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National Activities: China

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National Workshop on Indicators of Sustainable Development

State Environmental Protection Administration, China in Cooperation with Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the World Bank

18 May 1998
Beijing, People's Republic of China



The National Workshop on Indicators of Sustainable Development was jointly organized by ESCAP, Policy Research Center for Environment and Economy of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) of China and the World Bank at Sino-Japanese Friendship Center for Environmental Protection, Beijing on 18 May 1998.

A. Attendance

Twenty participants representing various ministries, departments, local government research institutes and universities in China attended the Workshop. In addition, representatives from UNESCAP and the World Bank also participated in the Workshop. A list of participants is attached as Annex I.

B. Opening of the Workshop

Prof. Zhang Kunmin, Deputy Administrator of SEPA opened the workshop. Welcoming the participants, he appreciated the assistance of ESCAP and the World Bank in the important endeavor of developing indicators of sustainable development in China. He mentioned that since UNCED and especially since the adoption of China Agenda 21 in 1994, the concept of sustainable development has been well integrated into the planning process in China. The key problem, however, is the evaluation of sustainable development which needs tool such as indicators. This workshop was therefore organized to help towards that end. He hoped the deliberations of the workshop would assist in elaborating the conceptual design and discuss ways and means that could lead to field testing and development of indicators that could be effectively used in China. Prof. Cao Fengzhong, Director of Policy Research Center for Environment and Economy (PRCEE), briefly introduced previous researches that had been done on indicators of sustainable development(ISD) in China. Since this workshop was the first one for both an ESCAP project and a World Bank project on indicators of sustainable development in China, he hoped that the deliberations and recommendations of the workshop would provide useful guidelines towards the on-going efforts on the implementation of the two projects. The representative from Environmental Bureau of the World Bank, Dr. Xie Jian, thanked State Environmental Protection Administration of China (SEPA) and ESCAP for cooperation in organizing this workshop. He introduced the work of the World Bank on indicators of sustainable development, especially genuine saving as an integral indicator and hoped that this workshop would lead to development of indicators that could be effectively used not only at national but also at provincial and local level in China. The representative from United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) thanked SEPA and the World Bank for their cooperation in organizing the workshop. He stated that ESCAP has been actively participating in the CSD programme of work on indicators of sustainable development since its inception. He highlighted the outcome of a regional meeting organized by ESCAP and its follow-up which resulted in developing a network of four field testing countries in the region, i.e. China, Maldives, Pakistan and Philippines. He hoped that the workshop will serve as an important exercise towards simulation of the future work on ISDs in China. Ms. Liu Wei, the representative of State Statistical Bureau of China and Mr. Zhang Kun, director of Sino-Japanese Friendship Center for Environmental Protection also addressed the workshop highlighting the importance of indicators of sustainable development and compilation of associated statistical data.

C. Election of Officers

The workshop elected Prof. Cao Fengzhong, Professor Policy Research Centre for Environment and Economy as the chairperson for the morning session and Mr. Guo Xiaomin, Deputy Director General, State Environmental Protection Administration as the chairperson for the afternoon session of the workshop.

D. Adoption of the Agenda

The workshop adopted the following agenda:

  1. Opening of the Workshop:
    1. Opening Statements
    2. Election of officers
    3. Adoption of the agenda
  2. Global and regional efforts at indicators of sustainable development; overview of CSD Indicators Programme.
  3. Sustainable development in China and relevance of indicators of sustainable development:
    1. Priority issues for which indicators are needed;
    2. Indicators in current use;
    3. Construction of sustainable development indicators;
    4. Further development of indicators in China;
    5. Menu of indicators;
    6. Future data needs;
    7. Capacity building needs.
  4. Recommendations
  5. Other matters
  6. Adoption of the report.


Under this agenda item, the representative of ESCAP highlighted the diagnostic, monitoring , planning and implementation roles of indicators at international, regional and national levels. In addition, he provided an overview of the programme of work of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development along with the ongoing regional and national efforts at the development and field testing of indicators of sustainable development. The criteria used in selecting the core set of CSD indicators and the process of consensus building that was used in selecting them was described. The Driving Force-State-Response (DSR) framework was explained as a means of organizing the indicators and providing an appropriate analytical framework. The CSD work programme on indicators was explained, together with the current status of its implementation, including completion of the methodology sheets for each indicator that was contained in the publication "Indicators of Sustainable Development: Framework and Methodologies". The various elements of the methodology sheets were also described.

Strong emphasis was placed on the actual selection of a core set of indicators. He stated that to assist field testing countries in Asia-Pacific, ESCAP had published "Towards Indicators of Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific", which besides providing basic steps to be followed by the testing countries also documented experiences of United Nations, OECD, Asian Development Bank and the Netherlands towards the development of indicators of sustainable development. He explained the difficulties in selecting issues, matching them with indicators and in obtaining supporting data. Giving the regional example, he pointed out that the priority issues for Asia and Pacific were selected from the Regional Action Programme on Environmentally sound and sustainable Development approved by the Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development in Asia and Pacific, held in Bangkok in 1995. These priority issues were matched with the indicators given in the CSD menu. New indicators were also added and subsequently this core set of indicators suitable for Asia and Pacific was published as contained in the above ESCAP publication.

The workshop was also briefed on how indicators can be used in practical planning and charting a course towards sustainable development. The example of Netherlands was used, where the indicators development process took shape during the preparation of the first National Environment Policy Plan (NEPP). Target setting and use of indicators played a major role in the preparation and implementation of this plan and has played a crucial role in the forward planning process since then.

Dr. Xie Jian, representative from the World Bank also made a presentation on Indicators of Sustainable development. The challenges for environmental management and the need for indicators were explained. The framework for indicators of environmentally sustainable development was described and types of environmental indicators were also explained. Areas that needed further research were identified. These included definition of environmentally sustainable development at municipal or provincial level; selection of environmental issues and indicators; development and improvement of analytical capacity based on current data; improvement in compilation and analysis of environmental statistics; integration of indicators into policies; and making indicators practical and applicable. Finally, he introduced genuine savings as an indicator and elaborated it with Indian case study.

In the discussions following the above presentations, it was mentioned that the work of CSD, ESCAP and the World Bank provided good background materials for utilization during the field testing in China. However, in adopting these materials effective consideration should be given to the local situation so that indicators selected should be useful for application in China. It was also noted that the indicator development process was complicated and needed careful research and experimentation before application.


Case studies and on-going work on indicators of sustainable development in China at Policy Research Center for Environment and Economy, State Environmental Protection Administration, State Statistics Bureau, Tsinghua University, Peking University and Peking Normal University was presented, reviewed and discussed under this agenda item.

It was noted that on-going work in China is taking place at national as well as provincial and local levels. At national level initial efforts have led to identification of first round of priority issues that include - continuation of development, efficiency of economic development, agricultural development, population control, poverty alleviation and social welfare improvement, science and technology improvement, enhancing urban infrastructure, sustainable use of natural resources and environmental protection and pollution control. According to above priority issues, the key indicators of sustainable development currently used in China were presented, and reviewed in the light of technical requirements and data availability. Moreover, additional need for data sets were assessed. The basis of implementation of the study were discussed, including adoption of indicators framework, possible approaches to testing of ISDs, key policy issues that indicators need to address, ways to tackle these issues and a methodology that could be used for selecting indicators in China. Proposals were made to broaden the Working Group on Sustainable Development Indicators, established to oversee the progress in field testing of ISDs. It was recommended that further work in the field should ensure that the agreed targets are met and schedule of implementation is adhered to. Challenges and constraints were identified and recommendations were made to overcome these.

In addition to the national testing of Sustainable Development Indicators, the workshop reviewed the efforts and case studies on indicator development at provincial and local level being conducted in Shandong province and Yantai city respectively. These studies were utilizing the concept of Genuine Savings, which was used by the World Bank at international level. It was noted that the theory and application of resource accounting under the framework of Genuine Savings and economic evaluation of environmental pollution damages were also being utilized. The workshop felt that Genuine Savings approach was very useful for policy making and its application to the experimental areas in China should provide replicable models for use elsewhere in China at provincial and local levels.


  1. ESCAP publication "Towards Indicators of Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific", should be translated into Chinese as it can be of great benefit in developing indicators of sustainable development at national, regional and city level in China.
  2. Indicators testing process should take into consideration the local and national realities.
  3. Statistical data should be improved to take into consideration use of sustainable development indicators in China.
  4. In the field testing process, specific issues of importance should be further identified in China and matched with the indicators from the CSD and ESCAP indicator menus given in the document, "Towards Indicators for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific".
  5. Methodologies and processes discussed in the workshop should be utilized effectively during the implementation of ESCAP and World Bank projects on Indicators of Sustainable development in China.
  6. The Working Group on the development of indicators of sustainable development in China should be broadened to include other relevant institutions.
  7. Indicators should be designed in such a way that they should be relevant, replicable, cost effective and responsive to change.


The Chairperson for the workshop thanked ESCAP on behalf of the Government of China for assisting in the process of national testing of indicators of sustainable development including the organization of the National Workshop and the World Bank and the Government of Netherlands for their funding support.


The workshop adopted its report on 18 May 1998.

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