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To better track the impact of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the UN General Assembly tasked a group of technical and statistical experts with developing a global monitoring framework. This initiative led to the creation and adoption of the current list of 244 SDG indicators by the UN General Assembly. 

The SDGs are a vision for achieving a sustainable future. Therefore, reliable, timely, comprehensive, and consistent data are critical for measuring progress towards and ultimately achieving, the SDGs.

Data from citizen science represent one new source of data that could be used for SDG reporting and monitoring. This concept led a team of experts, in association with the Sustainable Solutions Development Network (SDSN) and the Thematic Research Network on Data and Statistics (TReNDS), to develop a research project analyzing the contributions of citizen science on SDG monitoring. This research resulted in the recent publication of  “Mapping Citizen Science Contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals” in the Journal of Sustainability Science.

The most remarkable finding of this research was that citizen science could contribute to the achievement of all 17 SDGs by providing data for 33% of SDG indicators. Another important finding of this research is that the greatest potential for citizen science could occur within SDG 15 (Life on Land), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing), and SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation). Additionally, of the 93 environmental indicators in the SDG indicator framework identified by UNEP, citizen science could provide inputs for 37 (around 40%) indicators. Currently, around 68% of these environmental SDG indicators lack data according to UNEP. If we are to achieve the SDGs by 2030, we need to continue pursuing and highlighting the value of citizen science in the global data ecosystem through initiatives such as the WeObserve the SDGs CoP by building cross-discipline partnerships surrounding citizen science.

By engaging the public in scientific research, citizen science has the potential to fill research and data gaps, while providing a more interactive platform, in turn allowing for broader participation in addressing the world’s greatest challenges. Working together, we can harness the potential of citizen science to achieve the SDGs.

Alongside notable projects and research, GEO, in partnership with the Earth Day Network and others launched the Earth Challenge 2020 - the world’s largest coordinated citizen science campaign to date. Earth Challenge 2020 aims to increase the amount of open and interoperable citizen science data to help answer more complex, global questions than any dataset could address alone. Through a public call to action, the Earth Challenge mobile application empowers volunteers and equips people around the world to understand and act on the data collected to build safer, healthier communities. It is our hope that Earth Challenge 2020 will help engage millions of global citizens while integrating billions of data points from new and ongoing citizen science projects.

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