Sustainability Metrics • Lecture 1-Weak Sustainability Metrics Dr Bernadette O’Regan • Lecture 2-Strong Sustainability Metrics Prof Richard Moles • Lecture 3-Can we decouple growth or development from environmental impact? Dr Bernadette O’Regan • Reading: http://www.epa.ie/downloads/pubs/other/indicators/irlenv/ http://www.foeeurope.org/publications/2009/seri_foee_measuring_eu_resource_use_final.pdf http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/signals-2009
Weak Vs Strong Sustainability • The meaning of sustainability is the subject of intense debate among environmental and resource economists. The debate currently • focuses on the substitutability between the economy and the environment or between “natural capital” and “man-made capital”-- a debate captured in terms of “weak” vs. “strong” sustainability. • “Weak” sustainability, based on the work of neoclassical economists Robert Solow and John Hartwick, suggest that sustainability is based on the aggregate stock of man-made and natural capital, i.e. that there is a certain amount of substitutability between man-made and natural capital. • Proponents of “strong” sustainability insist that natural capital cannot be substituted with other forms of capital. • Sustainability Indicators are measures of “weak” sustainability as socio-economic issues are included • Ecological Footprints are measures of “strong” sustainability as they only include environmental parameters
Why we need to measure sustainability • General agreement now that we need to manage for a more sustainable development…whatever definition is used. • Sustainability being included as policy at most levels nationally, at EU level and globally. • Cannot manage what we cannot measure, therefore need to measure and monitor sustainability performance. • Need to be able to benchmark progress, identify which policies and actions have been successful. • Policy-makers need justification especially if something new is proposed and this justification must be documented and come from a trustworthy source.
Why we need to measure sustainability • Policy-makers will be more likely to create achievable policies if they understand the importance of interactions between the environment or society and the implications of choosing one objective over another • However, policy-makers often require ‘one number’ and this is problematic as it leads to oversimplification…and benchmarking against what has happened elsewhere is important for justification. • Many variables in sustainability, these often have complex interactions. • Difficult/impossible and very expensive to measure everything. • Therefore need to use indicators.
What are Indicators? Indicators are pieces of information which simplify complex phenomena and highlight the trends of system functioning, through summarising or typifying the characteristics of particular systems. Sustainability indicators aim at monitoring key aspects of the interactions between society and nature, to generate information regarding current state and underlying causes. In order to achieve sustainability, it is necessary to have appropriate performance indicators of the economy and natural systems that give us appropriate information about the status of those systems. Indicators are useful tools to communicate simplified, concise and scientifically credible information on problems of sustainable development, which are too complex to measure directly.
Place your headings here for each slide, over one or two lines. • The three basic functions of indicators are simplification, quantification and communication. • By translating the concept of sustainable development into numerical terms which are simple to understand, indicators can be used to raise environmental awareness among the public, as well as to strengthen public support for policy measures. • Sustainability indicators differ from classical indicators; they do not simply reflect environmental conditions or pressures on the environment, but indicate interactive characteristics between socioeconomic and ecological systems. • Indicators can chart and track progress towards or away from sustainable development.
Place your headings here for each slide, over one or two lines. • Criteria for selection of indicators: • Data for indicator development should be readily available. • Indicator should be easy to understand and communicate. • Indicators should relate to data that can be measured. • Indicators should be specific and appropriate, illustrating key aspects of relevant issues. • There should be a short time-lag between aspects being measured and presentation of developed indicators referring to these, to enable indicators to be used for effective policy-making. • Indicators should be based on information that can be used to compare what happens at different times, developments and geographical areas. • Indicators should facilitate international comparisons
One Large Heading • It is important to distinguish indicators from measurements or statistics. Although indicators rely on measurements and statistics as a starting point, comprehensive indicators contain measurements, trends in measurements over time, roles and contributions of various stakeholders and specific targets. • Although primary data are the basis for analysis, raw data are seldom meaningful to the general public, policy-makers or even scientists themselves, meaning usually emerges through further analysis. • Indicators therefore, are interpretations of reality, providing a quantitative account of a complex situation or process.
Examples of Sustainability Indicators • Environment:Per Capita Waste Volume, %Sewerage Connection, Transport CO2 Emissions, Electricity CO2 Emissions, Level of Wastewater Treatment, % Recycling, %Green Energy Interest. • Socio-economic: Population Density, Annual Income, %Households in Social Housing, %Primary Education as Highest Level, %Cert./Dipl. as Highest Level • Quality of Life: Distance to Nearest Hospital (Km), %45+ Hours Employment, GPs per 1000 Population.
Increasing Aggregation International Level Policy Aggregated Metrics National Level Policy Component Metrics Regional Level Policy Indicators Local Level Policy
Problems with Aggregation • Detail can be lost • Resultant policies may not be specific enough to achieve goals • Can be misleading and result in bad policies