Defra is developing a new set of indicators to meet the Government's commitments to sustainable development. Stephen Hall describes the approach and invites feedback from stakeholders:
In February the Coalition Government reaffirmed its commitment to sustainable development, setting out its vision of economic growth, improved wellbeing and a protected environment now and for future generations.
The vision of Mainstreaming Sustainable Development builds on the guiding principles of the UK's sustainable development strategy of 2005, stating that the needs of the economy, society and the environment must be recognised, and advanced through sound science and good governance.
Following the Government's wider commitment to transparency, the vision described the intention of:
"developing real and measurable indicators to monitor sustainability across government and report results publicly"
The Government has also stated to the Environment Audit Committee:
"We will measure and report our progress through a new set of indicators on SD, building on past experience on SD and wellbeing measures and linking with developing national and international initiatives, including plans announced in November 2010 to measure the nation's wellbeing."
The development of new indicators provides an opportunity to take on board latest international thinking on indicators, to align the indicators with work on measuring national wellbeing, and to ensure both that they effectively support government policy on the economy, environment and society, and that information on progress is readily accessible.
The transition to a resilient and sustainable green economy is essential for sustainable development and long term growth. To enable this transition business and consumers must take advantage of the benefits of resource efficiencies. All sectors of the economy will need to grow with less environmental impact and greater resilience to future environmental challenges.
The indicators are essential to illustrate the progress that we are making towards a long term green economy, including more sustainable production and consumption of goods and services - looking at consumption patterns and resource efficiency of business and individuals as well as the UK as a whole.
We are also looking at indicators that work as high level markers of the underlying health of our natural environment, to help ensure that we are not reducing the natural environment's ability to provide the valuable services that underpin our economic, social and personal wellbeing.
A key part of the Government's agenda is a focus on fairness, social mobility and wellbeing. This means helping to improve quality of life as well as enabling and empowering others to improve their wellbeing, as part of the Big Society.
We therefore need to select indicators that address this cross-cutting agenda, looking at the outcomes associated with a fairer, healthier, more sustainable society; as well as some of the contextual drivers that underpin progress.
With cross-government responsibility for sustainable development, Defra has reported on sustainable development indicators since 1992. We will build on this extensive experience, drawing particularly on the set published annually since 2005, but taking account of new priorities, new visions and other national and international initiatives.
The new indicators will give government ministers and officials an overview of the priorities for sustainable development, and provide the Environmental Audit Committee, stakeholders and the public with a means of evaluating progress.
We are selecting new indicators that are:
The previous sustainable development indicator set had 68 indicators, many of which included individually assessed component measures. Defra intends to streamline the indicators to be more manageable and accessible, requiring some difficult decisions about including or excluding potential indicators.
In particular, Defra is proposing to focus on the highest level indicator of each particular issue. For example on greenhouse gas emissions, the focus will be on total emissions and not emissions by sector, nor on renewable energy (since that will be reflected in total emissions), nor on road traffic levels (since some aspects of that will be also reflected in the total emissions).
Defra is proposing three tiers of indicators:
The headline and supplementary indicators are expected to be reported on annually, but with the facility to provide more regular updates if required and feasible.
The previous indicators were assessed on the basis of progress since baselines and it is proposed that this should be the approach for the new set, with traffic lights showing whether recent changes are in the right or wrong direction compared with the baseline.
We are inviting stakeholders to:
Initial comments and suggestions are requested by 19th September 2011. Defra will then refine its proposals prior to a formal public consultation in November.