New guide to monitoring progress on SDG14

IIED has published a practical handbook on how to assess progress on Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life below Water. By encouraging better monitoring and evaluation of SDG14, the new handbook aims to support better reporting and learning across the 2030 Agenda.

News, 08 July 2019
Two fishermen cast their nets from a small boat

SDG14 focuses on the ocean, and estuaries, rivers and watersheds and the systems that intersect with them (Photo: Richard Mcall/Water Alternatives)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasise the importance of the marine ecosystems, but international focus on Goal 14 (SDG14) – Life below Water – has been limited. Now IIED and partners have produced a new practical guide that aims to help implement effective monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) for SDG14.

The 'MEL handbook for SDG14' gives detailed information about SDG14 targets and indicators, and includes step-by-step guidance on how to assess progress towards them. It shows how to adopt detailed and linked MEL practices, how to help meet SDG reporting requirements, and encourages stakeholders to share lessons learnt at local, national, regional and global levels.

SDG14 challenges

The guide comes at a critical time: four of the 10 targets for SDG14 are due to be met by 2020. SDG14 focuses on the ocean, and estuaries, rivers and watersheds and the systems that intersect with them – but it also links across many other sustainable development goals. Implementing SDG14 will involve a wide range of actors and contexts. 

IIED's head of monitoring, evaluation and learning, Stefano D'Errico, says effective evaluation can help policymakers to understand the many linkages across the SDGs: "If the world is to make significant progress towards achieving Agenda 2030, high level actors need to push for new ways to think and learn about the synergies and trade-offs of the 17 goals. Evaluation plays a key role in informing these processes."

D’Errico says SDG14 has far reaching impacts: “The ocean provides huge benefit for sustained human wellbeing from generation to generation, and therefore we need to understand how effective management can contribute to economic progress, productive natural systems, and equitable prosperity.”

Welcomed by a wide audience

SDG14 is especially important for small island developing states (SIDS) and those least developed countries (LDCs) whose economies and societal wellbeing depend on ocean-related activities, and the new guide has been welcomed by stakeholders in developing countries.

Arpana Pratap, who is team leader for member capacity of the Pacific Islands Development Forum, says: "The Pacific Ocean is at the heart of our cultures and we depend on it for food, income, etc. However, the Pacific is struggling to achieve its SDG14 targets. 

“This first edition of the MEL handbook represents an opportunity to build our capacity to report better on the SDG14 and can put the Pacific on track in achieving its SDG14 targets."

The excutive director of the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI), Nicole Leotaud, also welcomed the guide: “Many stakeholders across Caribbean SIDS are contributing to conservation and sustainable use of the Caribbean Sea, but measuring progress and lessons is a challenge. 

"The MEL handbook for SDG14 provides a clear but comprehensive guide on MEL generally, with specific examples and steps that stakeholders can take to measure progress on each target.  It can help us to know where we are and what are our priorities moving forward.”   

Governments need to know whether their SDG interventions are effective, and the handbook aims to contribute to the MEL elements of national strategies. It will be especially helpful to those responsible for reporting on – or building evidence of – progress towards SDG14 targets. These include national focal points and decision makers who are responsible for industries, interests and sectors that directly or indirectly intersect with SDG14 interventions. 

The handbook will also be useful to organisations responsible for ocean-related governance and management systems, intergovernmental organisations, civil society, private sector and academics engaged with sustainable development.

Kim Thi Thuy Ngoc, who heads the Division of Science and International Cooperation at the Institute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources and Environment (ISPONRE) within Vietnam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, welcomed the new publication. Ngoc said: “Sustainable use of marine resources is one of priorities of the government of Viet Nam. The handbook can help us to monitor and report the implementation of SDG14 in accordance with our National Action Plan for the Implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.“


The handbook is designed to be accessible and useful to a wide audience: it uses clear and simple language, and avoids technical jargon. Each chapter highlights crucial information: 

  • Important considerations: points to look out for
  • Processes to use
  • Good-practice examples, and
  • Special considerations of systems, synergies and trade-offs.

The toolkit was informed by a global survey on the needs of SDG14 and a three-day workshop in Senegal. The publication was financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and IIED and partners hope to update the handbook in future to continue to contribute toward MEL in relation to the ocean and waterways. 

IIED has also published an accompanying policy briefing highlighting the importance of using systems thinking when evaluating SDG14 actions. 

IIED's technical MEL advisor Emilie Beauchamp discusses the SDG14 handbook  

Supporting effective MEL for the SDGs

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development puts follow-up and review processes at the heart of efforts to achieve the 17 SDGs. IIED is working with a range of partners to make the case for greater use of evaluation, arguing that effective evaluation goes beyond measurement, and provides a way to explain data trends and investigate whether progress is equitable, relevant and sustainable.


Stefano D'Errico (, head of monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL), IIED's Strategy and Learning Group