Conclusions

Many of the problems on the sustainable development agenda are caused by the distorting effect of indicators on politics, particularly the abuse of the GDP growth rate as a measure of success. Balancing this power by embedding such indicators into a comprehensive performance index covering the four pillars of sustainable development (economic, environmental, social, and institutional) would enable citizens to better judge governments' actions. Consequently, and even more important, such an index would permit politicians to do reasonable things without fear of being punished by the media's oversimplifying message, "This threatens economic growth and employment."

Replacing GDP in its role as political lead indicator will not be easy, and great intellectual and financial efforts will be needed. However, progress in recent years has been encouraging: The data situation has improved, and with tools such as the Dashboard of Sustainability, in its applications to the UN CSD and MDG indicator sets, we are able to communicate complex messages to the public. Sustainable development must become measurable if we want operational political targets; would there be a Kyoto Protocol if we didn't know how to measure CO2 emissions?

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