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

Testing of the UN Comission on Sustainable Development
(UN/CSD) Indicators of Sustainable Development

Progress Report by the United Kingdom
January 1998

1. Summary

The work on the UK Pilot is being carried out in three phases, according to the guidelines.

Phase I: Selection of the UN/CSD indicators to be tested in the UK.

Phase II: Evaluation of the indicators to be tested.

Phase III: Reporting to UN/CSD.

A considerable number of organisations both within and outside Government have been consulted during the course of the UK pilot so far (see Annex A). Phase I has been completed and a provisional list of 51 indicators have been selected for testing (see Annex B). Work relevant to Phase II for many of the selected indicators is well advanced, but there is a considerable amount of work still to be done for the formal and systematic evaluation and reporting process. This will be completed in 1998.

2. Introduction

The UN Commission on Sustainable Development is developing a set of indicators for use in national reporting on progress towards sustainable development and the UK has agreed, along with a number of other countries, to participate in the pilot testing of the UN/CSD menu of indicators. This report sets out the organisational arrangements and the progress to date of the UK Pilot. It will be presented at the Workshop for piloting countries in Prague on 19-21 January 1998.

3. Consultation arrangements

The UN Commission has stressed that there should be consultation during the testing phase, to ensure that the indicators command wide acceptance and credibility. In the United Kingdom, there are already a number of mechanisms in place through which the Government consults or receives advice on sustainable development and on sustainable development indicators. Rather than set up additional mechanisms for the UN/CSD exercise, we have used and will continue to use existing bodies. The main groups used so far are:

  • The Indicators Advisory Groups - comprising representatives of central government departments, local authorities, regulatory agencies, non-governmental organisations and technical and scientific experts. Their primary function is to advise on the development of the next set of national indicators.
  • The Indicator Sub-Group of the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development - an independent body comprising senior representatives of non-governmental organisations, businesses and local authorities, to advise Government on policies to achieve sustainable development.

A list of organisations which are members of the Advisory Groups are given in Annex A. Other groups we also intend to consult are:

  • The Environmental Statistics Advisory Group (ESAG) - comprising researchers, representatives of regulatory Agencies, non-governmental organisations, business and local authorities; this is a technical working group which advises on information, publications and statistical research.
  • The Central and Local Intelligence Partnership (CLIP) - comprising representatives of local authority associations and central government departments. Their primary role is to exchange views about exchange of information between central and local government.
4. National work on indicators of sustainable development

The United Kingdom published a preliminary set of Indicators of Sustainable Development for the UK in March 1996 following a commitment in the 1994 UK Sustainable Development Strategy. The Indicators are available on the Internet site address: Following publication, an extensive consultation process has been undertaken, involving experts, users and potential users of the indicators in the UK and overseas. In 1998, the Government intends to publish a revised Sustainable Development Strategy, together with a revised set of indicators, many of which will be linked to targets. The UN/CSD menu of indicators is being used during the process of revising the indicators, to ensure that where appropriate the UN/CSD and national indicators correspond as closely as possible, and also to fill some of the gaps in the UK 1996 indicator package (e.g., the lack of coverage of social dimension of sustainable development). It is hoped that the UK experience in devising its own indicators will also prove useful input to the UN/CSD testing exercise.

5. Progress to date on the UK Pilot
Phase I: Selection of the UN/CSD indicators to be tested in the UK

Work to develop and refine the UK national set of indicators of sustainable development is being carried out by seven advisory groups of experts from both within and outside government. Each group is dealing with different families of indicators (e.g., water indicators, wildlife and habitat indicators, land use, waste indicators, etc.), although there are many overlapping issues. These same groups were tasked to review the full list of UN/CSD indicators and to recommend which might be included in the UK Pilot. A considerable number of different organisations have representatives on these advisory groups. These organisations are listed in Annex A.

Each of the groups has produced recommendations for the UK Pilot. The UN/CSD indicators have been reviewed against: the priorities set out in the UK National Strategy2; the 1996 national set of indicators and early proposals for their amendment; and the availability or feasibility of collection of data. Consideration was also given to some indicators covering issues which were more relevant to sustainable development in some other UN countries than to sustainable development in the UK (e.g., arable land per capita, access to safe drinking water, etc.). In addition a few indicators were included which the groups' experts thought might benefit from further study, development or possible refinement (e.g., changes in land condition, and net investment share in GDP which might be extended to cover other components of GDP). Following the groups' deliberations a provisional list of 51 UN/CSD indicators have been selected for inclusion in the UK Pilot. These are given in Annex B and a summary of these indicators is given in Table 1 below.

Table 1 Summary of UN/CSD Indicators provisionally selected for the UK Pilot
Numbers of indicators
UN/CSD aspects of sustainable development
Economic Environmental Social Institutional Total
Total UN/CSD indicators 23 55 41 15 134
Those selected for UK pilot 9 28 12 2 51
of which:
Directly relevant to the UK
7 26 8 - 45
More relevant to other UN countries 2 2 4 2 10
Number with closely related indicators in 1996 UK publication 5 20 4 - 29

From the table it can be seen that the majority (ie 41) of the 51 indicators are of direct relevance to the UK Sustainable Development Strategy and 29 indicators are the same as or closely related to one of the indicators included in the UKs first 1996 publication. In addition, 10 indicators were included because of their wider applicability in other countries. Most of the indicators selected were Environmental, Economic or Social indicators. There was very little support for the Institutional indicators from the UK consultees and so, as a result, only two of these indicators have been selected for the UK Pilot.

Phase II: Evaluation of the indicators to be tested

Considerable progress has been made during 1997 by the advisory groups and final reports covering the key sustainable development issues for the UK and recommended sets of indicators for the next UK Strategy will be completed in early 1998. Work will then start to collate data and to develop the national indicators. The groups reports and recommendations will be used to help the national consultation exercise on the new Strategy and we are also proposing to organise a Workshop in early May 1998 to provide a broader review of the groups recommendations. The second phase of the pilot consists of drawing together UK data to evaluate the selected UN/CSD indicators and will benefit considerably from the work being carried out on the next national set of indicators. In many cases, it is anticipated that data will be available from existing sources and, as has been noted above, 29 of the selected indicators are closely related to those included in the UKs first package so the pilot will build on this work. Where data does not exist the feasibility and cost of collecting the data will be assessed and recommendations will be made on the feasibility of the indicators.

Phase III: Reporting to UN/CSD

The final phase will be to produce a report, including, where practical, the indicators themselves and commentary about the values/trends, particularly in relation to nationally or internationally agreed targets/commitments. The report will also include commentary on the relevance, construction, ease of collection, etc. of the individual indicators and, if appropriate, recommendations for further development or refinements. It is anticipated that this final phase will be complete by the end of 1998.

6. Prague Workshop

The Prague Workshop will provide an opportunity for comparing the selection of indicators in the UK with that in other piloting countries, and for learning rom the experiences of other countries in evaluating the indicators.

Report compiled by:

Mr. John Custance
UK Focal point
Environment Protection Statistics and Information Management Division
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
Room A121, Romney House
43 Marsham Street
United Kingdom
Tel.: +44 171 276 8421
Fax: +44 171 274 8748

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