Measure and Communicate Sustainable Development: A Science and Policy Dialogue

Speech Published 05 Apr 2001 Last modified 16 Oct 2014, 12:56 PM
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Stockholm, 4-5 April 2001

Measure and Communicate Sustainable
Development: A Science and Policy Dialogue

Measuring sustainability:
the development after Cardiff

Domingo Jiménez-Beltrán
Executive Director
European Environment Agency

1. Indicators as a support to policy making

The European Environment Agency (EEA) is a European Community body with the aim of serving the Community and the Member States with information to support policy making for environmental protection put in the perspective of sustainable development. We do that by collecting and assessing data on the current and foreseeable state of the environment.
With the development in attention going from ‘environment', to the environmental pillar in sustainable development' to ‘environmentally sustainable development' we are in a constant process of creating clear lines for our clients focusing on the essentials in the overload of environmental and sustainability information.
Our clients are policy-making agents and politicians at EU level in the European Commission, in the European Parliament, in the Council and in the Member states. They are increasingly aware of the use of and usefulness of indicators in their processes. Indicators can play an important role within the policy preparation and the policy evaluation stages of the policy cycle (figure 1).

Figure 1:
Measure and Communicate Sustainable Development: A Science and Policy Dialogue

However, our primary clients are not the only actors driving policies and able to bring along changes. Informed citizens, NGOs, companies, lower levels of governments are our secondary target groups.
Their indicator needs are partly similar to politicians and policy makers as they are also participating in the decision-making process, although in different ways. These groups will use the indicators to make the policy makers accountable for their actions to face environmental challenges. As such they will use "conventional” indicators such as energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, or vehicle kilometres driven. But apart from these, citizens groups ask for indicators that have a more radical character. It is the NGOs that have brought concepts like ecological footprint, foodmiles, green GDP further in attempts to get tools that are able to raise attention not for a single environmental problem, but for the basic processes behind environmental degradation, viz. international trade, specialisation, uncovered external costs.

But, regardless the way the indicators are defined, a few principles seem needed to make them work:

  1. Indicators should report progress over time and go with an assessment of the reasons for their development.
  2. They become more powerful when linked with formal targets or informal or indicative (sustainable) reference values. Linked with targets, indicators become tools for management and to make policy makers accountable;
  3. With or without targets, using indicators to compare or benchmark individual sectors or countries or companies with each other is another way to make decision makers accountable and to foster progress as both failure and success stories become evident. The question why one sector/country/company is doing better than another is a good entrance to explore still unknown opportunities to do better. At the same time exposing this kind of information to the outside world could lead to ‘peer pressure' to do better (the so-called "name and fame or shame” exercise). Eco-efficiency indicators have also proven to be useful communication tools in this respect: a ‘2% eco-effeciency improvement in a given year' is a common language, whatever the economic structure of a country or whatever business sector we are considering.

2. Making the case: the environment in the EU, good and bad news

The European Environment Agency is preparing for the Gothenburg European Council the second edition of its Environmental signals indicator report. This report will confirm some of the findings of the first report and provide some new insights in the development of major environmental issues in the EU:

  • Climate change: for all six greenhouse gases under the Kyoto protocol data show a decrease of 2% between 1990 and 1998 for EU15. Latest projections however foresee that the decrease up to 2010 will be only 1%, still far away from the 8% needed according to the Kyoto protocol. Behind the slight decrease in the emissions of all gases stands an expected 3-4% increase in carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Waste: Total waste generation in the EU continues to increase: between 1995 and 1998 an estimated 8 to 9 percent.
  • Chemicals: The loads of a number of well known hazardous substances in the North- East Atlantic Ocean have decreased between 1990 and 1998, which shows the effects of target setting in OSPAR. An overall indicator on the production of hazardous chemicals in Europe could not be made, because data were not available, which is symptomatic for the information available on hazardous substances.
  • Land use and biodiversity: Between 1990 to 1998, 10 hectare of land were used every day for motorway construction in the EU. Permanent grasslands, with their specific flora and fauna, are diminishing by around 11% in the last 25 years. This is because they are ploughed up in intensive agricultural areas and used more intensively here, or they are abandoned in marginal areas.
  • Environment and human health: ozone and fine particles remain the major air pollution problems: no trends can yet be seen in their concentrations.

In several other areas improvements can be seen as a result of many years environmental policy, such as in the emissions of main air pollutants, in the concentration of phosphorus in rivers (but not for nitrogen), and in urban waste water treatment.

My perception on the general situation is that we are not yet there where we would like to be and we can still repeat some old (1999) messages:

  • In spite of the relative success of environment policies particularly at EU level, there has not been a general improvement of environmental quality and little progress towards sustainable development.
  • From now on, the progress towards sustainable development and even on environmental quality will not come directly from environmental policies, but from socio-economic policies, guided by sustainability and reinforced environment policies.

The responsibility of the sectors
But the prospects are better as many initiatives are focusing on the development of societal sectors:
Environmental signals 2001 concludes:
"The challenge thus lies in the evolving patterns and scale of consumption and production: transport is constantly increasing, in particular those modes that are least sustainable (road and air); transport is a core activity of the tourism sector that is rapidly growing as the first service sector in the European economy; a growing number of households makes up new consumerism expenditures, shifting from basic to less basic needs (transport, fuel, recreation); agriculture, though no longer expanding, remains largely intensive in its changing production processes. "

Make sectoral policies more sustainable and we will get substantial improvements in environment quality and in progress towards more sustainable development. This is supported by a wealth of statistics highlighting the causing factors of these developments:

  • Total energy demand in the EU grew by an average of 1.3 % per year between 1980 and 1998
  • There has been a steady fall in domestic electricity prices -- about 1 % per year in real terms between 1985 and 1996, with electricity consumption per household growing by 0.9 % per year between 1990 and 1997
  • The demand for transport fuels is growing faster than overall energy demand.
  • EU average price of road fuel in 2000 was lower than in the first half of the 1980s
  • Household expenditure is nearly twice what it was in 1980, with a marked increase on recreation, transport (+14% over last 20 years --only +3% on public transport) and tourism (+16% between 1990 and 1997).
  • Prices in tourism industry are continually decreasing resulting in more customer-friendly deals and more trips per capita
  • There has been less progress in improving eco-efficiency in agriculture than in other sectors. The consumption of fertilisers and pesticides has been reduced, but problems of nutrient surplus persist

For facing the mentioned challenges and dealing with sectoral policies the prospects in the European Union are brighter than at any moment in the past. A more efficient framework for policy action and timely review of progress is emerging:

  • the Amsterdam Treaty makes sustainability a goal for the European Union (Articles 2 and 6);
  • the 1998 Cardiff Initiative (see below) building on Prime Minister Göran Persson's proposal at the Luxembourg summit in December 1997 stimulated the integration of environment and other policies and as such put the integration process and sustainability thinking in a faster track;
  • the Helsinki summit discussed the first sectoral integration strategies, and placed these in the framework of the development of an overall sustainability strategy and the development of the 6th Environmental Action Programme. At the same time it set out a cycle for regularly revisiting progress in sectoral integration on the European Council level.
  • And the Gothenburg summit should take stock of all this and make the proposals for merging this ‘sustainability' agenda (mostly environmental) with the Lisbon ‘socio-economic' agenda and making the links with the March 2001 Stockholm summit. It is expected that this will end up into a single yearly reporting cycle, building on the so-called socio-economic ‘synthesis report' (with 27 indicators) and to be dealt with by the spring summits (the first one in Barcelona in 2002).

However it is important to use these opportunities now and provide a clear way forward.

3. Towards a new way of policy making and the role of sustainability indicators

The development of the Cardiff initiative [1] through the Helsinki European Council, to be continued in Gothenburg provides an example of integrated thinking in policy development. The so-called Lisbon process, starting with the March 2000 European summit on employment, economic reform and social cohesion was the start of a equally intensive process for integrating social and economic aspects of development. In the end, of course, both processes from Cardiff to Gothenburg and from Lisbon to Stockholm have to lead to some ‘joined up thinking' on all aspects of sustainable development at European Council level and repeated every year at the spring summit. Keywords in both processes are and will have to be transparency and accountability.

What happened precisely in these processes, and how far have we come?
The Helsinki European Council in December 1999 was (after Councils in Cardiff and Vienna) already the third high-level meeting discussing the need to integrate environmental and other policies. It concluded the following regarding the "Cardiff initiative”:

  • The Council is asked to bring all of this work (strategies on agriculture, transport, energy -- already agreed -- and on internal market, development, industry, general affairs, ECOFIN, fisheries) to a conclusion and submit to the Gothenburg summit comprehensive strategies with the possibility of including a timetable for measures and a set of indicators for these sectors.
  • The strategies should be immediately implemented. Regular evaluation, follow-up and monitoring must be undertaken; the EC and Council to develop instruments and data.
  • The EC is asked to prepare a proposal for a 6th Environmental Action Programme (end of 2000) and a long-term strategy dovetailing policies for economically, socially and ecologically sustainable development to be presented to the Gothenburg summit (also as an input for the Rio+10 review).

From these conclusions we can see a process emerging (figure 2).

Figure 2:
Measure and Communicate Sustainable Development: A Science and Policy Dialogue

In this model the EU sustainability strategy forms the chapeau for two parallel lines of policy development: (1) The environmental issues and environmental policies in a narrow sense are covered by the development of the 6EAP and the envisaged thematic plans. (2) The integration process is carried out in the development, implementation and follow-up of sector environment integration strategies.
Transparency is achieved by developing in two interlinked "corridors” sectoral strategies and the 6th Environmental Action Programme, which should outline a clear long-term vision for policy making. Accountability is enhanced because behind each of the strategies indicators and reporting mechanisms are foreseen to regularly report on progress or lack of progress in the reaching of the aims and targets of the strategies.
Overall monitoring of progress made in both policy ‘corridors' using a selected number of, so called, headline indicators, completes the policy cycle.

In the meantime the EC programme for the next five years was published. ‘Shaping the New Europe', (EC Communication of February 2000) identified four strategic objectives for the five years ahead, with a clear place for integration and sustainability:

  • To promote new forms of European Governance
  • A stable Europe with a voice in the world
  • A new economic and social Agenda (‘This means modernising our economy for the digital age in a manner which promotes employment and sustainable development, whilst remodelling our systems of social protection in order to build a fair and caring society')
  • A better quality of life (‘We must provide effective answer to the issues which affect the daily lives of our citizens, notably the environment, food safety, consumer protection rights, justice and security against crimes.')

The Lisbon summit (March 2000) on employment, economic reform and social cohesion (a Europe based on innovation and knowledge) was the next step in making sustainable development even more concrete. Some spin offs:

  • In March in the European Parliament President Prodi made a call for an integrated approach including economic and social aspects. The Parliament called for a single report on the economic and social situation. The environmental dimension was still overseen here, however.
  • In September 2000 the Commission adopted its Communication on Structural Indicators. It includes a set (27, and 11 to be developed) of socio-economic indicators around the themes Employment, Innovation, Economic reform, and Social cohesion. Energy efficiency is included, but no other aspects of the environment.
  • The aim of these would be to progress of the EU "… capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” A first report will be delivered to the Stockholm summit before Gothenburg.
  • Commissioner Solbes mentioned in a speech "the indicators provide an instrument for monitoring, benchmarking and peer pressure which are vital elements of the Lisbon follow-up strategy”. His technical arguments for the choice are in line with the "state of art” rules for using information in policy processes: comprehensiveness -- discipline - continuity -- learning by doing in an ongoing process.

From an operational point of view the merging of the economic and social dimensions with the environmental dimension brings us to a hypothetical "three corridors” model (fig. 3):

Measure and Communicate Sustainable Development: A Science and Policy Dialogue
Figure 3:

If this model develops it may help not only to reduce the inconsistency between environment and economic and sectoral policy but also between those polices themselves (such as between energy, transport, agriculture and fiscality), and it could show that the environmental sustainability part is the area which is maybe the most advanced in terms of accountability.

In fact, and pending conclusions from the Stockholm summit, the EC synthesis report already foresees to add to the socio-economic agenda the (more environmentally oriented) sustainability strategy and I quote:
"From Stockholm to Gothenburg: Adding a Sustainable Dimension. Lisbon needs an environmental dimension. Taken together, the Lisbon strategy sets us on course for greater social inclusion and economic growth. But the strategy risks failing to deliver long-term prosperity unless it also identifies and tackles unsustainable trends which risk undermining the Lisbon vision of a competitive, knowledge-based and inclusive society. For example, increased mobility and more advanced transportation systems need to rely on a well-matched use of existing and new energy sources and on a rational land use. Ageing populations, as highlighted above, will challenge social protection and healthcare systems and may reduce the room for manœuvre in budgetary policy. The economic and social dimensions of Lisbon must be completed by integrating an environmental dimension to contribute to a European Union strategy for sustainable development. A strategy which is oriented towards innovation and more investment, exploiting the possibilities offered by frontier technologies. A strategy which can draw on further market reforms - including targeted taxation - aimed at getting prices right to reflect better the costs of environmental degradation and offer incentives for change. A strategy constructed on a strong analytical basis. At Gothenburg objectives must be set out for sustainable growth. Defining this overall approach to sustainability will fall to the European Council in Gothenburg. One key target should be to return to the Spring European Council in 2002 having identified the decisions required to adapt the Lisbon Strategy to the objectives identified in Gothenburg.
Recalling the words of Commissioner Solbes on indicators, monitoring, benchmarking and peer pressure (see before), also such an extended ‘three corridor system” must be accompanied by interlinked indicators. As the main policy activities are happening within each of the corridors, it seems the most logical to derive part of the overall EU sustainability (headline) indicators (or convergence criteria) from the existing initiatives, and then accompany them with some crosscutting ones.

4. Clear structures are needed for making indicators work

Assuming that policy developers in the EU aim at a rational and efficient set of policies we may expect that under the sustainable development strategy a number of interlinked and mutually supporting policies emerge. Else the strategy could as well not have been written.
Speaking from the side of those who provide information to support policy making, I would like to sketch how we see progress reporting and assessment of such an integrated set of policies developing.

Clear structures are needed to communicate to policy makers how the information that we provide is related to policy processes and to make clear what type of information serves which process.

In parallel to the ‘corridors' in strategic policy making, clusters of environmental indicators are being developed (fig. 4).

Measure and Communicate Sustainable Development: A Science and Policy Dialogue
Figure 4:

The sectoral integration strategies (sectoral sustainability) need to be monitored using indicators for the integration of environment and sectoral policies. The Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism as developed by the EEA with support of Eurostat and the Commission is a good example for these (see box 1). The EEA is now, together with its partners, developing similar reports for Energy and Agriculture. Attention is needed for a good co-ordination between the sectoral reporting mechanisms. The recently published proposal for indicators for enterprises, for example, is out of scope with the whole system. An EEA publication providing a common framework for reporting on the conventional sectors is in preparation.

Box1 : The TERM process and concept: a model to be followed by other sectors?

The Amsterdam Treaty identifies integration of environmental and sectoral policies as the way forward to sustainable development. The European Council, at its Summit in Cardiff in 1998, requested the Commission and the transport ministers to focus their efforts on developing integrated transport and environment strategies. At the same time, and following initial work by the European Environment Agency on transport and environment indicators, the joint Transport and Environment Council invited the Commission and the EEA to set up a Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM), which should enable policy-makers to gauge the progress of their integration policies.

The main output of TERM is a regular indicator-based report through which the effectiveness of transport and environment integration strategies can be monitored. The first indicator report --was published in 2000. TERM-2001 is currently under preparation (publication expected in September 2001).

The TERM indicators were selected and grouped to address the seven key questions:

  1. Is the environmental performance of the transport sector improving?
  2. Are we getting better at managing transport demand and at improving the modal split?
  3. Are spatial and transport planning becoming better coordinated so as to match transport demand to the needs of access?
  4. Are we optimising the use of existing transport infrastructure capacity and moving towards a better-balanced intermodal transport system?
  5. Are we moving towards a fairer and more efficient pricing system, which ensures that external costs are internalised?
  6. How rapidly are improved technologies being implemented and how efficiently are vehicles being used?
  7. How effectively are environmental management and monitoring tools being used to support policy and decision-making?

The TERM indicator list was developed after consultation with various Commission services, national experts, other international organisations and researchers. The indicators cover all the most important aspects of the transport and environment system (Driving forces, Pressures, State of the environment, Impacts, and societal Responses -- the so-called DPSIR framework) and include eco-efficiency indicators.

The current list is a long-term vision of an ‘ideal' list and some of the proposed indicators could not at this stage be quantified. Where data availability has prevented an EU 15 analysis, national examples or proxy indicators are used.

The TERM process is steered jointly by the Commission (DG TREN, DGENV, Eurostat) and the European Environment Agency. The Member States and other international organisations are consulted regularly.

Source: EEA, 2001, TERM 2001: indicators tracking transport and environment integration

The 6th environmental action programme and envisaged specific action plans to achieve environmental sustainability need to be monitored using sets of selected issue indicators. The EC Communication (COM(2001)31) which includes the 6th Environmental Action Programme and a proposal for a Council decision, tries to establish not only the environmental sustainability pillar of an upcoming EU sustainable development strategy, but also pays attention to the necessary monitoring and reporting. The EEA is currently developing proposals for indicators on the environmental issues in the 6th EAP, which will find their way into our publications. EEA's Environmental signals report series will develop into the main indicator report on environmental sustainability.

The European Commission together with the EEA, Eurostat and the member states will soon publish the first report on environmental headline indicators. This is a very limited set of ten indicators for main EU environmental problems.

While it is still open how the Decision will define finally the system to monitor progress and implementation of the 6th EAP, we can identify what can be the EEA contributions based on the EEA ongoing information and reporting system (see Box 2).

Box 2 : EEA contributions to the 6th Environmental Action Programme of the European Communities

1. Monitoring Progress (benchmarking and accountability)

Yearly reporting (or periodical updating)

  • Indicators: ‘Environmental Signals 2000 … 2010'
  • Thematic Assessments: ‘Air Quality', ‘GHGE Climate Change'… (on priority areas)
  • Sectoral (integration) assessment: transport, energy, agriculture …
  • Headline indicators (open questions remain)

Pluri-annual reporting

  • ‘EU Environment and prospects' - 2004 (for 6th EAP review -- 2008)

2. Supporting Policy (specific thematic plans following 6th EAP)

Framing (prior information/consultation)

  • Thematic state-of-environment/state-of-action, to support new EC initiatives
  • Implementation (and reporting obligations)
  • Thematic … to support EC implementation and enforcement
  • Streamlining the monitoring to reporting process (moving from best available information to best/badly needed information (Bridging the Gap process). Part of the reporting obligations (e.g. Ozone) ).

3. Dissemination of information including best practices

For ‘doers': Businesses and Municipalities

  • Development of basis for (business/urban) sustainability. Communication platform. Performance reporting -- best practices (indicators -- benchmarking -- handbook -- success stories -- awards)
  • Development of thematic interest groups, clearinghouses, pools (ENVIROWINDOWS)

For experts (and NGOs), public at large

  • The EEA Reference Centre. One-stop shop/main-door/portal for EU's Environmental Information
  • The EEA web page
  • Educational packages or spin-offs of EEA reporting

Types of indicators
There are a few common elements in all of these indicator sets. The indicators should not just be presentations of statistics, but be part of an analysis of progress made. That means, that as far as possible the indicators should be developed as performance indicators (linking with an agreed target, see figure 5), as efficiency indicators (showing the relation with production and other economic variables, figure 6) and as policy effectiveness indicators (showing the effect of policy measures and structural developments, fig 7).
It is our experience that a presentation of eco-efficiency indicators with separate lines for the development of an (economic) activity and for environmental pressures, instead of a ratio, is the most understandable. In the ideal case the lines will after a period of parallel development go in a different direction: a (absolute) decoupling of environmental pressure from economic development is necessary for sustainable development. The example below shows this development clearly for all gases, although in 1998 there seems to be a tendency to follow economic development again. As was already mentioned above, eco-efficiency indicators and ratios can easily be compared between different entities, like between companies and countries or between different societal sectors. Therefore this type of indicator is such a good communication tool and provides an incentive to continually improve performances.
Policy effectiveness indicators show the results of the analysis why an indicator is developing in a certain direction. This kind of indicators makes clear what have been the influence of structural changes in the economy or in production processes, and the influence of environmental decision-making.
The analysis of progress made should include the comparison with peers. The indicators thus form also a starting point for a benchmarking exercise between countries, between sectors and between other actors (see next section).

Figure 5. Example of a performance indicator: emissions of ozone precursors, EU15Measure and Communicate Sustainable Development: A Science and Policy Dialogue

Figure 6. Example of an eco-efficiency indicator: the energy supply sector, EU15
Measure and Communicate Sustainable Development: A Science and Policy Dialogue

Figure 7. Example of a policy effectiveness indicator: sulphur dioxide emissions by conventional power plants, EU15Measure and Communicate Sustainable Development: A Science and Policy Dialogue

Consistency and discipline
In regular indicator based reporting consistency and discipline should be strived for. Consistency is needed in choosing indicators to report on thematic action programs making sure that sectoral contributions can be identified. Consistency is needed in the sector-environment reporting mechanisms to allow for comparing progress between sectors and to be able to analyse and compare progress in the use of ‘integration' instruments. Consistency is also needed in the further development of the ‘headline'-indicators and the development of a merger between the structural indicators, the environmental headline indicators and the eventual sectoral headline indicators.

However, there are still some open questions in the implementation of the whole system:
Regarding the sector integration pillar:

  • Will all the sector-economic policies dare to agree on a package of (consistent) indicators?
  • To what extent will sector reporting mechanisms have to include all dimensions of sustainable development?
  • Will the sectors allow for external/independent assessment of progress and benchmarking?
  • Will the sectors dare to fix/accept targets on time (for different indicators)? Either on the strategies or in related follow-up plans?

Regarding the environmental issues/6EAP pillar?

  • Will the 6th EAP during the coming discussions develop into the reference frame for the environmental sustainability pillar? And will it become stronger on targets and indicators to measure progress?

Regarding the socio-economic pillar:

  • Will the "Cardiff initiative” (towards Gothenburg) and the Lisbon -- Feira process (towards Stockholm) join?

And in relation to this: will the EC proposal on a sustainability strategy set the model and the process for the three pillars of sustainable development (social -- economic -- environment)?
An even more important question for the implementation is:

  • Will countries also develop a similar transparent structure for monitoring progress in policies? Up to now the experience with headline and sectoral indicators shows that countries are at least hesitant to follow these developments.

5. Putting indicators to work

The main envisaged roles for the indicators build on the experience of the use of GDP and also of the EMU convergence parameters, that you can only:

  • manage what you measure (indicators)
  • respond and be rewarded/penalised for those things which you can be held accountable (benchmarking), and
  • achieve what has been agreed (targets).

Critics may say that indicators and targets are a far too simplistic response to complex issues, but in reality they are the top of an iceberg of information and more important: they seem to work!

5.1 Using scorecards, peer pressure, benchmarking and best experiences
Score cards are overviews of the progress of countries, cities, companies or other entities based on a number of well-selected variables. Sometimes scorecards are based on an index aggregating many different indicators. Their use for comparing the progress made by countries allows for "naming and faming” for those who achieved a lot, with the potential for the others to learn from the experiences, and for "naming and shaming” of those that failed to achieve progress.
In a still basic form the EEA developed such a scorecard based on its indicator report Environmental signals 2000 (figure 8)
The paper by Peter Bosch for this meeting [2] goes into the details of producing these scorecards.

Figure 8:
Measure and Communicate Sustainable Development: A Science and Policy Dialogue

Apart from encouraging countries (or the other entities compared) to do better, this information provides the entry point for a benchmarking exercise. In this example (figure 8) the situation and policies in the countries at the right side should be explored in detail to see which factors and which levers were responsible for the good performance. Policy effectiveness indicators (see Section 3) are useful tools for this. Successful measures and policies (the success stories) should be considered for adaptation and use by others. Ultimately any collection of indicators should go together with a system for sharing ‘best experiences'. The EEA is developing the ‘Envirowindows' tool [3] as a mechanism for decentralised collection and sharing of this information by and for environmental managers.

5.2 Using convergence criteria
Identifying indicators is a first step towards agreeing on targets.
As the EMU convergence criteria were able to move EU member states quickly in the direction of Euroland, sustainability targets should be able to move societies towards a general improvement of sustainability. What we need now are sustainability convergence criteria!

The first principle for developing such sustainability convergence criteria is summarised in the statement: "For every complex problem there is a simple answer and it is always wrong”.
Sometimes scientists consider with horror the easy with which policy makers push a solution for a complex issue. However, when policy makers are able to agree on simple approximations, then they often work and lead to faster progress compared to more balanced approaches. Apart from the EMU convergence criteria, we have seen examples in the use of the Kyoto target for emissions of a basket of six greenhouse gas, the negotiations in the framework of the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution using no exceedance of critical deposition loads as starting point. We should not be afraid to develop some bold measures and accompanying bold targets.

Secondly use of the sustainable convergence criteria ask for simplicity, in other words the answer to the question "what is really important and at stake”.

Measure and Communicate Sustainable Development: A Science and Policy Dialogue

Of course, while this core of indicators and related targets serves to monitor and benchmark overall progress, nothing avoids us to develop some specific thematic monitoring systems, if required, when some priority issues are identified politically. This seems to be the case for the emerging EU Sustainable Development Strategy (climate change and clean energy -- management of natural resources -- mobility -- land use and territorial management -- public health -- poverty and social exclusion -- demography and ageing).

Especially the business sector has been very keen on answering the question ‘What is really important', to be able to use environment like other criteria in business management. As many of the "new” approaches such as benchmarking, steering by indicators, etc. stem from business management and financial accounting, it is no wonder that the business sector has applied these tools also for environmental and sustainability issues. Few people are aware of this progress and government administrations certainly can learn from the companies. This interaction between companies and government could even lead to a re-inforced co-operation in the field of the environment and sustainability.
Companies at the forefront of sustainability thinking have joined together in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, wouldn't it be an idea for national states to join in a similar club of Member States for sustainability?

Companies have realised that innovation in environmental protection, service economy, and consumer ethics is a key to success.
One can find a ‘proof' of this theory when looking at the performance of a selection of the companies included in the Dow Jones index based on good scores on a sustainability criteria scorecard. The shares of this selection (the Dow Jones Sustainability General Index: DJSGI-line in the graph) did considerably better on the financial market than the average of Dow Jones companies.

Figure 9:
Measure and Communicate Sustainable Development: A Science and Policy Dialogue

Innovation and forward thinking result from interactions between companies, comparing continuously each other scorecards, and between companies and the outside world. Apart from consumer pressure the legal framework provided by the government is an important aspect. Results from a worldwide questionnaire show that clear government policies stimulate companies to innovate and thus become more competitive (figure 10):

Figure 10:
Measure and Communicate Sustainable Development: A Science and Policy Dialogue

Progressive parts of the business sector are now formulating sustainability convergence criteria to have a clear target for their companies, to be able to benchmark and the monitor progress (Figure 11). It is now up to national governments and the EU to develop their sustainability strategies in a similar clear and transparent process, to achieve the progress needed with the involvement of all stakeholders.

Figure 11: WBCSD sustainability convergence criteria
Measure and Communicate Sustainable Development: A Science and Policy Dialogue

[1] The Cardiff European Council (meeting of heads of state of the EU member countries) formed the starting point of a process stimulating sectoral councils (energy, transport, etc.) to come up with strategies for integrating environmental concerns in their policies and to propose mechanisms based on indicators to report on progress.
[2] Peter Bosch: Aggregating the EU headline indicators
[3] via the EEA homepage under services.

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