Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Various Indicators of Sustainable Development

The word for indicator in Arabic is pointer. Indicators point to a desirable outcome, to 'which way is up' in the policy arena.
Classic indicators include the unemployment rate or GDP growth, numbers which are such powerful and recognizable indicators of performance that they may cause governments to fall. At the highest level are indices, such as the consumer price index or human development index, which combine different indicators into a single number useful for comparison over time and space.

Measuring and monitoring environmental conditions has been a major concern of Governments and international organisations during the 1990's. Some of the main international initiatives have included the activities of UNSTAT/UNEP, including the the State of the World Environment and Environmental Data Report series (1994), the development of an Earthwatch database and the beginnings of the development of a series of environmental indicators. Other bodies such as OECD and WHO have been involved in the development of a conceptual framework.

Recently Developed Indicators

Growing realization of the failings of the conventional GNP and income as the primary indicators of economic progress has led to the development of alternative yardsticks. Two interesting recent efforts are the Human Development Index (HDI) devised by the United Nations Development Programme and the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) developed by economist Herman Daly and theologian John Cobb. A third indicator, per capita grain consumption, is a useful measure of changes in well-being in low-income countries, where the data needed to calculate the more sophisticated indices are typically not available on an annual basis.
The Human Development Index, measured on a scale of 0 to 1, is an aggregate of three indicators: longevity, knowledge, and the command over resources needed for a decent life. For longevity, the UN team uses life expectancy at birth. For knowledge, they use adult literacy and mean years of schooling. And for the command over resources, they use gross domestic product (GDP) per person after adjusting it for purchasing power. Because these indicators are national averages, they do not deal directly with inequalities in wealth distribution, but by including longevity and literacy they do reflect indirectly the distribution of resources. A high average life expectancy, for example, indicates broad access to health care and adequate supplies of food and safe drinking water.
A comparison of countries ranked by both per capita gross domestic product (adjusted for purchasing power) and HDI reveals some wide disparities. Costa Rica ranks 40th in the HDI, while South Africa, with an adjusted per capita GDP 27 percent higher than Costa Rica's, comes in at number 57. Despite their lower average purchasing power, Costa Ricans boast an adult literacy rate of 92 percent, compared with only 85 percent in South Africa, and at birth can expect to live 13 years longer than a newly born South African. Argentina, Chile, Poland, and Yugoslavia are among the other countries exhibiting high human development with comparatively modest per capita income.
The HDI is still evolving; indeed, the country rankings published in 1991 differ markedly in some cases from those in 1990, the first year of the index, because of refinements made by the UN team. As more data become available, the HDI will begin to capture other determinants of human development as well. For example, enough information already exists in 30 countries to include sex inequalities in the HDI. When this is done, top-ranked Japan drops to number 17, while Finland, where women have rights and economic opportunities comparable to men's, moves up from 13 to number 1. Similarly, an HDI sensitive to the distribution of income has been calculated for 53 countries that could provide the needed data; again, the rankings change when this important factor is included.
While the HDI represents a distinct improvement over income figures as a measure of human well-being, it so far says nothing about environmental degradation. As a result, the HDI can rise through gains in literacy, life expectancy, or purchasing power that are financed by the depletion of natural resources, setting the stage for a longer term deterioration in living conditions.
The Daly-Cobb Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive indicator of well-being, taking into account not only average consumption but also distribution and environmental degradation. To date, it has only been calculated for the United States. After adjusting the consumption component of the index for distributional inequality, the authors factor in several environmental measures, such as depletion of nonrenewable resources, loss of farmland from soil erosion and urbanisation, loss of wetlands, and the cost of air and water pollution. They also incorporate what they call "long-term environmental damage", a figure that attempts to take into account such large-scale changes as the effects of global warming and of damage to the ozone layer.
Applying this comprehensive measure shows a rise in welfare per person in the United States of some 42 percent between 1950 and 1976. But after that the ISEW began to decline, falling by just over 12 percent by 1988, the last year for which it was calculated. Simply put, about 15 years ago the net benefits associated with economic growth in the United States fell below the growth of population, leading to a decline in individual welfare.
The principal weakness of the ISEW is its dependence on information that is available in only a handful of nations. For example, few developing countries have comprehensive data on the extent of air and water pollution, not to mention measurements of year-to-year changes. The same drawback applies to the HDI, since life expectancy data depend heavily on infant mortality information that, astonishing as it may seem, is collected at best once a decade in most of the Third World.
Per capita grain consumption, however, is a useful measure of well-being in low-income countries that can be tracked on a yearly basis. This indicator captures the satisfaction of a basic human need, since people cannot survive if annual grain consumption falls much below 180 kilograms (about 1 pound a day) for an extended period. It is also less vulnerable to distortion by inequities of income and wealth. While the distribution of wealth between the richest and poorest one fifth of a population can be as great as 20 to 1, as indeed it is in Algeria, Brazil, and Mexico, per capita consumption of grain by these same groups will not vary by more than 4 to 1.
One drawback with this indicator is that it says nothing about how much of the grain consumed was produced unsustainably - by eroding soils, depleting water supplies, and the like. Another is that at some point, higher per capita grain consumption starts to imply a deterioration in human well-being rather than an improvement. Toward the top end of the scale people are consuming fat-rich livestock products known to increase heart disease and colon, breast, and other types of cancer, leading to an overall reduction in life expectancy. Per capita grain consumption is therefore best used as an indicator of well-being only in poorer countries.

Indicators for Sustainable Development

An increasing number of organisations has responded to the challenge of Agenda 21 to develop indicators for sustainable development in the short-term. Some of this work is being undertaken around specific issues, such as health and the environment, or human settlements; others are attempting to define a full set of indicators. Such redundancy and overlap has been extremely valuable, since it has generated more creative thinking and a shared sense of purpose. The role of the Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable development, as Task Manager of this issue, is now to coordinate the fruits of this work, to underline areas of convergence, and to bring together the many actors in a broad, cooperative programme that may directly serve the needs of the Commission on Sustainable Development, as well as all Member States. Much further work, primarily by the scientific community, is needed in order to understand and explicate these interlinkages.

Economic indicators have ben used for many years at national, regional and international levels. Social indicators have also been developed over the past years and are widely used all over the world. It is feasible to select among the economic and social indicators those which capture the specific issues most relevant to sustainable development. Institutional indicators related to Agenda 21 or sustainable development are largely undeveloped and are at this stage limited to so-called yes/no indicators. Environmental indicators have been developed more recently. For some of the environmental aspects, data will not be easily available. Recent initiatives include the environment statistics programme of the United Nations Statistical Commission, environmental indicators being developed by UNEP, the UN system-wide Earthwatch, the OECD, various relevant international legal instruments, and so forth.

Based on relevant indicators that are available, it is proposed that the Commission on Sustainable Development agree that work will proceed on the basis of a core set of indicators, as contained in Table 1 (see Indicator Template on main menu), with the understanding that this is a flexible, working set of indicators that will be fine-tuned to the needs of countries after further methodological work, testing and training. It is further proposed that the Commission approve the work programme on indicators for sustainable development, including the following elements: (1) preparation of methodology sheets for distribution to governments; (2) testing of the indicators, on a voluntary basis, in three to four countries and their subsequent adaptation, as needed; (3) organisation of national and regional training workshops and other capacity-building activities, upon request; and (4) evaluation and readjustment of the indicators on the basis of experience and further research as national and international levels, including in the context of international legal instruments.

It is also proposed that the Commission of Sustainable Development encourage continued cooperation with the work underway on environment indicators under the auspices of the United Nations Statistical Commission.

Highly Aggregated Indicators

Concurrently, work may proceed with developing highly aggregated indicators for sustainable development. Although this represents a longer-term effort, it is important for three reasons: it explores the relationship among the variable, which lies at the heart of the linkages intrinsic to sustainable development; it concentrates information collection and analysis and facilitates presentation to decision-makers; and, it may serve as the basis of an early warning systems, if desired.

A project is now being undertaken by the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), in cooperation with UNEP, aiming at developing highly aggregated indicators for sustainable development. This initiative is currently focusing on the environmental aspects of sustainability although the project could be broadened to focus on other aspects of sustainable development, as well.

Core Set of Indicators for Sustainable Development:

A core set of indicators, as contained in Table 1 (see Indicator Template on main menu) is proposed for monitoring progress at a national level towards sustainable development through the implementation of Agenda 21. It is fully recognised that there is need for flexibility as the conditions, activities and priorities for sustainable development differ from country to country. At same time, the need for international comparability calls for the development of standardised concepts, definitions and classifications of indicators.

As mentioned, regional workshops and capacity-building programmes are needed in order to facilitate the use of the core set of indicators at a national level. Testing of the indicators in three to four countries could be used to gain experience and further develop the indicators, and evaluation of the use of the indicators at the national level, and national and international developments, could be used to adjust the core set of indicators if necessary.

The indicators in the core set are presented in a Driving Force - State - Response (DSR) framework. The DSR framework is adopted from the widely agreed framework for environmental indicators, the Pressure - State - Response framework. The concept of "pressure" has been replaced by that of "Driving Forces", in order to accommodate more accurately the addition of economic, social and institutional indicators. "Driving force" indicators indicate human activities, processes and patterns that impact on sustainable development, "state" indicators indicate the "state" of sustainable development and "response" indicators indicate policy options and other responses to the changes in the "state" of sustainable development.

In the core set, the indicators are grouped in categories covering the economic, social, institutional and environmental aspects of sustainable development. The indicators are related to chapters of Agenda 21. The coverage of the four aspects of sustainable development and of all the chapters of Agenda 21 ensures that the most significant aspects of sustainable development are monitored by the indicators.

The indicators in the proposed framework have been developed in accordance with the following criteria:

(a) primarily national in scale or scope (countries may also wish to use indicators at state and provincial levels);

(b) relevant to the main objective of assessing progress towards sustainable development;

(c) understandable in that they are clear, simple, and unambiguous;

(d) realizable within the capacities of national governments, given their logistic, time, technical and other constraints;

(e) conceptually well founded;

(f) limited in number, remaining open-ended and adaptable to future developments;

(g) broad in coverage of Agenda 21 and all aspects of sustainable development;

(h) representative of an international consensus, to the extent possible; and

(i) dependent on data which are readily available or available at reasonable cost/benefit ratio, adequately documented, of known quality and updated at regular intervals.

As noted, the core set of indicators may change and new indicators may be included, for example, in the context of international legal agreements, or as national level experience is gained. Furthermore, there are some potentially important indicators which require further methodological work before they can be used. This is especially the case for various ecosystem (geo-referenced) indicators, including biodiversity and other habitat indicators, and for the following issues, for which indicators are not included in the core set at this stage:

- transfer of technology (driving force, state and response indicators);
- science (driving force, state and response indicators);
- capacity-building (driving force, state and response indicators);
- decision-making structures (driving force indicators);
- strengthening of "traditional information" (driving force and response indicators);
- role of major groups (driving force and response indicators);
- oceans, all kinds of seas and coastal areas (response indicators);
- desertification and drought (response indicators);
- sustainable mountain development (driving force, state and response indicators);
- biotechnology (driving force, state and response indicators); and,
- toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes (response indicators).

Research and experimentation with advanced economic, social and institutional indicators that might more effectively measure progress toward sustainable development and continued research and experimentation with environmental indicators appropriate for measuring progress toward sustainable development should be endorsed. There may also be need for subsets and other, often more comprehensive, sets of indicators for other purposes.

Environmental Indicators

The pressure-state-response framework, follows a cause-effect-social response logic. It was developed by the OECD from earlier work by the Canadian government. Increasingly widely accepted and internationally adaopted, it can be applied at a national level, at sectoral levels, at the levels of an industrial firm, or at the community level.

Pressure indicators measure policy effectiveness more directly -- whether emissions increase or decrease, whether forest depletion waxes or wanes, and whwether human exposure to hazardous conditions grows or shrinks. Accountability for the pressures each country exerts on the environment is claer -- as in the case of the amount of ozone-degrading gases emitted. These indicators are not only descriptive. They can also provide direct feedback on whether policies meet stated goals because they are based on measures or model-based estimates of actual behaviour. Pressure indicators are thus particularly useful in formulating policy targets and in evaluating policy performance. They can also be used prospectively to evaluate environmental impacts of socioeconomic scenarios or proposed policy measures.

Response indicators measure progress toward regulatory compliance or other governmental efforts, but don't directly tell what is happening to the environment. As a practical matter, data to construct indicators is usually most available for pressure indicators and sparsest for response indicators.

Core lists of environmental issues -- and of relevant indicators -- have been and are being developed by several organisations, building on the OECD's initial work. Such indicators can be organised within the pressure-state-response framework into a matrix of indicators.