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Experiments in Measuring Sustainability - The Environmental Sustainability Index and its Critics. Marc Levy CIESIN marc.levy@ciesin.columbia.edu http://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/es/esi/. CIESIN involvement with sustainability indicators. 1999-2005 Environmental Sustainability Index

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experiments in measuring sustainability the environmental sustainability index and its critics

Experiments in Measuring Sustainability - The Environmental Sustainability Index and its Critics

Marc Levy

CIESIN

marc.levy@ciesin.columbia.edu

http://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/es/esi/

ciesin involvement with sustainability indicators
CIESIN involvement with sustainability indicators
  • 1999-2005
    • Environmental Sustainability Index
      • Collection of national-level indicators suitable for comparison and aggregation
  • 2005-2006
    • Environmental Performance Index
      • Collection of national-level “report cards” measuring proximity to policy “targets”
    • Proposal to U.S. Millennium Challenge Account currently in public review (http://www.mca.gov/countries/selection/NRS_indicator.shtml)
  • 2002-2006
    • Collection of integrated well-being / environment indicators to support research into systemic interactions
      • E.g. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
sustainability indicators in context
Sustainability Indicators in Context

Understanding

Evaluation and Learning

Engagement and Deliberation

Goal-Setting

Implementation

  • Useful Indicators can improve ability to
  • - Describe problems accurately and saliently
  • - Diagnose the causes of these problems
  • - Design solutions commensurate with description and diagnosis
  • - Drive action with ongoing monitoring and evaluation
criticism
Criticism
  • Multi-dimensionality plus aggregation = confusion
  • Aggregates not grounded in theory; not subject to testing
  • Weights are ultimately arbitrary
response
Response
  • There is a demand for aggregated numbers
  • Although aggregation can be misused, it can be useful
  • Transparency can temper arbitrariness
the esi gives strong weight to social and institutional capacity measures
The ESI gives strong weight to social and institutional capacity measures
  • Social and Institutional Capacity one of five core components of the ESI
    • 4 of the ESI’s 21 indicators are capacity measures
      • Governance
      • Eco-efficiency
      • Private Sector Responsiveness
      • Science and Technology
    • 24 variables used to quantify these indicators
the critique
The critique
  • “Rewards” wealthy countries
  • Capacity measures aren’t environmental, so they cloud the picture of environmental sustainability
  • Some of attributes of high capacity are linked to patterns of high environmental stress (e.g. resource consumption)– might send wrong signal
response1
Response
  • Stick with it because it matters
  • Erect clear boundaries separating governance from drivers and impacts
the esi combines things that are within governments near term control and those that are not
The ESI combines things that are within governments near-term control and those that are not
  • Exposure to environmental natural hazards
  • Endangered species
  • Anthropogenic land conversion
  • Projected population growth
slide10
Things that happened long in the past aren’t relevant for current planning
  • Things that can’t be controlled aren’t relevant

Criticism: This confuses whatever signal the ESI wants to send about performance

response i
Response, I
  • Given what ESI was trying to quantify, it makes sense to include both kinds of metrics
    • ESI is meant to measure ability to maintain favorable environmental conditions long into the future
    • That is a function of the cumulative, interacting effects of exogenous conditions, behaviors undertaken in the past, and behaviors undertaken in the future
response ii
Response, II
  • A Pilot Environmental Performance Index
    • Focuses only on measures subject to policy intervention
    • Metrics are benchmarked in terms of proximity to target
  • Natural Resource Management Indicator
    • Proposed for use by Millennium Challenge Account
      • Unweighted average of
        • Access to water
        • Access to sanitation
        • Child mortality (age 1-4)
        • Achievement of 10% protection target, by biome
clear sustainability targets remain elusive
Clear Sustainability Targets Remain Elusive
  • Human-oriented indicators tend to be linked to clear targets
    • Child Mortality
    • Drinking Water
    • Sanitation
    • Urban Particulates
    • BIG EXCEPTION: Indoor Air Pollution
slide14
Ecosystem-oriented targets hard to find
    • Regional ozone
    • Nitrogen loading
    • Water consumption
    • Wilderness Protection
    • Overfishing

These are problems that manifest themselves over complicated transnational,

multi-scale, coupled-system dynamics

measurement infrastructure is not adequate
Measurement Infrastructure is not Adequate
  • Of the 16 indicators included in EPI, only 9 are updated on a regular basis
    • The indicators measured regularly are dominated by human-focused indicators
  • This reinforces the current policy stalemate
    • Hard to set goals when metrics aren’t available
    • Hard to mobilize support for measurement in the absence of policy goals
    • MDGs help reinvigorate many socioeconomic measurement efforts – did not have same effect on the environment