UAE Sustainability Goals driven by Data Hub

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By joining the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development initiative, countries resolve to improve their citizens’ quality of life. Committed countries share information, report their progress, and help each other understand sustainable practices that make a difference.

Esri and the UN Statistical Division (UNSD) worked together to design the UN Open SDG Data Hub (, which is the data framework for the UN 2030 Agenda.

The geospatial web portal connects the UNSD with a network of national-level SDG hubs that form the Federated Information System for the SDGs. It provides insight into the progress on the goals at both national and sub-national levels. Participating countries configure their SDG hubs and leverage Esri’s geographic information system (GIS) technology ArcGIS.

Statistical offices use ArcGIS tools to manage geospatial data and web services that help users build maps, create applications, and other visualizations such as story maps. In addition, the hub includes analysis tools for identifying problems and measuring progress toward attaining goals. Because anyone can view this open data, SDG hubs provide transparency and accountability while encouraging participation, innovation, and economic development.

“The UN’s Open SDG Data Hub represents a new era wherein technology fosters international collaboration for solving earth’s most critical problems,” said Jack Dangermond, Esri founder and president. “More than an accountability system, the platform serves as an information exchange for building science-based sustainable policies.”

The Philippines, Mexico, Ireland, Senegal, and other countries use their own hubs to report and analyze SDG indicators at national and subnational contexts and scales. United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the first Middle East country to federate its SDG data and share the data directly to the UN’s Federated Information System for the Sustainable Development Goals (FIS4SDGs) in support of the 2030 Agenda.

UAE’s Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority (FCSA) oversees the country’s national data and serves as the secretariat for the UAE national committee on SDGs.

It launched the Geo-Stat initiative, which provides the GIS technology that enables the national statistics program. The technology combines datasets from different sources to identify patterns and correlations between seemingly disparate data types. GIS tools make it possible for users to measure, monitor, and report SDG accomplishments. The system drives geospatial artificial intelligence, data analysis, and visualization capabilities, which make the data useful.

“Combining the geospatial intelligence and technology with statistical data and demographics, can support our nation’s capability to meet the SDG goals and advancing 2030 Agenda,” said Abdullah Nasser Lootah, FCSA director general. “It improves our ability to track our progress toward the SDGs and report it to the United Nations Statistics Division.”

The Geo-Stat Initiative facilitates planning, statistical/survey workflows, and decision-making across a variety of sectors. It is expected to provide additional support for the UAE’s journey towards achieving the UN’s SDGs 2030.

UAE agencies use Geo-Stat to spatially visualize areas of concern as well as evaluate the impact of projects related to sustainability from the national to the local levels. Administrators set access levels for government agencies and public use so that people can find data that is specific to their needs. Mapping tools allow the agencies to create and share compelling stories that engage users and inspire citizens to drive meaningful change.

The UN created 14 fundamental geospatial data themes, such as geographic names, addresses, and land cover, which will help countries map their SDGs.

UAE adopted these themes into its database. Geo-Stat shows how different types of data relate to the goals. The nation’s ministries access the hub online to learn which sustainable goals, targets, and indicators are key to them. Selecting a goal, the user sees which data themes are most relevant to that goal.

UN Fundamental Data Themes

UN Fundamental Data Themes

For instance, selecting the No Poverty icon reveals that landownership is an economic indicator. Therefore, parcel data is a fundamental data theme for poverty analysis. To reach the No Poverty goal, the land registries department needs to manage land parcel data to establish people’s land parcel rights. Furthermore, the UN recommends that land parcel data include at least the land parcel’s geographic location and unique identification number. Other information may be attached to parcels, such as land use, land cover, and temporal information. Land parcel data also supports these numbered goals: Goal 1 No Poverty, Goal 2 Zero Hunger, Goal 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth, and Goal 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities.

The UAE SDG logo represents data-theme relationships in a wheel that conveys the complexity and crosscutting nature of the SDGs and their supportive data types. The logo also symbolizes that sustainable development is a way of life for the UAE.



Applications of the Geo-Stat initiative offer 3D mapping techniques for data visualization and analysis.

For example, FCSA wanted to study trends arising from UAE trade with individual countries over time. An analyst accessed data about the country’s imports, exports, and re-export statistics from 2001 to 2017 across 21 trade sectors. To show relationship patterns, the analyst used ArcGIS to create a 3D map, which makes it easier to comprehend what trends impacted the UAE’s trade deficit.

Data has more value in GIS because analysts can use it for multiple purposes. For instance, FCSA used utilities meter data, for census purposes.

To begin, analysts applied GIS imagery tools to extract building prints from satellite imagery. Next, they overlaid  meter data on top of extracted building polygons to determine which buildings were connected to services. A building without connected meters might indicate that it is a new dwelling or apartment building, which enumerators should not visit. Knowing that meter data includes information about the building use, analysts identified those buildings with meters as residential or farms units.

By collecting information about each building, analysts improved the overall accuracy of the FCSA database.

This location insight helped staff better delineate enumeration areas. By categorizing building types, the FCSA ensured that everyone was counted and also saved time by not having to conduct field surveys.

That same meter data could also then be used to determine population location.

An active water or electricity meter indicates the presence of one family. By aggregating the locations of active meters at district or sub-district levels, analysts were then able to calculate family population density per square kilometer. They could also determine farm density per square kilometer.

FCSA also used the approach to identify growth trends and geographic distributions of national household, non-national household and farm units in 2013 and 2017.

Foreign trade Export Commodities Distribution

Foreign trade Export Commodities Distribution

Foreign trade – import trend for 17 years

Foreign trade – import trend for 17 years

Combining extracted buildings with meters data to identify the land use

Combining extracted buildings with meters data to identify the land use

Combining extracted buildings with meters data to identify the land use

Combining extracted buildings with meters data to identify the land use

“FCSA integrates statistical and geospatial information in its business processes,” Dangermond noted. “Doing so has improved the quality of the authoritative data it produces, thereby making data more meaningful to others. This provides the country’s government with data-driven insight that supports social, economic, and environmental policy decisions that drive sustainability.”

FCSA has started sharing the country’s SDG data, findings, and stories with the world by making them accessible through the UN’s Open SDG Data Hub. The hub uses Esri Story Maps to convey information on different topics. For example, the Coastal Vulnerability Index story map tells how natural systems protect the country’s shorelines. The story also describes modifications that reduce erosion and flooding. Other countries can consider these coastal-marine habitat maps in their decision-making and coastal planning efforts.

FCSA realizes that UAE cannot achieve its SDGs unless citizens are aware of the goals.

Transforming the country’s sustainability aspirations into initiatives makes it easier for communities to participate. To help citizens better understand ways to implement SDG’s, the FCSA published samples of the UAE’s SDG initiatives on the data hub. It introduced  five initiatives  related to environmental topics.  It also published an interactive map showing the geographic and categorical distribution of UAE foreign aid disbursements.

Using the Open SDG Data Hub, countries now share their data with the international community for regional and global analysis and comparisons, and to take steps toward achieving goals.

The Open SDG Data Hub provides nations with the tools to collaborate and design a sustainable future.