|United Nations System-Wide
24 March 1995
COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE
GENERAL DISCUSSION OF PROGRESS
IN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF
for decision-making and Earthwatch
I. Programme of work on indicators for sustainable development
II. United Nations system-wide Earthwatch
1. Chapter 40 of Agenda 21 calls for the development of indicators for sustainable development. In particular, it requests countries at the national level, and international governmental and non-governmental organizations at the international level, to develop the concept of indicators of sustainable development in order to identify such indicators (para. 40.6). This issue was raised during the first two sessions of the Commission on Sustainable Development, at which time a large number of countries emphasized the urgent need for those indicators. Other countries expressed some concern and insisted that indicators be developed in close contact with Governments. Pursuant to the multi-year thematic programme of work adopted by the Commission at its first session, the progress achieved on developing these indicators, within the context of chapter 40 of Agenda 21, will be discussed by the Commission during its third session.
2. Indicators are called for when there is a need for informed decision-making and associated, cost-effective data collection so as to respond to that need. In order to assist decision makers at all levels, and to increase focus on sustainable development, indicators for monitoring progress towards sustainable development are needed. The value of indicators as policy instruments is enhanced when they are used in combination with targets that have been set as part of national policies.
3. The objective of this work programme is to make the indicators for sustainable development accessible to decision makers at the national level by defining them, elucidating their methodologies and providing training and other capacity-building activities, as relevant. Indicators, as used in national policies, may also be used in the national reports to the Commission and other intergovernmental bodies.
4. A number of countries are developing their own indicators, for the environment as well as for sustainable development. In addition, several organizations, both within and outside the United Nations system, have been working on the development of indicators related to sustainable development. (Additional information on these activities is contained in the main body of the present report, paras. 20-24.) The current role of the Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development of the United Nations Secretariat, as task manager of this issue, is to bring together the many actors in this field, to build on their work and to propose a cooperative programme for indicators for sustainable development that may directly serve the needs of the Commission on Sustainable Development, as well as all Member States.
Indicators for sustainable development
5. When developing the indicators, it is important to address the challenge of fully integrating the social, economic, environmental and institutional aspects of sustainable development. Much further work, primarily by the scientific community, is needed in order to understand and explain these interlinkages.
6. Social indicators have been developed over the past years and are used all over the world. Economic indicators have also been used for many years at national, regional and international levels. It is feasible to select from among these social and economic indicators some that capture the specific issues most relevant to sustainable development. Environmental indicators have been developed more recently. For some of the environmental aspects, considerably more work needs to be done to make the data available.
7. Based on the relevant indicators that are available, it is proposed that the Commission on Sustainable Development agree to work proceeding on the basis of a menu of indicators, as presented below, with the understanding that this is a flexible, working instrument which will be fine-tuned with respect to the needs of countries after further methodological work, testing and training. It is further proposed that the Commission approve the programme of work on indicators for sustainable development, as contained in paragraphs 22-26 below.
8. It is also proposed that the Commission on Sustainable Development encourage continued cooperation with the work under way on environment indicators under the auspices of the Statistical Commission.
Highly aggregated indicators
9. 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 variables, 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 system, if desired.
10. In addition to other existing efforts in this area, a project is now being undertaken by 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.
A menu of indicators for sustainable development
11. A menu of indicators, as contained in this annex, is proposed for use by decision makers in monitoring progress at a national level towards sustainable development through the implementation of Agenda 21. It is fully recognized that there is need for flexibility, as the conditions, activities and priorities for sustainable development differ from country to country. At the same time, the widely articulated desire for international consistency calls for the development of standardized concepts, definitions and classifications of indicators.
12. Regional workshops and capacity-building programmes are needed in order to facilitate the use of the menu of indicators at a national level. In addition to the existing experience of a range of countries, 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 menu of indicators if necessary.
13. The indicators in the proposed framework have been developed, in accordance with the following criteria, to be:
(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, that is to say, 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;
(i) Dependent on data that are readily available or available at a reasonable cost to benefit ratio, adequately documented, of known quality and updated at regular intervals.
14. As noted, the menu of indicators may change and new indicators may be included, for example, within the context of international legal agreements, or as national-level experience is gained. Furthermore, there are some potentially important indicators that require further methodological work before they can be used. This is especially the case for various ecosystem (georeferenced) indicators, and as regards the following issues, for which indicators are not included in the menu at this stage (references are to chapters of Agenda 21):
Chapter 4 and others: differential consumption patterns of the wealthy and the poor (including access to clean water among the poor; patterns of consumption of clean water among the wealthy)
Chapters 8, 38, 39 and 40: decision-making structures (driving force indicators); also, strengthening of "traditional information" (driving force and response indicators)
Chapter 13: sustainable mountain development (driving force, state and response indicators)
Chapter 15: issues of biodiversity (driving force)
Chapter 16: issues surrounding biotechnology (driving force, state and response indicators)
Chapter 17: oceans, all kinds of seas and coastal areas (response indicators)
Chapter 19: toxic chemicals
Chapter 20: hazardous wastes (response indicators)
Chapter 21: industrial/municipal discharges
Chapters 23-32: participation and representation of major groups in decision-making (driving force, state and response indicators)
Chapter 34: transfer of technology (driving force, state and response indicators)
Chapter 35: science (driving force, state and response indicators)
Chapter 37, and others: capacity-building (driving force, state and response indicators).
15. Research and experimentation with advanced social, economic and institutional indicators that might more effectively measure progress towards sustainable development and continued research and experimentation with environmental indicators appropriate for measuring progress towards sustainable development should be endorsed. There may also be a need for subsets and other, often more comprehensive sets of indicators for other purposes, including subnational, spatial and sectoral assessments.
16. The indicators in the menu are presented in a Driving force-State- Response (DSR) framework. The DSR framework is adapted from the widely agreed framework for environmental indicators, namely, 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 social, economic 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. Experience with this framework has been largely with environmental indicators only; its applicability to the broader needs of sustainable development will be tested through the programme of work.
17. It should be emphasized that the "column" and "row" structure of the trial menu of sustainable development indicators may be modified within the next few years, as more experience is gained. More effort, for example, may be needed to represent the relationship between cause and effect, or impact. The use of the DSR framework is viewed as the first step in an iterative process.
18. In the menu, the indicators are grouped in categories covering the social, economic, environmental and institutional 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 most significant aspects of sustainable development are monitored by the indicators.
19. The result of this combined structure is a series of cells within which the indicators are presented. It is important to understand that there is as yet no implied causality among indicators between cells, either horizontally or vertically. Significant work must be undertaken on the question of interlinkages among indicators before causal relationships can be understood and expressed.
Actors and the programme of work
20. For clusters of indicators, various organizations will have the task of assuming a leading role in a transparent consultative process for the purpose of further developing the indicators, as relevant, including the underlying methodology, and of analysing the data availability for each indicator in order to provide a full description of each indicator in a set of methodology sheets. Based on their mandates and current activities, a number of organizations have agreed to serve as "lead agencies" for this purpose. These organizations include UNSTAT, the Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development of the United Nations Secretariat, ESCAP, UNDP, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), UNDP/UNSO, UNEP, the secretariat of the Basel Convention, the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), ILO, FAO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), WHO, the World Bank, UNIDO, and OECD and IUCN. In addition, this process will include, to the extent possible and as appropriate, the regional commissions and other interested organizations in the United Nations system, other intergovernmental organizations, national Governments, non-governmental organizations and other representatives of major groups.
21. The methodology sheets will contain, inter alia, the following information:
(a) An introduction that provides a statement of purpose, the policy relevance of the indicator, and its relationship to sustainable development;
(b) A methodological description of the indicators and the underlying definitions, including a short description of the indicators in relation to the Driving force-State-Response framework; and information on interpretation and design of the indicator;
(c) For each indicator, an assessment of the availability of data from national and international sources;
(d) Further readings and other references for additional information and contact points.
Summary of elements in the programme of work
22. With regard to activities related to the menu of indicators:
(a) Information exchange (1995 and continuing thereafter): there is a need for enhanced information exchange among all interested organizations, Governments and major groups on research, methodological and practical activities associated with indicators for sustainable development. At the international level, this should include, inter alia, establishing a freely accessible database with this information. To the extent possible, the relationship of indicator-related activities to national targets and needs should be specified. At the national level, the Sustainable Development Network Programme of UNDP could assist in coordinating the relevant information and improving access to the data;
(b) Methodology sheets (1995-1996): the lead agencies, as indicated above, through a transparent, consultative process, will describe the indicators in the menu, including their policy relevance and underlying methodology, and assess the data availability and the data sources for each indicator. This information could be included in a set of initial methodology sheets to be made available to Governments by 1996. Governments could choose from the menu those indicators relevant to their respective problems and priorities for use in national policy-making. The countries may also use the indicators, if they wish to do so, in their national reporting to the Commission on Sustainable Development at its fifth session in 1997;
(c) Training and capacity-building (1995-1998):
(i) Training should be provided for Governments and other relevant groups in using the indicators for monitoring progress towards sustainable development at a national level. This implies assistance, where requested, in adapting the menu of indicators for the needs/targets of the country. Further capacity-building programmes should be initiated, covering the whole field from collection of data to use in policy processes;
(ii) Priority should be given to training the trainers, including national scientists and other experts who could then provide broader training for the appropriate government actors. This training might best be provided at the regional level, with the support of the regional commissions or other regional organizations. There is a need to explore techniques for training that are more innovative and effective than those used traditionally;
(iii) Coordination of training activities at the national level is important and may be undertaken within the framework of Capacity 21. This includes broadening sectoral efforts of ongoing or projected activities of United Nations system organizations. National forums should be organized, for example, through national councils for sustainable development, involving the government, the United Nations system, other intergovernmental organizations and representatives of major groups and of the media, to undertake capacity-building for indicators in the country;
(iv) To the extent possible, existing resources will be pooled and utilized in an efficient and cooperative manner for these activities. As needs arise, extrabudgetary resources may also be required and will be sought;
(d) Monitoring experiences in a few selected countries (1996-1998): testing of the indicators in three to four countries could be used to gain experience, assess applicability and further develop the indicators for sustainable development. It should be noted that testing and capacity-building are mutually reinforcing and should be planned in tandem;
(e) Evaluation of the menu (2000): the use of indicators for sustainable development at a national level is evaluated on all experience gained, and the menu of indicators adjusted as necessary.
23. With regard to developing highly aggregated indicators (the SCOPE/UNEP project): with the menu of indicators as an input, highly aggregated indicators will be developed to further facilitate decision-making at all levels. This could be undertaken and coordinated by the SCOPE/UNEP project, benefiting from the experience gained with the menu of indicators and focusing on all aspects of sustainable development.
24. With regard to further work on interlinkages: the scientific community is invited to undertake further work on identifying and assessing the linkages among the economic, social, institutional and environmental elements of sustainable development. SCOPE could facilitate the coordination of these efforts. In addition, a joint WHO/UNEP HEADLAMP Project is exploring interlinkage of data on development activities, health and environment for decision-making concerning sustainability. In 1995, intersectoral consultations and analysis for this purpose will be carried out in selected countries. Interested international bodies are encouraged to join in these efforts. The project will focus on developing and testing linkage-based indicators of relevance to policy at national and local levels.
25. Related activities: it is recognized that many other activities are ongoing, as noted in the introduction to this report. The scientific community, with the support and advice of United Nations system organizations, other intergovernmental organizations, Governments, non-governmental organizations and other representatives of major groups, is encouraged to undertake development of indicators for issues where no suitable indicators exist.
26. A progress report will be provided to the Commission on Sustainable Development at its fourth session, in 1996.
Menu of indicators for sustainable development
27. The menu of indicators for sustainable development presented below should be seen as a flexible menu from which countries can choose indicators according to national priorities, problems and targets. The indicators are presented in a Driving force-State-Response framework. "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 changes in the state of sustainable development. The social, economic, environmental and institutional aspects of sustainable development are covered by this menu of indicators following the chapters of Agenda 21.
CATEGORY: SOCIAL a/
Agenda 21 Chapter 3: Poverty
Driving force indicators:
- Employment rate (%)
- Ratio of average female wage to average male wage (%)
- Population living in absolute poverty (no. and %)
- Gini coefficient of income
Agenda 21 Chapter 5: Demographic
dynamics and sustainability
Agenda 21 Chapter 36:
Promoting education, public awareness and training (including gender
Agenda 21 Chapter 6: Protecting
and promoting human health
Agenda 21 Chapter 7: Human
settlements (including traffic and transport)
CATEGORY: ECONOMIC a/
Agenda 21 Chapter 2: International cooperation
Driving force indicators:
- Real GDP per capita growth rate (%)
- Exports of goods and services (US$)
- Imports of goods and services (US$)
- GDP per capita (US$)
- EDP per capita/environmentally adjusted value added (US$)
- Share of manufacturing value added in GDP (%)
- Export concentration ratio (%)
- Investment share in GDP (%)
- Participation in regional trade agreements (yes/no)
Agenda 21 Chapter 4: Consumption
and production patterns c/
Agenda 21 Chapter 33:
Financial resources and mechanisms
Agenda 21 Chapter 34:
Transfer of technology
Agenda 21 Chapter 18:
Agenda 21 Chapter 17:
Protection of the oceans, all kinds of seas and coastal areas
Agenda 21 Chapter 10:
Planning and management of land resources
Agenda 21 Chapter 12:
Combating desertification and drought
Agenda 21 Chapter 13:
Sustainable mountain development
Agenda 21 Chapter 14:
Promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development
Other natural resources
Agenda 21 Chapter 11:
Agenda 21 Chapter 15:
Conservation of biological diversity
Agenda 21 Chapter 16:
Agenda 21 Chapter 9: Protection
of the atmosphere
Agenda 21 Chapter 21:
Solid wastes and sewage-related issues
Agenda 21 Chapter 19:
Agenda 21 Chapter 20,
22: Hazardous wastes
Agenda 21 Chapter 35: Science
Driving force indicators:
Agenda 21 Chapter 37:
Agenda 21 Chapter 8, 38,
39, 40: Decision-making structures
Agenda 21: Strengthening
of "traditional information" (Part of ch.40)
Agenda 21 Chapter 23-32:
Role of major groups
a/ Many of these indicators exemplify and represent large, well- established sets of indicators. Processes to enhance the relevance of these sets to sustainable development are under way and should be encouraged.
b/ Indicators of vulnerability are to be developed following the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, as contained in the Report of the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, Bridgetown, Barbados, 25 April- 6 May 1994 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.94.I.18 and Corr.1 and 2), chap. I, resolution 1, annex II.
Share of manufacturing value added in GDP (under "Economic")
Export concentration ratio (under "Economic")
Ratio of consumption of renewable resources to that of non-renewable resources (under "Economic")
Transport fuel consumption per capita (under "Social")
Domestic consumption of water per capita (under "Environmental/water")
Fuelwood consumption per capita (under "Environmental/land")
Annual roundwood production (under "Environmental/other natural resources")
Wood consumption as percentage of energy consumption (under "Environmental/ other natural resources")
Consumption of ozone-depleting substances (under "Environmental/atmosphere")
1. In the strengthening of the system-wide Earthwatch since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), an Earthwatch Working Party of all the United Nations organizations concerned has been organized to facilitate the taking of decisions in common. UNEP has established a small Earthwatch secretariat to maintain a continuous liaison among the partners and to assist in implementing common activities. It is envisaged that many functions of Earthwatch can be carried out by ad hoc groups of experts drawn from all of the organizations. Some of the first initiatives being developed are described below. The aim is to achieve maximum joint programming, collaboration and cooperation within available resources. UNEP is also compiling experience on the more effective delivery of information to decision makers, and will share that experience through Earthwatch with all of its partners. Similarly, the experience acquired in the Global Resources Information Database (GRID) in the handling and integration of large environmental data sets is being shared to make better use of the large quantities of environmental information already available.
2. With respect to the need for operational early warning systems under Earthwatch, some components already exist and others are in preparation. FAO operates early warning systems for food security involving, inter alia, production, trade and consumption trends, as well as drought and migratory pests. WHO provides early warning of certain infectious diseases, and of the health implications of disasters, and has developed early warning strategies for water pollution monitoring under the Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS)/Water programme. WMO has encouraged early warning systems for tropical cyclones in areas where they are a significant threat. The Department of Humanitarian Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat is preparing a humanitarian early warning system, and coordinates an inter-agency effort to provide early warning of new flows of refugees and displaced persons, and these activities could also become components of Development Watch. For longer-term early warning, the continuing observations being planned under the global observing systems for climate, oceans and the terrestrial environment, namely, the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) and the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS), should be able to detect significant trends in global change, hopefully in time for the international community to take preventive action. UNEP is organizing the means to look at the interactions among all these critical elements of the global system, where interlinkages and feedbacks are most likely to provide surprises. Adequate support to these long-term operational environmental measurements and assessments will be necessary if they are to fulfil their early warning potential.
3. The United Nations system-wide Earthwatch incorporates both the environmental observing, assessment and reporting activities of each specialized agency in its sectoral area, and a wide range of inter-agency programmes that demonstrate the increasing coordination and cooperation throughout the United Nations system. International scientific, non-governmental and governmental organizations are often associated with these initiatives. Each participating organization is, within the limitations of available resources, strengthening its contributions to information for decision-making and improving its linkages with cooperating partners. UNEP is working with a group of leading research centres to develop tools such as computer models to integrate the many types of environmental and socio-economic data and eventually to prepare projections and scenarios that should help to give early warning of coming problems and provide decision makers with policy options for responding to them. Some of the principal agency and inter-agency elements supporting Earthwatch are listed in a back- of-the-room paper to be made available to the Commission.
4. Many of the partners in Earthwatch are developing indicators for measuring progress in their particular sectors and on priority issues. Earthwatch will work for the maximum harmonization of such indicators, as well as for coherent sets of national- and regional-level environmental indicators as a contribution to the corpus of sustainable development indicators. To support this, UNEP is planning an indicators network to facilitate information flow among those working in the field, and a database of indicators to help identify those appropriate for any particular use. The organizations cooperating in Earthwatch should also be able to help the Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development of the United Nations Secretariat in supporting national efforts to use indicators for policy-making and as guides to sustainability, as well as in reporting to the Commission on Sustainable Development.
5. Earthwatch is exploring the potential for using public participation in data-collection efforts, including proposals for an Earthwatch campaign to obtain a much more complete view of the state of the world in the year 2000. Such activities, if carefully planned to ensure scientific validity and proper quality control and assessment of the data collected, could involve schools, non-governmental organizations, the media and other groups in building a more complete picture of the status of species, land uses, development activities, pollution problems and the characteristics of the human and natural environment as inputs for the next UNEP "State of the World Environment" report and as a basis for selective continued monitoring of national and global trends. Such approaches have proved their worth in some countries, for instance by involving bird-watching groups in an annual census of bird populations. Initiatives to involve school classes in environmental monitoring will also be encouraged. Public participation will demonstrate to people that they can observe their own environment and draw their own conclusions about behaviour for or against sustainability, and will help them to understand the results of national and international public information efforts. Such programmes would require a major commitment on the part of United Nations organizations, Governments, non-governmental organizations, the media and even the private sector, but with potential benefits for all involved. This may be the only practical approach in the short term to closing the data gap in many developing countries.
6. One priority of Earthwatch is to work for a more rapid flow of information through the system and to target decision-making processes more directly, so that policy makers can receive more timely and appropriate information.
7. On the basis of the in-depth study of Earthwatch, the increased collaboration now established, and the results of the review of Chapter 40 by the Commission on Sustainable Development and of Earthwatch by the Governing Council of UNEP, the critical needs with regard to implementing Earthwatch throughout the United Nations system in close cooperation with Governments are being defined. These will be costed and assembled into a coherent package of specific, well-targeted activities for presentation to an Agenda 21 round- table meeting of interested Governments and other donors as a further step towards the effective implementation of this important dimension of Agenda 21.