Conclusions

This review of the conceptual challenges in developing indicators of sustainable development shows both progress made and work remaining. Table 2.2 assesses the stage of development of existing indicator efforts to meet each conceptual challenge discussed in this chapter.

Some indicators are ready for use, such as for linkage between economy and environment, economic equity, and certain efforts to consider the spatial aspects of sustainability. Most challenges still need further research and development, including the following:

• Developing indicators for global sustainability and planetary limits

• Completing indicator sets for each pillar with reference values

• Continuing to develop linkage indicators between pillars

• Exploring alternative models for understanding the sustainability of systems and indicators of system characteristics

• Interrelating different temporal and spatial scales, especially the short-term economic and long-term environmental perspectives

• Correcting the balance of indicators relevant to countries' stages of development and cultural diversity

• Distinguishing the objective and normative components of indicators and developing indicators for dimensions such as equity and participation

The significant progress over the last decade has made it possible to focus more precisely on the remaining conceptual challenges and to define some ways forward. Many indicators relevant to sustainable development have been assembled, and although many gaps remain, it is already possible to start addressing the key issue of integration. Economic, social, and environmental subsystems interact so fundamentally that all must be considered together in an exploration of feasible pathways toward sustainable development. In particular, successful governance for sustainable development depends on an appropriate analysis of these links.

A system perspective alerts us to the complex and often nonlinear character of these subsystems, to the existence of thresholds for irreversible switching from one stable system state to another, and to other surprises that are difficult to unravel and even more difficult to predict. Thus, a system perspective implies a more humble approach to governance, recognizing the limits of our ability to fully understand and control the impact of policies and actions. It encourages us to use indicators in a more responsive learning mode, acknowledging the need for wide participation in adaptive management to achieve the dynamic state that is sustainability.

Table 2.2. Stage of development in indicators to meet conceptual challenges.

Sustainability

Process and Universality

Challenge

Stage of Development

Challenge

Stage of Development

Measuring sustainability

In general

I

North—South issues

For strengths of countries

I

and sustainable

Some indicators

II

For Northern

II

development

capturing some

development bias

components of

sustainability

Biodiversity indicators

III

For indicator definitions

III

Frameworks

II

Country comparability

III

Linkages between pillars

Economy—environment

Cultural diversity

International

I

linkage

III

Social—environment

National (some countries)

II

linkage

I

Temporal and spatial scales

In general terms

I

Equity

Environmental equity

I

In individual cases

III

Social and institutional equity

II

Economic equity

III

Strong—weak sustainability

Where applicable

I

Democracy

II-

-III

Planetary limits

I

Acceptability

II

Vulnerability—resilience

Environmental systems

II

Social and economic

I

systems

Irreversibility

I

Note:T\\c stages of indicator development are classified as follows: I, research stage; II, in development, some progress made; III, ready for implementation.

Note:T\\c stages of indicator development are classified as follows: I, research stage; II, in development, some progress made; III, ready for implementation.

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