When designing indicator lists, conscious use should be made of the DPSIR framework and the policy life cycle (Figure 8.4). For problems that are at the beginning of their policy life cycle (i.e., the stage of issue identification), indicators on the state of the environment and on impacts play a major role (Figure 8.5). In theory, sentinel indicators could play an important role giving advance warning of alarming developments in the
state of the environment to allow precautionary measures to be taken. However, few such indicators have been identified that are reliable and would command the attention of decision makers. The best-known cases of state indicators that give rise to policy reactions are those showing the sudden decline of selected species (e.g., fish in acidified Scandinavian lakes, seals in the Dutch Waddensea), surface water quality (e.g., salt in the river Rhine, which was used for irrigation in horticulture), and air quality in cities (e.g., summer smog in Paris and Athens).
This function of state indicators is limited in time: As soon as a problem is politically accepted and measures are being designed, the attention shifts to pressure and driving force indicators. Nevertheless, there is a long period in which state and impact indicators support the process of getting political acceptance of policy responses. Greenhouse gas policies provide clear examples in which indicators of climate change impacts such as extreme weather events (heat waves, floods, and storms), the number of hot summers, average temperatures, the movement of treelines, and species distribution are being used to gather political support for the Kyoto Protocol. Such indicators rise in importance when political opposition increases.
In the next and longer stages of the policy cycle (formulation of policy responses, implementation of measures and control), policymakers focus on what they can influence: the driving forces through volume measures, the pressures with technical measures, and responses with educational projects. Performance indicators on changes in driving forces and pressures are used most often in this phase. The state of the environment is only a derived result of activities in society, and policy reactions and hence state indicators are less important, except in management of biodiversity as such or when organisms play a role in the solution of environmental problems. In these situations, indicators such as biomass production, forests as carbon dioxide sinks, and forest composition are important measures of progress.
In the last, control phase of the policy cycle, state indicators become important again for watching the recovery of the environment, and a limited number of these indicators are used to continuously monitor the state of the environment. They are accompanied by an equally limited number of indicators on driving forces, pressures, and responses to monitor the behavior of the whole system. As implementation begins to demand effort and resources, impact indicators are again needed to remind people why efforts are needed and to reveal improvements. Effectiveness indicators then come into play to assess outcomes of the policy.
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