently verified forest management certification scheme Increase
15.5.1 Forest area as a proportion of total land area No change
16.1.1 Proportion of Canadians who reported feeling safe walking alone in their neighborhood after dark Increase
16.2.1 Crime severity index Decrease
16.3.1 Incidence of selected types of crime Decrease
16.4.1 Incidence of cybercrime Decrease
16.5.1 Criminal Court case completion time Decrease
16.6.1 Incarceration rate Decrease
16.7.1 Proportion of the population with high levels of confidence in selected institutions Increase
17.1.1 Number of open datasets published by the Government of Canada Increase
17.2.1 Total official support for sustainable development Increase


Destatis. Indicator status summary.

Eurostat (2021). Sustainable development in the European Union - Monitoring report on progress towards the SDGs in an EU context.

Eurostat (2014). Getting messages across using indicators - A handbook based on experiences from assessing Sustainable Development Indicators.

Gennari, P. and D’Orazio, M. (2020). Statistical approach for assessing progress toward the SDG targets. Statistical Journal of the IAOS, 36, 1129–1142

OECD (2019). Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets - An Assessment of Where OECD Countries Stand.

UN DESA (2020). Sustainable Development Goals Progress Chart 2020 - Technical Note.

Bidarbakht Nia, A. (2017). A weighted extrapolation method for measuring the SDGs progress. UNESCAP SD Working paper series, 04, March 2017

Bidarbakht Nia, A. (2017). Tracking progress towards the SDGs: measuring the otherwise ambiguous progress. UNESCAP SD Working paper series, 05, May 2017

UNESCAP (2020). Progress Assessment Methodology.

Sachs, J., Kroll, C., Lafortune, G., Fuller, G., Woelm, F. (2021). The Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals: Sustainable Development Report 2021. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


  1. For a detailed description of the methodology, please refer to Eurostat (2021). 

  2. All thresholds are standards in the international communities. After assessment, it was found that they are also applicable in the Canadian context. 

  3. For a detailed description of the methodology, please refer to Eurostat (2021), Annex III. 

  4. In very few cases where the periodicity of the data is over 4 years or more, a base period of 2014 has been used. 

  5. This is a necessary measure to counteract a drawback of the formula: In situation where the target was achieved during the base period but deteriorated afterwards, the formula calculates significant progress as the indicator decreases (or increases) more ‘than it should’ to meet the target. Take for example target 3.13 By 2035, less than 5% of Canadians (aged 15+) are cigarette smokers. Suppose that in 2015, 3% of Canadians aged 15+ are cigarette smokers, and that in 2020 this percentage raises to 10%. The formula will calculate the growth required to go from 3% to 5% (instead of the one from 10% to 5%) and will conclude that great progress has been made since the new value not only reached 5% but progressed further ahead to 10%.