Comparing Countries

Generally, peer pressure is considered a good thing among partners in any community, whether they be scientists, enterprises, or countries, if it leads to a healthy effort to strive for improvement and excellence. Comparison also helps to show what does and does not work and why. Many well-established national-level social and economic indicators and indices not only measure the development performance of a country over time but are also used to rank countries. For sustainable development indicators, there have been obstacles, both scientific and political, to the use of national-level indicators for worldwide country comparisons. The CSD indicators were explicitly endorsed by governments solely to measure each country's own sustainable development, by using a selection of indicators according to its own national priorities and circumstances, out of concern that intercountry rankings would be misused to impose conditions on development assistance.

Despite these concerns, good reasons remain for developing national-level indicators that allow country comparisons. All nations need to contribute to global sustainability.

The conceptual challenge is how to design indicators so that the comparison is legitimate and useful.

The approach to developing indicators suitable for intercountry comparison, whether at global or regional scale, should strive to

• Develop a sound, simple, and unified method for the selected indicators.

• Select indicators that reflect common agreed aspects of sustainable development or commonly agreed targets for action.

• Avoid indicators that are highly influenced by diversity in natural, socioeconomic, and cultural circumstances.

• Have full transparency of the whole process (development of indicators, methods, data collection, and presentation).

• Obtain agreement among the partners involved on the process, including public availability of results.

It is important to stress that indicators for intercountry comparison are only a complement to other indicator sets developed according to local, national, or regional priorities.

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