Streamlined sustainability KPIs for the UK

24th July 2012


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Total energy demand and water consumption will not be considered by the government when assessing whether the UK is becoming a more sustainable economy, under new proposals from Defra

The environment department has unveiled a new set of national sustainable development indicators (SDIs) following the government’s 2011 pledge to measure and report its progress in mainstreaming sustainable development.

The 37 proposed indicators, which are the subject of a Defra consultation, are split between environmental, economic and societal issues, with 12 “headline” indicators and 25 “supplementary” indicators.

High-level indices for the environment include the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted as a result of consumption in the UK; the natural resources used to generate gross domestic product (GDP); and the number of protected bird species.

The supplementary environmental indicators cover, among other issues, the quality of river water; the amount of waste sent to landfill each year; and the status of protected species and habitats.

The new indicators, due to be adopted in 2013, will replace a set of 68 measures published in 2010, which include a greater number of sector-specific benchmarks.

For example, in Defra’s proposed SDIs it states that carbon emissions should be measured for each sector, whereas the existing sustainable development indicators include specific measures for individual sectors, including manufacturing, that also consider nitrogen oxides (NOx).

Existing indicators also measure total energy production and consumption in the UK, whereas under Defra’s proposals only the amount of energy consumed from renewable energy sources will be measured as a proportion of overall energy consumption.

The new list also does away with the requirement to measure levels of ammonia, NOx, sulpher dioxide and PM10 particles in the air, instead keeping a broader indicator to measure the number of days when “air pollution is moderate or higher in the UK”.

New indicators included in the list include “water availability”, which will look at the amount of water resources available for abstraction, rather than the existing indicators measuring total water demand alongside GDP and domestic water use in terms of litres used per person each day.

The new list does, however, for the first time propose measuring climate change adaption, under the economic indicators, and an assessment of the UK’s impacts on global biodiversity as a result of imported goods.

“At Rio+20 we successfully argued for the need for countries to look beyond their economic performance as a measure of progress. These indicators along with the measures of wellbeing underline our own commitment to going beyond GDP,” said environment secretary Caroline Spelman.

“We want to help our economy, our communities and the environment to grow and flourish in a sustainable way for the benefit of future generations… these new indicators will help us take stock of our progress and give the public the means to chart our success.

Despite measuring the entire UK’s impacts, Defra has confirmed the indicators will not apply to the devolved governments which have their own individual sustainable development policies.

Defra’s consultation on its proposed indicators will run until 15 October, with the government’s formal response expected before the end of the year.

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