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Challenges in establishing
Sustainable Development
Indicators
Julie L. Hass, Ph.D.
Division for Environment Statistics, Statistics Norway
Joint UNECE/OECD/Eurostat Working Group on
Statistics for Sustainable Development
Second meeting, Oslo, 15-16 November 2006
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Indicators
used to measure some phenomenon
What do we want to measure?
How do we measure it?
Need to know what before we know how!
What is sustainable development?
Need to answer this question before we can determine how
to measure it!

Two main ways this has been answered:


Models and policy statements
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Policy-based approach
Where do we find definitions of SD?
Answer:

In policy and strategy statements made by politicians


Examples:

Eurostat
UK
Sweden
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Model-based approaches
Where do we find definitions of SD?
Answer:
Definition of "Sustainable Development" from a model
Model determines what should be measured
Indicators chosen based on the definition of the model
Examples:
4 pillar (UNCSD)
social, environmental,economic and institutional

Belgium (Transgovern)
Switzerland
Capital

Evaluation of Policy Approach


Advantages

Disadvantages

High level of correspondence


between the indicators and policy

Indicators can be created for


multinational or geographic regions
for which there is a policy document
(political cooperation)

Political statements may not provide a


comprehensive or theoretically robust
definition

No major discussions regarding


definitions, although some questions
can arise due to interpretation of
political documents

Political statements and policies can


and most likely will change over time.
Problems can arise when trying to
track long-term trends since
establishing the data required for the
indicators can be costly and take time
to establish

May be easier to change the definition


and the corresponding indicators
when our understanding about
sustainability evolves

Risk that SD could substantially


disappear from political agenda

Short term since political timeframe is


rarely beyond the next election

Evaluation of Capital (Model) Approach


Advantages

Capital has an inherent long term


perspective

Interlinkages between types of


capital are an inherent part of the
calculation of the national wealth
indicator (at least in the World
Bank and the Norwegian
approaches calculation of wealth
is included)

National wealth measures allow


for international comparability

Disadvantages
If a strong sustainability perspective is
adopted, the issue of critical levels of
capital and non-substitution needs to
be dealt with.
There is a risk that the indicator set
will be less politically relevant and will
not be used in connection with
implementing policies regarding
sustainable development
Sum of national wealth over all
nations does not necessarily result in
a sustainable world or globe
Calculation methodology of national
wealth is not standardized and is
controversial

Variations on the "Capital Approach"


World Bank

Norwegian

Canada

NO National
Wealth indicator

Condition of critical
eco-systems

National Wealth
indicator of
sustainability,
whereas sets of
indicators are
merely providing
information
regarding
conditions for
sustainability

National Wealth
+ strong
sustainability
perspective
(include
indicators for
critical resources;
natural, human
and ecological)

Definition of sustainable development


What are the differences between the policy and capital
approaches? Irreconcilable differences?

4 irreconcilable, inherently embedded dimensions in the


concept of sustainable development (from D.Hessen)
biocentric vs. anthropocentric
local/national vs. global (scale)
hedonism vs. asceticism ("wants" vs. human needs)
now vs. future (time dimension)

biocentric vs. anthropocentric

local/national vs. global (scale)

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hedonism vs. asceticism


("wants" vs. human needs)

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now vs. future


(time dimension)

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Sustainable development statistics


Working group for SD statistics and NOT only SD
indicators

What statistical systems do SD indicators require?


Consistent
Coordinated (facilitate modelling)
Established time series (long)
Improved methodologies
Improved national wealth calculation methodologies
Expand the boundaries of the SNA
SEEA
Social aspects (OECD)
+++

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Integration of the German sustainability indicators into the accounting data set
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20 21

National Accounts
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Socio-economic
Accounts

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Environmental
Economic
Accounts

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1 Productivity of energy and raw materials


2 Emissions of greenhouse gases
3 The proportion of renewable energy sources
in overall energy consumption
4 Increase in land use for housing and
transport
5 Development of stocks of specified animal
species
6 Balance of public sector financing
7 Private- and public-sector expenditure on
research and development
8 Capital-outlay ratio
9 Educational outcomes for 25-year-olds and
number of new students
10 Gross domestic product
11 Transport intensity and share of the railways
in providing transport
12 Proportion of ecological agriculture and
general statement on nitrogen surplus
13 Air pollution
14 Satisfaction with health
15 Number of burglaries
16 Labour force participation rate
17 Full time children care facilities
18 Relationship between male and female gross
annual earnings
19 Number of foreign school-leavers who have
not completed secondary school
20 Expenditure on development collaboration
21 EU imports from developing countries

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