Proposal for a New Typology of Sustainable Development Indicators

Different approaches could be taken to develop indicators under the sustainable development paradigm. However, they must be able to meet the challenge of fully integrating the social, economic, environmental, and institutional aspects of development, in accordance with the main conclusions of UNCSD in 1997. The national decision-making process requires indicators sensitive to change, supported by reliable, readily available data, relevant to the issue, and understood and accepted by intended users.

Starting from these premises, indicators and indices can be classified according to the way they are generated; that is, a classification can be established according to the sort of attributes they try to describe and integrate synthetically.

In the main categories "Environment" and "Society," an issue is defined as a topic of interest to decision makers. The issue encompasses one or more characteristics (properties or components), from which one or several are selected for measurement. These characteristics can be either quantitative or qualitative. Depending on the origin and number of characteristics selected for use in developing an index or indicator (i.e., the extent of complexity related to the synthetic information linked to the selected issue or issues), indicators can be classified as a first, second, third, fourth, or fifth generation. First-generation indicators measure a single characteristic of an environmental (or societal) issue; most state-of-the-environment (or society or economy) indicators fall in this category. Second-generation indicators measure various characteristics of various environmental (or societal) issues, and third-generation ones are an integrative measure of a single characteristic of a selected environmental issue combined with a single characteristic of a societal issue. Fourth-generation indicators are integrative measures that combine one or more characteristics of an environmental issue and one or more characteristics of various societal issues. Fifth-generation indicators are integrative, composite indicators that measure multiple characteristics of more than one environmental issue, integrated, in a thoughtful fashion, with multiple characteristics of various societal issues. Fifth-generation indicators provide the initial tools for scenario building, keeping the "bricks" explicit in order to reveal relationships at lower levels.

Graphically this typology can be seen in Figure 22.1.

Topfer (1998) points out that "the pace at which the world is moving towards a sustainable future is far too slow." In order to reverse this global trend and maintain the spirit of Agenda 21, we need to produce fourth- and fifth-generation indicators without

Class generation

System Environmental

Social

Example

I

For just one of the systems One issue r one or several measurements

Air pollution quantified as CO2 ambient concentration.

II

For just one of the systems Several issues r several measurements

Gross primary school enrollment ratio encompasses population and educational issues, and total primary enrolment and population in primary school-age bracket are used as their respective characteristics.

III

One issue r one measurement

One issue r one measurement

A relation between air pollution and consumption patterns could be established by measuring CO2.

IV

One issue r one or several measurements

Several issues r several measurements

An indicator for ambient pollution might be able to relate CO2 concentration and emissions of CO2 from (a) liquid fuels consumption; (b) land use change, and (c) industrial processes.

V

Several issues r several measurements

Several issues r several measurements

For air pollution, CO2 and CH4 concentration can be taken as environmental characteristics. Several societal characteristics could be used to call attention to this problem, such as CO2 from fossil fuels; CO2 from land use change; CH4 from agriculture; CH4 from waste, etc.

Figure 22.1. Typology of sustainable development indicators.

Figure 22.1. Typology of sustainable development indicators.

neglecting the less complex ones, also very much needed. This is a daunting challenge for national sustainable development programs.

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