Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Annex A

Environmental Indicator Initiatives in the EU, with Special Reference to Biodiversity, Landscape and Agriculture

  This paper is the result of a brief exercise, aiming to compile a first inventory of current European initiatives on the preparation of environmental indicators, selected because of their potential relevance to the JNCC and Statutory Countryside Agencies. The focus is on the growing number of initiatives which are of potential policy relevance, especially those being developed by or on behalf of the European Community's own institutions, since these are most likely to have an impact on the work of statutory agencies. An overview of the more general pattern of work on environmental indicators within universities, purely technical organisations, NGOs and others would be a much longer exercise and for the most part these have been excluded. National initiatives also have been excluded, although it should be noted that the UK is amongst the most active countries in Europe in developing environmental indicators.

  The DETR will be publishing indicators for the UK in the autumn arising from the Government's sustainable development objectives set out in the White Paper "A Better Quality of Life", while MAFF will publish indicators on sustainable agriculture. Next year the DETR will be reporting on the Countryside Survey 2000 and will be using indicators to pick out some key information arising from this exercise. Next year will also see the publication of a "Millennium Report" on the Biodiversity Action Plan, showing progress to date. This is also expected to use indicators.


  Indicators can be grouped in different ways, depending on the aspect of the environment which is being reported. Commonly, a distinction is made between:

    —  "Driving Force" indicators which summarise underlying trends, for example in sectors of the economy with environmental implications, such as energy supply or fishing.

    —  "Pressure" indicators which are designed to capture the anthropogenic forces influencing change on the environment.

    —  "State" indicators which reflect changes in the status/quality/health of the environment.

    —  "Reponse" indicators which attempt to depict the response by public and private actors to environmental conditions or problems.

  This model of indicators, developed and used particularly by the OECD, can be summarised as the DFPSR approach; however there are variants on this. For example, "impact" indicators can be included as well; these report on the consequences of changes occurring in the environment, such as flooding or deteriorating human health. The EEA advocates the inclusion of this category—the DPSIR model.

  For the purpose of this paper, work on indicators can be considered under three different headings:

    —  Those concerned primarily with the state of the environment in Europe.

    —  Those concerned mainly with pressures, typically with sectoral policies, particularly agriculture and forestry.

    —  Those designed more broadly to measure progress in integrating environmental concerns into other areas of policy.

The State of the Environment in Europe

  Individual countries have been reporting on the state of the environment within their own frontiers for several years but attempts to undertake this exercise at a European level are more recent. The European Environment Agency (EEA) now reports on the state of the environment and, to some extent, on impacts within the 15 EU countries. It also has a role in reporting on the state of the environment in Europe as a whole.

  The EEA has published two reports on changes in overall environmental quality and the pressures driving change in the 44 countries within the European continent. The first of these appeared in 1995 and was known as the "Europe's Environment: The Dobris Assessment" because it arose from the first Conference of all European Environment Ministers which was held in Dobris Castle in the Czech Republic. A second report was produced in 1998 known as "Europe's Environment: Second Assessment". The third will appear in 2002 to coincide with the next conference of European Environment Ministers in Kiev. This series of assessments does not rely on standardised indicators, although it does cover all the main environmental media, some key topics such as climate change, soil degradation and biodiversity and the influence of the major economic sectors.

  A sizeable proportion of the information in these reports refers to the 15 EU countries. The Agency is now moving towards a more systematic approach to environmental monitoring and reporting within the EU. One step has been the publication this summer of a report containing information on the current state of the environment, key pressures and future trends. This is entitled "Environment in the European Union at the Turn of the Century". This deals primarily but not exclusively, with the 15 EU countries and the analysis in individual chapters is based on the DPSIR model.

  Following the recent review of the EEA's role and tasks (in the form of an amendment to the original Regulation 1210/99), the Agency is to "publish a report on the state of, trends in and prospects for the environment every five years, supplemented by indicator reports focussing on specific issues". By the end of the year, or early in 2000, the EEA will publish the first indicator report, now being referred to as the EEA "1999 Environmental Signals" report. This will contain an extensive list of indicators, showing trends over time and including some attempt to measure progress.

  Sections will cover respectively the State of the Environment, the impact of key human activities, the response to these environmental pressures and environmental performance. A set of "headline indicators" will be indentified in an attempt to capture key trends as DETR has done in the UK. In the first year particular attention is thought to be given to Wetlands in the Biodiversity section. This routine process of publishing regular indicators appears likely to become a significant element in the EEAs work programme.

  While biodiversity is recognised as an important issue in these reports and there is also attention given to landscape, changes in land-cover etc, there is a high level of aggregation and the development of more specific and detailed indicators is taking place within more technical working groups. In particular, thought is being given to the use of indicators in order to assist the interpretation of the mass of biodiversity data being brought together for each EU Member State under the "EUNIS" exercise. EUNIS data on species, habitats etc is gathered by agencies in individual EU countries collaborating through the European Topic Centre for Nature Conservation (ETC/NC). The EEA is leading a project known as the "EC Clearing House Mechanism" (EC CHM) which is intended to draw heavily on the EUNIS biodiversity data bases. The Clearing House Mechanism should provide easier and user-friendly access to this mass of data and is required in order to meet the EC's obligations under the international Convention on Biological Diversity. The EC CHM Project, which only started in the Spring of 1999, includes six tasks, one of which is the automation of data flows on biodiversity indicators. However, this element of the project has yet to get underway and appears likely to be the subject of greater attention in 2000.

Pressures and Sectoral Policies, particularly Agriculture and Forestry

  Within the EU, the Statistical Office of the European Communities, Eurostat, has become involved in the production of environmental indicators. Eurostat's primary concern is with driving force, pressure and response inidicators rather than those concerned with the state of the environment. In a report published in July this year it has set out to establish a set of standard environmental pressure indicators for the EU. The focus is on the mainly negative impacts of human activities on the environment and the 60 indicators fall within 10 different groups or "policy fields". These include loss of biological diversity, loss of natural resources, water pollution, the marine environment and coastal areas and urban environmental problems. Eurostat co-operated with DGXI of the European Commission as well as the OECD and EEA. A large group of more than 2,000 environmental "experts" from throughout the EU were consulted in the course of this rather ambitious exercise. The resulting report is entitled "Towards Environmental Pressure Indicators for the EU" and is published by the European Communites in Luxembourg.

  Six indicators are put forward for the loss of biodiversity. These are:

    —  Protected area loss, damage and fragmentation.

    —  Wetland loss through drainage.

    —  Agriculture intensity: area used for intensive arable agriculture.

    —  Fragmentation of forest and landscapes by roads/intersections.

    —  Clearance of natural and semi-natural forested areas.

    —  Change in traditional land-use practice.

  An example of the presentation of one of these indicators, wetland loss through drainage, is attached to this paper. One point to note is that several of these indicators rely on data from the CORINE land cover project, which has several limitations. A number of countries are not included at all, including the UK, and the date of the survey work is not the same in each of the countries covered. Furthermore, the land cover data is fairly coarse grained with no units of less than 25 hectares, which reduces its value for capturing the loss of wetlands, much of which occurs on a very small scale.

  Several individual EU Member States have been considering the application of environmental indicators within specific sectors. In France for example, IFEN, an environmental institute responsible to the Ministry of Environment published a report on agri-environment indicators in 1997. MAFF published a draft set of indicators of sustainable agriculture for the UK in 1998 and the final list is now expected to be announced in the autumn.

  At a European level, the EEA has began to focus on the impact of certain critical economic sectors. The Agency has established a project on the transport sector known as TERM—the Transport and Environment Indicator Reporting Mechanism. This is yet to be published but it may already have had an influence on the European Commission which is engaged in developing indicators to show progress on integrating environmental objectives into other economic sectors (see below).

  The Agriculture Sector has been the focus of attention within the OECD for several years where a Joint Working Party of the Committee of Agriculture and the Environment Policy Committee has been investing considerable effort in seeking international agreement on environmental indicators to complement the existing indices of production, trade, subsidy levels etc. The OECD is an intergovernmental organisation and in this case provides a relatively neutral technical forum for developing concepts of considerable political sensitivity which are likely to be on the agenda when negotiations over extending the WTO Agreement re-commence at the end of this year. The OECD hopes that international agreement on indicators will allow a more dispassionate comparison of the positive and negative impacts of agriculture on the environment and reduce the scope of unfounded claims about the need to maintain agricultural subsidies for environmental purposes. However, it could also lead to a gross over-simplification of the multi-variate relationship between agriculture and the environment and focus disproportionate attention on a few measurable indicators.

  The OECD exercise has stimulated work by a variety of member countries, including several EU Member States, and has helped to establish indicators as a pressing issue for both DGVI and DGXI of the European Commission. Both landscape and biodiversity indicators have emerged as problematic in a technical and political sense. While the OECD has made some progress in building a consensus around indicators of water pollution where, for example, measured concentrations of specific pollutants in ground water, drinking water etc are clearly helpful indices, landscape and biodiversity are more difficult to reduce to two or three synoptic values. Furthermore, several countries wish to emphasise the positive contribution made by agriculture to the environment, partly in order to buttress the case for maintaining subsidies.

  At an OECD meeting in York in September 1998 it was decided to further develop work on biodiversity, habitat and landscape indicators and to take stock of progress at an expert meeting in Paris in early May 1999. At this meeting several papers were offered by European Governments and the Commission also played a significant part, putting forward ideas based on broader European concepts and data bases. One such paper, by Valery Morard of DGVI and Claude Vidal of Eurostat argued that it was possible to develop generic indicators on trends in land cover and land use in Europe with CORINE as an important source. Another, by the same authors, working with a group of Member States including the UK, considered how landscape indicators might be developed following the broad principles agreed at the York Workshop. Indicators for the farmed landscape were considered under three headings:

    —  Land characteristics (further sub-divided into biophysical landscape features, environmental appearance and land type features).

    —  Cultural features (including linear features, historic remains etc).

    —  Management functions (for example extent of farmland within protected areas).

  This approach, including some preliminary examples of indicators are set out in summary form in the table opposite.

  DGVI has played an active role in stimulating work on landscape indicators, believing that they are critical to an appreciation of the role of "multi functional" agriculture in Europe. In addition to work within Eurostat and the EEA, a more independent initiative to develop indicators has been funded from the Commission's Agriculture Research Programme (FAIR), starting in December 1997. The project "Environmental Indicators for Sustainable Agriculture in the EU" (ELISA) co-ordinated by the European Centre for Nature Conservation in Tilburg. It is intended to bring together a variety of information sources in order to provide a fairly comprehensive measure of the impact of agriculture on the environment and to assist efforts to monitor the effects of EU policies. Landscape is taken as a critical central theme in this exercise which utilises soil maps and tries to build in specific regional concerns and some measure of the complexity of the landscape. The project draws on separate reports on different themes including soils and biodiversity. The biodiversity work was contributed by Graham Tucker of ECOScope Consultants who has considered key indicators such as areas of natural and semi natural habitat, crop and species diversity, habitat diversity, field size, species population, dynamics etc. It is likely to be considerable challenge to bring together these different elements but a final report is due in the Autumn of 1999.

  Forestry has not attracted the same level of political interest because it is a less controversial topic in trade negotiations. However, there are initiatives of a more technical kind. For example there is an EU funded project known as BEAR: Indicators for monitoring an evaluation of forest biodiversity in Europe. A team of 27 researchers is involved in this exercise which is due to report early in the year 2000. It is intended to produce a common scheme for monitoring and evaluating biodiversity for all the main forest types found in Europe. Since there is no common system for classifying forest for this purpose considerable effort has been devoted to developing a classification system which is said to contain a minimum 30 main types of forest. This particular project has a user panel which is an arrangement whereby potential users are able to give feedback on the material arising from the project. At present users include the EEA, WWF and the Confederation of European Forest Owners.

Measuring progress in integrating environmental concerns into other areas of policy

  Integration of the environment into other sectoral policies has been a theme of European importance for several years and lies at the heart of the EC's Fifth Environmental Action Programme, which runs from 1993 to the end of the year 2000. Two recent events have generated a demand for indicators to show how far policies have contributed to environmental change in the past and to measure progress in future. A consistent set of indicators could, in principle, be a central element in policy monitoring and evaluation.

  One recent impetus for evaluation is the "Cardiff process" to take forward environmental integration in the work of the EC sectoral policy Councils, in response to the new Treaty commitment to sustainable developments. In formal terms, there is a requirement on certain "formations of the European Council of Ministers" to draw up strategies for environmental integration which may include the use of indicators to measure progress. The first group of Councils selected to produce such strategies included those responsible for transport, energy and agriculture, which were chosen at the Cardiff Summit in June 1998. At the Vienna Summit in December 1998 the industry, development and internal market councils were added to the list. Both these groups are required to report to the final summit of the century in Helsinki in December. A third group, including the Fisheries and Overseas Assistance Councils are required to produce their strategies for early in the year 2000.

  It is not entirely clear whether these individual strategies will each contain their own indicators, developed by the respective Councils with input from the European Commission, some are likely to do so. Certainly DGVI sees value in indicators which can be used to monitor and evaluate environmental performance in the CAP following the Agenda 2000 deal. These could be applied to the evaluation of measures which national governments put in place under the Rural Development Regulation and, more ambitiously, to the broader CAP market regimes as well. DGVI is actively working on such indicators, drawing on experience in DGXVI, which is responsible for regional policy and has experience of evaluating the impact of the structural funds. At the same time, DGXI is working on a set of broader indicators which potentially could be applied in all sectors to provide some consistency to the integration initiative. The EEA has been contributing to this review not only with its new regular indicator report but also through its own programme of case studies intended to develop indicators of integration. These include factors such as the presence or absence of a tax on polluting substances (eg fuels, pesticides etc).

  DGXI also has the task of publishing its assessment of the progress made in the Fifth Environmental Action Programme before the end of the year. This "global assessment" looks back at how far the aims and objectives of the programme have been reached and also looks ahead at the potential contents of a sixth programme or alternative initiative which might come into play from 2001 onwards.

  The global assessment and separate reports on sectoral integration are to be presented together at the Helsinki Summit and are expected to be accompanied by a co-ordinated report on indicators. The Commission is responsible for producing this report but is able to work closely with the Member States, accessed through a group of national experts on indicators, set up by the Environmental Policy Review Group (EPRG) as well as the projects being undertaken by the EEA and Eurostat. The EPRG group is concerned particularly with agreement on headline indicators. It is not entirely clear whether these will be environmental indicators or sustainable development indicators.

  In summary there is a range of overlapping initiatives on environmental indicators and the Summit in Helsinki in December should be an opportunity to bring together at least a set of headline indicators concerning integration. These have a strong political function and are quite separate from the more technical work being undertaken on biodiversity indicators for example. However, if these integration indicators are accepted by governments as a helpful, if simplistic, measure of progress they may come to have a growing influence on policy decisions in the same way that the number of people on NHS waiting lists has come to be a politically sacrosanct indicator in the UK whatever its merits as a measure of progress and meeting health requirements.

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