The Dashboard of Sustainability

Fortunately, this idea is not new, so a lot of the legwork has already been done. There have been several attempts to produce indices aiming at a replacement of GDP, such as the Human Development Index (HDI), published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with the annual Human Development Report.2 However, very few have the ambition to give comprehensive coverage of today's most important political debates. Perhaps the most advanced example is the Dashboard of Sus-

tainability, developed by a small group of indicator program leaders called Consultative Group on Sustainable Development Indices (CGSDI,

A car driver, an Airbus pilot, and the captain of a cruise ship all have a dashboard in front of them, with an impressive array of instruments that help them make their decisions. Likewise, the captains of nations need tools to steer our modern societies into the twenty-first century, and in a participatory democracy, citizens insist on looking over the shoulder of the captain in order to understand, comment on, and criticize the decisions of their governments.

Currently, only a handful of indicators, namely the rates of GDP growth, unemployment, and inflation, are communicated to citizens. However, judging government performance with only three indicators is like traveling with a captain who tells the passengers, "As long as there is fuel on board and the compass points into the right direction, everything is OK."

The complexity of decision making in the twenty-first century calls for much better decision support tools. The Dashboard of Sustainability presents sets of indicators in a simple pie chart format based on the following three principles:

• The size of a segment reflects the relative importance of the issue described by the indicator; for example, in Figure 5.1 the theme "Economy" has a weight of 45 percent.3

Dashboard Sustainability Iisd
Figure 5.1. Communication language of the Dashboard of Sustainability.

•A color code signals performance relative to others: green means "good," yellow is "average," and red means "bad." On the Internet, colors work fine, but because this book is in black and white, the scale from red to green is replaced by a gray scale in which "red" is the darkest and "green" the lightest shade. • The central circle (Sustainable Development Index [SDI]) summarizes the information of the component indicators. The inner circles are aggregations of the individual indicators.

The CGSDI sees this tool as an attempt to help launch process of putting indicators at the service of democracy. Given the professional background of the group's members, this is an SDI with special focus on environmental aspects.

Assuming that such an SDI were in place and that the media had fully adopted this new way of judging government performance, the political cycle might work as illustrated in Figure 5.2.

Of course, the diagram cannot capture the full complexity of politics in a media society, and many other factors contribute to voters' decisions. But this political cycle exists already, unfortunately reduced to a "performance index" with only three components: economic growth (measured as GDP), unemployment, and inflation.

In an attempt to demonstrate that a full SDI would give a much richer picture of politics, the CGSDI had prepared, just in time for the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, a global assessment for the ten elapsed years since the 1992 Rio Summit. The indicator set follows the Agenda 21 structure and therefore is organized in four clusters: social, environmental, economic, and institutional aspects. In this chapter,

Figure 5.2. Policy cycle in a media society using an SDI.

some key results for the least developed countries (LDCs), compared with the rest of the world, are presented.

The social cluster consists of nineteen indicators (Figure 5.3). The overall social situation for the LDCs is very dim: Most indicators are deep in the red (i.e., dark) zone, with a few exceptions:

• The income distribution, measured as Gini coefficient, is good (i.e., even the rich in these countries are relatively poor); South America has by far the worst gap between rich and poor.

• Unemployment rates are at an acceptable level (but doubts about the validity of the underlying figures might be raised).

Figure S.S. Social pillar of sustainable development.

• The ratio between female and male salaries is average; the situation is worse in Asia and, again, South America is at the bottom of the list.

• Crime rates and urbanization4 are still "green" (i.e., light) compared with those of the other country groups.

The environmental cluster consists of twenty indicators and shows a very mixed picture (Figure 5.4):

• The LDCs score very well for problems associated with a high living standard, such as CO2 and chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) emissions, fertilizer use, and pesticide use.

• Their ecosystems and fauna are judged more positively by these indicators, but not many of these areas are protected.

Figure 5.4. Environmental pillar of sustainable development.

• Urban air quality is not so good (but is much worse in Asia).

• Forests are in bad shape, maybe also because firewood is still an important source of energy.

• Finally, the LDCs face serious water problems (phosphorus, biological oxygen demand [BOD]), despite a "green" (light, i.e., "good") rating for use of renewable water.

The economic cluster features fourteen indicators and, not surprisingly, is deep in the "red" (i.e., dark) zone for most indicators (Figure 5.5). The LDCs are ranked last for income per capita, investment, current account balance, external debt, development aid received, renewable energy resources, and energy efficiency of GDP, adequate solid waste disposal, and (third last) waste recycling.

Figure 5.5. Economic pillar of sustainable development.

The picture is more positive for private motoring to work, hazardous waste generated, direct material input (DMI), and commercial energy use,5 issues that typically go along with high Western living standards.

For economists, this indicator set looks strange: Recycling and renewable energy are rarely found in the business pages of our newspapers.

Given the importance of governance in today's politics, the institutional cluster is very interesting but also disappointing (Figure 5.6). Do the number of telephone lines, access to the Internet, and the availability of SD strategies and indicators really tell us something about the efficiency and quality of institutions?

The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) indicator set enjoys high legitimation because it comes from the United Nations. However, the institutional cluster in particular reflects also the delicate political climate in which the UN expert groups had to design their set.

Figure 5.6. Institutional pillar of sustainable development.

The institutional results are similar to the others, with LDCs almost always at the bottom of the ranking, except for the indicator "national sustainable development strategies."

The overall assessment of sustainability for the year 2000 shows the European Union on top (old EU-15), with 750 of 1,000 possible points, followed by the three North American Free Trade Agreement states (United States, Canada, and Mexico), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and Europe (Figure 5.7).6 At a distance, Asia and South America follow, and the continent of the poor, Africa, is close to the bottom. Among the forty-nine LDCs, characterized by low income, weak human resources, and a low level of economic diversification, are two thirds of the African countries, plus Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Haiti, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, and Yemen. In the context of the globalization debate, LDCs have a particularly important role because they can be both victims of globalization, because of their extreme vulnerability, and globalization winners if they manage to develop their natural and human resources in a sustainable way.

A powerful communication function of the Dashboard is the map view (Figure 5.8). A trained eye needs only milliseconds to see where the problems are. In sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya, Ghana, and Cameroon are positive surprises, whereas Somalia, Niger, Angola, Liberia, Eritrea, and Sierra Leone are all deep in the "red" (i.e., dark) zone.

Unfortunately, a trend analysis shows that the gap is becoming wider: The European Union, already on top of the ranking for the situation in 2000, is also the country group that shows the best trend between 1990 and 2000. On the bottom end, the developing countries and the smaller subgroup of LDCs appear to have no chance of catching up. However, a more detailed analysis would reveal that the LDCs made considerable progress in social problems; they rank second among nine country groups, mainly because of improvements in infant mortality, illiteracy, and access to safe water. However, interpreting that as a result of good development cooperation (the LDCs enjoy certain preferences) would take a more detailed and more robust data set.

The Dashboard of Sustainability contains the sixty indicators proposed by the UN Commission on Sustainable Development and covers almost two hundred countries (available at The software is free for indicator developers and has been applied to many other indicator sets, of which more than a dozen are downloadable. Among these are an almost complete set of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) indicators, a set of World Bank governance indicators, and the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) produced by Columbia and Yale Universities for the World Economic Forum.

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