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National Activities: Germany

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Report Submitted by Germany to the Fourth International Workshop on the CSD Indicators of Sustainable Development
Hosted by the Government of the Czech Republic in Prague
19-21 January 1998


Objectives of the German Testing Phase

In the testing phase, Germany has identified the following objectives as being of prime concern:

  • To actively support the CSD work programme on indicators of sustainable development (ISDs);
  • To analyze the CSD working list concerning the political relevance and adequate utility of the proposed indicators for Germany as well as their potential for practical national implementation (i.e., data availability);
  • To further develop and improve the CSD concept via the process of trial and error and international cooperation during the pilot phase;
  • To advance and promote a national debate on developing and implementing ISDs- within and outside the Federal Government and with the general public;
  • To form the basis of national indicator systems, and promote a dialogue and the active integration of relevant players, like the scientific community, industry, NGOs, major groups.

The evaluation of the entire CSD concept against the background of Germany's specific situation with regards to sustainability issues was of great importance for us. We believe that it is crucial to thoroughly test and revise the CSD working list in order to identify the specific needs of industrialized countries for sustainability indicators.

Organization and Consultation


The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety is in charge of the entire political coordination of the testing of CSD indicators. Beyond that, the overall organization of the testing phase in Germany rests on three institutional pillars:

1. Coordination within the Federal Government

An Interministerial Working Group (IMA), consisting of representatives of all Federal Ministries, has been set up for the testing in order to get all ministries actively involved (the aim sustainable development comprises not only environmental but also economic and social aspects). The IMA is responsible for the Federal Government's reporting to the CSD.

The Federal Environmental Agency and the Federal Statistical Office provide support concerning organizational coordination, data collection and processing as well as methodological questions. A coordination team of three persons (one representative each of the Federal Environment Ministry, of the Federal Environmental Agency and of the Federal Statistical Office) was set up for regular discussions on conceptual and organizational procedure.

2. Dialogue with groups in society

In order for sustainability indicators to achieve broad social acceptance and in order to foster the cooperation of the various national activities on indicators, the consultation with the various stakeholders in society is of crucial importance. Therefore, a National Indicator Committee has been set up with 23 representatives of all relevant groups: environmental and development NGOs, business, trade unions, churches, charitable organizations, scientific advisory boards, the German Bundestag "Enquete Commission on the Protection of Humanity and the Environment", the Federal States and leading associations of local governments. To be able to ensure high-level, expert dialogue, the appointed representatives are already experienced in the development of sustainability indicators. The National Indicator Commission members are given the opportunity to comment on the CSD working list and the drafts of the reports to the CSD.

3. Scientific Advice

An Indicator Expert Team of 20 scientists from different assorted disciplines has been set up, coordinated by the Federal Environmental Agency, comprising experts already involved in indicator development of various fields. Its primary task during the testing phase of the CSD indicators is - besides giving an opinion on the CSD concept as well as on priority issues and indicators - to be a forum for discussing conceptual and methodological issues of the development of sustainability indicators.

Work program for the testing

In 1997, a step by step decision-making process has been set up:

1. Selection of the priority topics to be tested:

Based on an assessment, this has to be done according to the key national sustainability problem areas of sustainable development. One of our major objectives was to identify those topics on the CSD list which are of less importance or relevance for Germany, are all to be neglected. Issues which are of prime national importance but are not on the list, are to be added.

2. Selection of individual indicators:

In a next step for all priority issues, the individual indicators suggested in the CSD working list needed to be reviewed and amended. For that, we should use selection criteria according to 'ideal requirements' of indicator systems. (However, in this fist step, the first selection of indicators within the CSD testing phase, some of these ideal requirements have been deliberately omitted (see table below) since in this first stage, we believed that the procedure needed to be pragmatic and focused on the national level).

"Ideal requirements" of indicators Priority selection criteria for the first phase of the testing
Relevance with regards to Agenda 21/concept of sustainable development +
Easy to understand +
Provides a clear overview +
Sensitivity of the indicators to changes over time +
Availability of data and time sequences +/-
Ability to acquire data with reasonable effort +
International compatibility -
Taking into account the interactions (between different categories of sustainable development) -
Flexibility/openness of the conceptual frame (DSR etc.) -
3. Data work/Methodologies:

For all the selected indicators, the focus lies on:

  • the review of data availability (including the identification of data gaps), and data quality;
  • the possibility of production of time sequences (in order to be able to show trends over time );
  • the methodology sheets of DPCSD need to be reviewed and methodology sheets for new indicators added to the CSD list to be written.
4. Evaluation of utility of indicators:

Then the question needed to be answered as to whether the chosen indicators convey effective and policy-oriented information for monitoring progress towards sustainability is of key importance (interpretation of time sequences and review of interlinkages).

5. Methodological improvement and further development:

This process has to be pursued continuously with all parties involved, for example concerning issues:

  • of the "driving force/state/response" concept;
  • of interlinkages between the dimensions of sustainable development (environmental, economic, social and institutional);
  • relating to aggregation, index formation and, identification of key indicators, etc.

Results are expected only in the medium to long term.

6. "Twinning"

Germany is willing to cooperate in the testing with another pilot country. The "twinning" should be used to exchange the specific experiences with the testing process and to cooperate in the field of conceptual questions or implementation of ISDs.

Progress of work

In the first year the work was focused on: - setting up the organizational mechanism

  • the selection of issues and of indicators (step 1 and 2).

In meetings in Spring, all institutions involved - IMA, National Indicator Commission, Expert Team - were informed about the testing phase and its objectives. All the representatives subsequently were asked for statements on the CSD concept, especially on the selection of issues and of indicators. Taking into account these statements, an initial list of indicators was set up in June and distributed to the different relevant ministries for review. On this basis, the ministries were asked to produce first drafts of the interim report according to their sphere of responsibility. Due to this very complex co-ordination process (and lack of personnel capacity), the first interim report is still being produced and, unfortunately, could not be submitted to DPCSD in time. We expect it to be finished with the German version in late April.

In 1998, especially step 3 (data work/methodologies) and step 4 (assessment and interpretation) will be implemented.

Communication: The Federal Environmental Agency has set up a Webpage on Internet with information and communication resources about the German testing phase, its players involved and links to other relevant indicator sites for both the German institutions involved and other testing countries. The address is:

"Twinning": Germany and Brazil are interested in the twinning process. One important activity is a workshop in Brazil starting in 1998.

Evaluation and lessons learnt

Lessons learnt concerning the process and organization:
  • Because of the fact, that Germany could not base its work in the testing on an agreed national indicator approach or an intensive indicator discussion in all relevant policy areas, the selection of issues and individual indicators became of prime importance, also for the dialogue, in order to reach wide acceptance in society and with the scientific community.
  • As a consequence, the coordination process within the Government had to be intense, especially in the first phase of the project, since this was the first time that all government departments had to define sustainability for their respective issues and decide on corresponding indicators.
  • Although simplification and selection is essential for the development of indicators, there is a (natural) bias of experts responsible for a specific issue against simplification. Therefore, additional communication efforts are necessary, at least in the first phase of the project.
  • The active involvement of all Federal Ministries as well as the dialogue with all relevant groups is very important, but also very time consuming.
  • No extra staff was available for the testing which meant that the personnel of the coordination team had to work on other issues besides the testing. This has proved to be a major problem especially in times of drafting and coordinating reports.

Another very technical problem is the fact that the working language had to be German, in order to make it possible for everybody to participate and therefore translation needed to be done in advance, and again for the English version of the first interim report, which in turn has slowed down the process as well.

Evaluation of the CSD concept
  • In general the CSD concept and the working list could be used as a good starting for the development of ISDs in Germany.
  • While the conceptual framework (DSR-approach) has proven to be useful for environmental issues, it is not appropriate for economic, social or institutional issues especially concerning the separation of D- and S-indicators. Although we do not know a better concept at hand at this time, we would like to encourage discussion within the CSD testing process on this issue.
Selection of issues:
  • We are aware of the fact that the CSD list is based on the systematization of AGENDA 21. While this makes sense for most topics, we have, however, identified major 'issue gaps' that need to be filled in order to establish an indicator system appropriate for industrialized countries such as Germany, the most important being "transportation" and the "role of business" (chapter 30 of Agenda 21, excluded from the chapters 23-32).
  • Also, there is a need for adding an issue "general (socio-)economic development (growth, employment, etc.)" serving as "background information" and for interpretation of developments in other areas.
  • On the other hand, there are issues on the CSD list which Germany does not give priority to and will neglect in its testing, e.g., the issue of chapter 12 (desertification).
  • In some cases, we have found it useful to report on issues of different chapters together, e.g., chapter 38 and chapter 39 on international institutional questions.
Selection of indicators:
  • Many indicators proposed in the working list are not relevant for highly industrialized countries like Germany, in particular in the categories "economic" and "social". In these cases, we needed to add new indicators and to eliminate others.
  • In order to use indicators as monitoring instruments conveying trends over time, "Yes/No" - indicators should be avoided.
  • There are major gaps in the working list where it was not possible to make useful proposals at this stage, especially when dealing with complex issues such as "trade and environment" (chapter 2), "capacity-building" (chapter 37), "biotechnology and environment" (chapter 16) and many institutional issues. In those cases, we would recommend that we first need a detailed discussion with all groups (and may be also research work) before "good" indicators can be identified. This is also relevant for the issue "changing production and consumption patterns" that plays a key role for ISDs. We recommend that the information of the testing countries on the CSD work programme on CCPP should be improved.

Scientific support of the testing phase

As mentioned above, many questions regarding methodology and content of the indicator list still remain open and have to be worked on a continuous basis. While most of the work in this testing phase is a political decision - what is it that we want to know - for the methodological issues as well as for working on indicator gaps scientific support is needed.

When revising the list, we identified several major shortcomings in the sense of either issue gaps or an inadequate selection of indicators for Germany. Therefore, the Federal Environmental Agency in 1997 commissioned research for four of these areas in order to get advice for the development of improved indicator sets. These areas were:

  • transportation (added issue)
  • environmental education and awareness (chapter 36)
  • changing consumption patterns (chapter 4)
  • international institutions and organizations (chapter 38-39).

In 1998, the Federal Environmental Agency will conduct research on methodological issues of sustainability indicator systems, and in Fall 1997, the Federal Statistical Office has started a research project (launched till the end of 2000) dealing with the aggregation of environmental indicators, with the first results being projected for 1999.

For further information, please contact:

Ms. Christa Ratte
Deputy Head of Division
Division G I 4 (Economic Aspects of Environmental Policy)
Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety
Bernkasteler Str. 8
53175 Bonn, Germany
Tel. no.: (49-228) 305-2453
Fax no.: (449-228) 305-3524

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