DESA News Vol. 12, No. 04 April 2008


The greening of statisticsThe greening of statistics

Effective national strategies for dealing with climate change are predicated on integration of economic, social, and environmental data

The intricate web of geophysical, economic, and social effects of climate change poses a special challenge for public policy-makers. While analysis of public and private activity tends to be sectoral in nature, these sectors interact in complex ways that are difficult to understand and even more difficult to measure. For policy-makers hoping to make sense of the total system, and devise appropriate policy responses, getting the data right is an essential first step.

Yet, worldwide, official statistics related to climate change are often approached in an ad hoc matter. While some national statistical offices are heavily engaged and provide all official estimates required in the monitoring efforts, others undertake only analytical efforts, principally to investigate the effects of mitigation protocols on the national economy or the impact of climate change in planning scenarios. Many others have no activities at all related to this topic.

For leading statisticians such as Paul Cheung, Director of the DESA Statistics Division, such an ad hoc approach is no longer viable. “The global statistical community is very eager to develop a coherent, integrated data gathering framework to help policy-makers respond to climate change,” says Cheung, citing the role of carbon markets in the green economy as a case in point. For the exchange of carbon credits to work efficiently, accurate statistics on the physical phenomena are needed along with data on the economic and social impacts of emissions pricing.

Moving forward

For three days in April, from the 14th to the 16th, directors of national statistical offices and environmental statisticians will meet in Oslo to explore the role of official statistics in the measurement of the impacts of climate change, and devise a joint plan of action. To signal that green statistics are a cross-cutting challenge for all countries – and not just a question of environmental monitoring – the Oslo conference will be opened by the Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, an economist and former head of Norway’s finance, trade and energy, and environment ministries.

“The Oslo conference is the first of its kind,” notes Cheung, adding that it is expected to attract over 100 high-level statistical experts from around the world. These leaders in numerical analysis will look at greenhouse gas emission calculations, carbon markets, assessment of adaptation and mitigation strategies, and climate change modelling in support of the next report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The first challenge to be addressed is whether the existing sectoral statistics, dealing with such areas as energy, transport, water, air quality, land use, forestry are indeed adequate. A related challenge is defining the role of national statistical offices in the estimation of greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring that the statistics that they collect can be made readily available to the policy-shapers and policy-makers who formulate and implement national strategies for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change.

Statistics underlying the estimation of greenhouse gas emissions encompass and feed primarily on energy statistics, but also on a wide spectrum of statistics on basic activities such as production of industrial commodities, agriculture, forestry, transport, international trade, land use, waste water, wastes, and others. Detailed statistics on physical flows in these activities are needed for development of greenhouse gas emission inventories. Emissions and removals of greenhouse gases are calculated or estimated on the basis of activity data with the help of emission factors.

Economic, social and environmental impact assessment

The development of the methods of calculation and estimation and the establishment of the emission factors is usually outside the scope of official statistics. However, as these calculations are based on a large amount of official statistics, and the reliability of the calculations depend on data quality, the national statistical offices need to be involved in the process for them to grasp more fully the special needs for statistics as well as in order to allow the other actors such as environment and energy ministries and research institutes to appreciate more thoroughly the role of statistical standards, classifications and the advantage of their use.

Measurement of the impact of climate change is to a large extent based on sources outside the statistical system. They include meteorological and hydrological information, physical environmental data and data from scientific research. Impact analysis is usually outside official statistics and belongs to the field of modelling. While the driving forces and pressures related to climate change are local, their impact can be felt at different levels, from global through regional and national to local, depending on the type of the impact.

In order to assess the impacts of climate change and the consequent adaptation and mitigation measures, however, this information has to be linked with existing statistics on the population, on human and economic activities and on the environment such as exposure, vulnerability or adaptive capacity. Impacts on the economy, the society and the natural environment have to be assessed. Statistical offices have a role in the integration of the different data sets with official statistics with the objective of describing the vulnerability or adaptive capacity of a country to the impact of climate change.

An important issue for policy makers as well as all public and private decision-makers involved with reacting to climate change is the measurement and assessment of the costs and benefits of policies, measures and instruments for adaptation and mitigation, and the weighing of tradeoffs between alternative courses of action. Monitoring the effectiveness and impacts of these courses of action is also essential. How official statistics can facilitate assessment of policy alternatives and decision-making as well as impact evaluation of adaptation and mitigation strategies undertaken is an area of concern.

Monitoring the carbon market

Recent years have seen a tremendous growth in the market for the sale and purchase of carbon permits and various other derivative securities related to carbon caps, the right to emit carbon and the ability to offset carbon emissions by investing in green projects elsewhere, particularly in the developing world. National statistics related to the diverse aspects of carbon have yet to catch up with the measurement needs of this growing market. National statistical offices need to examine the implications of carbon trading for the economy and economic growth with a view to better capturing in official statistics, such variables as the carbon intensity of production.

Economists have long used input-output tables to examine the structure and composition of production, namely what inputs go into a unit of output produced and how a unit of production affects the economy as a whole through backward and forward linkages with other industries and sectors. Input-output tables can be useful in this regard, specifically for the analysis of the many facets of the carbon economy and the measurement of the total carbon impact of specific economic activities.

Climate change scenario development and modelling

By its nature, climate change is a planetary phenomenon, while the gathering of data and statistics is, in the first instance, a national task. Therefore, ensuring that the official statistics related to climate change that are aggregated from national sources are consistent and reliable is a major challenge. The fifth assessment report of the IPCC will need to rely on increasingly more sophisticated scenario building and modelling, drawing, for its inputs, on statistics provided by national statistical offices and other sources on such fields as population, economic growth and income, energy structure and other driving forces in climate change.

There is an urgent need for the integration of statistics to describe and monitor all aspects of climate change, which are manifold and come from multiple sources. Most importantly, frameworks must be developed that integrate statistics related to climate change and link official statistics with other information. A multi-year initiative of the Statistics Division, with other partners such as the European Commission, IMF and OECD, on a system of national environmental and economic accounts can prove useful for measuring those aspects of climate change related to the economy and the environment.

One of the most important challenges still outstanding is how to integrate social aspects of climate change, such as the displacement of population, changes in income distribution, and health effects, not all of which are covered by current methodologies.

For more information:

Shifting populationsShifting populations

In coming years, governments the world over will need to revisit their development strategies as city dwellers overtake rural inhabitants

Profound changes in the distribution of world population, and in particular increasing urbanization, offer a number of opportunities that countries should seize while avoiding the negative consequences of urban growth, notes the Secretary-General in a recent report on population and development. According to a recent DESA report, half of the world’s population now lives in cities. In 2008, the number of urban dwellers, at 3.4 billion, will equal, for the first time in history, the number of rural dwellers.

As the world becomes increasingly urban, decisions taken today in cities across the world will shape the economic, social and environmental future of humankind, notes the report. Properly managed, urbanization can help in combating poverty, inequality and environmental degradation, but action to capitalize on the opportunities it presents and to address the challenges it raises must be prompt and sustained.

Urbanization is a process that is intrinsically related to development, and it must be managed in ways that maximize its potential benefits and prevent its negative consequences. For example, internal migration from rural to urban places permits a reallocation of the labour force to more productive activities and opens new opportunities for migrants. At the same time, notes the report, the improvement of service delivery to the urban poor and to the inhabitants of small cities and rural areas needs to be given priority.

Services that are most conducive to improving the well-being of the populations involved include those related to health delivery, schooling, and access to sanitation and safe drinking water. In deciding the location of public health facilities, authorities should consider their accessibility to poor urban dwellers. The location of such facilities in small towns linked to surrounding rural areas can also improve the accessibility of rural dwellers to health services. This could be important for slowing population growth by giving poor urban dwellers and rural inhabitants better access to family planning. Without sustained reductions in fertility in both urban and rural areas, the urban population in developing countries will grow even faster.

Since HIV prevalence is generally higher in urban than in rural areas, priority should also be given to the provision of adequate information on the prevention of HIV infection and treatment services to urban dwellers and to temporary rural-urban migrants. And, in addressing the needs of the older population, Governments need to take into account that in many areas a higher proportion of the older population lives in rural than in urban areas.

Spatial distribution linked to economic opportunity

From now on, virtually the full increase in the urban population is expected to occur in developing countries. Natural increase, that is, the excess of births over deaths, continues to make sizeable contributions to urban population growth, often accounting for 60 percent or more of the growth in developing countries.

Urbanization is pervasive and unavoidable. Yet major disparities remain in the level of urbanization attained by different countries and regions. The transformative power of urbanization was felt earlier in today’s more developed regions, which have reached high levels of urbanization, surpassing 80 percent in Australia, New Zealand and North America. Europe is the least urbanized major area in the developed world, with 72 percent of its population living in urban areas.

Among the less developed regions, Latin America and the Caribbean has an exceptionally high level of urbanization at 78 percent, higher than that of Europe. Africa and Asia, in contrast, remain mostly rural, with 38 percent and 41 percent, respectively, of their populations living in urban areas. Yet half of the urban population in the world lived in Asia in 2007. Europe had the second highest share at 16 percent.

Today’s 3.4 billion urban dwellers are distributed unevenly among urban settlements of different size. In discussing urbanization, the focus is often on large cities, cities with more inhabitants than many countries in the world. Naturally, those cities or urban agglomerations tend to be concentrated in populous countries. In 2007, 19 urban agglomerations qualified as megacities, that is, they have at least 10 million inhabitants, the most populous of which, Tokyo, has nearly 36 million inhabitants.

Overall, the spatial distribution of the population is linked to the territorial distribution of economic and social opportunities. Urbanization is shaped by the clustering of productive activity, where firms benefit from proximity to other firms, whether in the same industry or in complementary sectors. Beneficial urbanization depends on the availability and quality of public services, including access to electricity, water, education and health services, transportation and communication.

National population programmes

There continues to be a need for poverty reduction strategies to focus on the rural poor in developing countries. Ensuring secure land tenure, improving access to water resources, encouraging investment to enhance agricultural productivity, developing rural infrastructure and facilitating access to credit are measures to consider for the improvement of rural livelihoods. In order to accommodate future urban growth, local authorities need to plan ahead, especially by providing the urban poor with serviced land to build and improve their own housing. In doing so, measures to secure property rights are indispensable.

To increase the effectiveness of policies aimed at improving the lives of urban dwellers, particularly the poor or those living in slums, local authorities should encourage and support the active involvement of civil society organizations representing the relevant groups. Decisions taken today in cities across the world will shape the economic, social and environmental future of humankind. Properly managed, urbanization can help in combating poverty, inequality and environmental degradation, but action to capitalize on the opportunities it presents and to address the challenges it raises must be prompt and sustained.

The scale of ongoing urban growth is unprecedented in history, and has significant economic, social, demographic and environmental implications. The challenge is to move away from the negative stereotypes and the negative policies of the past and promote measures that take into account rapid urban growth and the needs of the urban poor.

A good strategy for policy and programmatic support to ensure that urbanization and internal migration are taken into account in national development frameworks and poverty reduction strategies should encompass policy dialogue, capacity-building, data collection, research and advocacy. Policy dialogue among and within Governments, the United Nations system, NGOs, civil society and the private sector and advocacy are essential to raise awareness among all stakeholders of the importance of formulating proactive policies to plan for urban growth.

Strengthening the national capacity of developing countries to address the challenges of rapid urban growth is essential. UNFPA is assisting in this effort by assisting countries throughout the world in responding to the challenges of rapid urbanization, especially in the areas of policy dialogue, capacity-building, data collection, research and advocacy.

There is an urgent need for reliable and timely data disaggregated by age, sex, socio-economic status and health status for evidence-based policy formulation and programme planning, monitoring and evaluation. There is also a need to encourage and advance culture- and gender-sensitive research to identify emerging issues, provide evidence for effective policies and adopt recommendations. The dissemination of data and research findings and the exchange of experiences, lessons learned and good practices are important components of institutional capacity-building in this area.

Urbanization should be an integral part of national and global efforts to reduce poverty. Good governance and sound urban policies can serve to reduce poverty and gender inequality and to promote sustainable development. Future plans must have an approach that integrates cities and rural areas. Both urban and rural development are necessary, and addressing them in an integrated way will provide the best chance of success.

Financial flows on the rise

A related report of the Secretary-General on the flow of financial resources for assisting in the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development provides expected levels of donor and domestic expenditures for population activities in developing countries for 2006, and estimates for expenditures in 2007 and projections for 2008.

The report, prepared by UNFPA, says that donor assistance has been increasing steadily over the past few years, reaching $7.4 billion in 2005.  If this trend continues, donor assistance may have reached $8.1 billion in 2006, $9.8.billion in 2007 and to $10.3 billion in 2008.  A rough estimate of resources mobilized by developing countries as a group yielded a figure of $23 billion for 2006. This number is expected to increase to $25 billion in 2007 and $27 billion in 2008.

Although provisional figures show that both donors and developing countries are on target and indeed may have surpassed the 2005 goal of $18.5 billion, this conclusion is misleading, because the resources mobilized do not adequately address current needs, which have escalated considerably since the 1994 Population Conference and now include HIV/AIDS treatment.

Indeed, for many developing countries, the lack of adequate funding remains the chief constraint to the full implementation of the programme of action. The recent increase in the flow of financial resources has been primarily a result of the increase in funding for HIV/AIDS activities.  But these increases still do not meet current demands for resources to combat HIV/AIDS or treat those infected, which is higher than anticipated when the targets were set.  Funding for family planning, which has been decreasing steadily, did not reach the suggested target of $11.5 billion in 2005, and is not meeting current needs.

Ensuring sustainable and equitable development in an increasingly urban world will require shifts in policy as well as major investments to ensure that urbanization remains a positive force. For this to occur, population issues must figure prominently as a cross-cutting theme in national development programmes and poverty reduction strategies. The private sector must also play a role in mobilizing resources for population and development in all areas of the Action Programme – family planning, reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS and basic research and analysis.

The Commission on Population and Development will hold its forty-first session in New York from 7-11 April to discuss population distribution, urbanization, and internal migration, among other issues.

For more information: http://www/esa/population/cpd/cpd2008/comm2008.htm

Climate change: Grave consequences for indigenous peoples

Climate change: Grave consequences for indigenous peoples

Elissavet Stamatopoulou, Chief of the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, briefed NGOs on 20 March on climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods, the theme of the Forum’s upcoming session. “Although indigenous peoples have hardly contributed to climate change,” noted Stamatopoulou, “they are bearing some of its gravest consequences.” Co-panelists included H.E. Ambassador Collin Beck of the Solomon Islands, and Roberto Borrero of the United Confederation of Taíno People.

Video: (110 minutes)