What are sustainability indicators?
Indicators are quantified information which help to explain how things are changing over time. For many years, a limited number of key economic measures has been used to judge how the economy is performing - for example, output, the level of employment, the rate of inflation, the balance of payments, public sector borrowing, etc. These statistics give an overall picture but do not explain why particular trends are occurring, and do not necessarily reflect the situation of a particular industry, society or area. They do, however, provide policy-makers and the public reasonable indicators of changes in the economy, assisting economic policy decision making and allowing the public to judge for themselves how the economy is performing overall.
Why do we need indicators?
There are three basic functions of indicators - simplification, quantification, and communication. Indicators generally simplify in order to make complex phenomena quantifiable so that information can be communicated. Some of the general public are concerned about sustainable development and the environment. They like to be informed about the state of the environment and the economy and how and why they are changing.
Organizations involved with sustainability indicators
|Commission for Sustainable Development http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/|
|Dow Jones Sustainability Indices http://www.sustainability-index.com/|
|Food and Agriculture Organisation http://www.fao.org/|
|Food Standards Agency http://www.foodstandards.gov.uk/|
|FTSE 4 GOOD http://www.ftse4good.com/Indices/index.jsp|
|International Institute for Environment and Development http://www.iied.org/|
|International Institute for Sustainable Development http://www.iisd.org/default.asp|
|Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development http://www.oecd.org/|
|World Bank http://www.worldbank.org/|
The UK Sustainable Development Strategy
In 1994 the Government published its Strategy for Sustainable Development, following the commitment made at the Earth Summit of June 1992 in Rio. One of the commitments in that document was the development of a set of indicators to help to inform people, including those in government, industry, non-governmental organisations, and the general public, about the issues involved in considering whether our development is becoming more sustainable. The indicators have been grouped within the following 21 families of sustainable development issues:
Pause for thought.....are you, as a member of the general public, familiar with 'indicators of sustainability, if you are, do you consider or monitor your actions as a direct result of this?
1. The Economy
One of the objectives of sustainable development is to promote a healthy economy in order to generate the resources to meet people’s needs and improve environmental quality. This in turn can further the protection of human health and the natural environment.
2. Transport Use
An effective transport system is a necessary part of modern life. Industry and commerce depend on it, and increasing use of the car has shaped today’s social and recreational lifestyles. The key sustainable development objective is to strike the right balance between the ability of transport to serve economic development and the ability to protect the environment and sustain quality of life, both now and in the future.
Pause for thought.......Should city centres be made pedestrian only areas, would this have any long term effects on the economic sustainability of a retail community?
3. Leisure and Tourism
The key sustainable development objectives are to maintain the quality of the environment in which leisure takes place, and which is an essential part of the UK's attractiveness to tourists, for future generations to enjoy; thus contributing to the quality of life of those taking part in leisure activities, and maximising the economic contributing of tourism, while protecting natural resources.
4. Overseas Trade
The key sustainable development objective is to ensure that UK activities contribute to sustainable development in the UK and in other countries as far as possible.
The key sustainable development objectives are to ensure supplies of energy at competitive prices, to reduce adverse impacts of energy use to acceptable levels, and to encourage consumers to meet their needs with less energy input through improved energy efficiency. Indicators relevant to these objectives concern the depletion of fossil fuel reserves, the capacity of nuclear and renewable energy sources, energy usage by sector, and fuel prices.
6. Land use
The key sustainable development objective is to balance the competing demands for the finite quantity of land available. The main issues are to minimise the loss of rural land to development and to maintain the vitality and viability of town centres with people living close to where they work. The indicators relevant to these issues are the area of land covered by urban development, household numbers, re-use of urban land for development, reclamation of derelict land, the amount of land used to build new roads, the growth in out of town shopping centres and vacant retail space in town centres, regular journeys by car and other modes for shopping and commuting and for taking children to and from school, money spent on urban regeneration, and green spaces in urban areas for recreation.
Pause for thought.......List 5 benefits and drawbacks of green spaces in urban areas
7. Water resources
The key issues for sustainable development are to ensure that adequate water resources are available to meet consumers' needs, to meet the demand for water from households, agriculture and industry whilst sustaining the aquatic environment, and to improve the efficiency of water use. Key indicators include comparisons between overall demand and the available resource, rates of use for particular purposes and the efficiency of remedial measures.
Left: Drainage ditch, Right: Crop irrigation
The key sustainable development issue for forestry is to manage forests in a way that sustains their environmental qualities as well as their productive potential.
9. Fish resources
Fishing has a major impact on the living resources of the sea and most of the fish stocks in the waters of EC member states are currently over-exploited. The key issue for sustainability is therefore to prevent over-exploitation of fish stocks and to balance fishing effort against the natural ability of fish stocks to regenerate. Indicators relevant to this issue are fish stocks and catches in UK waters.
10. Climate change
The key sustainable development objective is to limit emissions of greenhouse gases which may contribute to global warming and climate change. Indicators of relevance are greenhouse gas radiative forcing rates, global temperature change, and UK emissions of greenhouse gases.
Has the power of the sea been utilized to its full advantage
11. Ozone layer depletion
The key sustainable development objective is to restrict atmospheric emissions of substances which cause stratospheric ozone depletion. Indicators of relevance are chlorine loading in the atmosphere, ozone depletion over the UK and consumption and emissions of ozone-depleters in Europe.
12. Acid deposition
The key sustainable development issues are to limit acid emissions and ensure appropriate land management practices. Indicators of relevance are exceedences of provisional critical loads for acidity, UK emissions of acidifying pollutants from major sources, and expenditure on pollution abatement.
The key sustainable development objective is to control air pollution in order to reduce the risks of adverse effects on natural ecosystems, human health and quality of life. Key issues are to reduce pollutant emissions to improve local air quality, especially in urban areas, and to control photochemical pollution. Indicators to illustrate these issues are concentrations of pollutants at selected sites, UK emissions of pollutants, and expenditure on pollution abatement.
14. Freshwater quality
The key sustainable development objectives are to sustain and improve water quality and the aquatic environment. Other objectives included under these broad aims are to manage the discharge of waste water, to control pollution, to ensure adequate water resources of sufficient quality are available for abstraction for treatment as drinking water, and to facilitate the recreational use of water where appropriate. Indicators
relevant to these objectives include chemical and biological measures of freshwater quality, concentrations of important pollutants, water pollution incidents, and expenditure on water supply and treatment. Acidification of freshwater is covered by in the section on Acid deposition.
Reservoir ,UK - Yorkshire
Pause for thought.....List 3 methods of testing freshwater quality.
The key sustainable development issue for the coastal and marine environment is to prevent pollution from human activities especially those which result in the discharge of effluent reaching the sea via rivers, estuaries and directly from the coast. This is to be achieved by maintaining and improving current controls on man-made inputs, particularly those containing substances which are toxic, persistent and liable to bioaccumulation.
This stretch of coastline exhibited evidence of oil spills
16. Wildlife and habitat
The key sustainable development objectives for wildlife are to conserve as far as reasonably possible the wide variety of wildlife species and habitats in the UK, and to ensure that commercially exploited species are managed in a sustainable way.
17. Land cover and landscape
A key sustainable development issue is to balance the protection of the countryside's landscape and habitats of value for wildlife with the maintenance of an efficient supply of good quality food and other products. The indicators relevant to this objective are changes in rural land cover, in particular for agricultural land which is the dominant cover, the extent of designated and protected areas in the UK, damage to designated and protected areas, agricultural productivity, nitrogen and pesticide inputs, the loss of linear landscape features, and agri-environment land management schemes.
Pause for thought......List 5 desirable land cover characteristics.
A key objective of sustainable development is to protect soil as a limited resource for the production of food and other products, and as an ecosystem for vital organisms. The chosen indicators relevant to this objective are soil quality - concentrations of organic matter, acidity and concentrations of nutrients (phosphorus and potassium) in agricultural top soils; and concentrations of heavy metals in agricultural top soils.
What is the real quality of our soils?
19. Mineral extraction
A wide range of commercially important minerals are present and are worked in the UK. The geological extent of many of these mineral resources is large, but increasingly there are limitations on sources of supply which are free from environmental constraints. The key sustainable development objectives are to conserve minerals as far as possible while ensuring an adequate supply, to minimise waste production and to encourage efficient use of materials, to minimise environmental damage from minerals extraction, and to protect designated areas from development. Indicators relevant to these objectives are output of non-energy minerals, land worked for minerals and restored, and aggregates extracted from marine dredging. Consumption of fossil fuels is covered in the section on Energy.
The key sustainable development objectives for waste and waste management are to minimise the amount of waste which is produced, to make best use of the waste which is produced and to minimise pollution from waste. The UK has defined a hierarchy of waste management options, which are in order of preference: reduction, re-use, recovery (materials recycling, composting, energy recovery), disposal. The objectives of waste management policy are to move waste management further up the waste hierarchy, while retaining the best practical environmental option, particularly in respect of hazardous waste.
The key objectives for sustainable development are to ensure radioactive wastes are not unnecessarily created, to ensure radioactive wastes are managed and treated in a manner which does not lead to excessive discharges or radiation doses to members of the UK population, and to ensure that wastes are safely disposed of at appropriate times and in appropriate ways. The indicators relevant to these objectives are average radiation dose to the UK population, discharges from nuclear installations relative to nuclear power generation and radioactive waste arisings and disposal.
Pause for thought.........Would you add any areas to the above list of 21 areas?
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