Environmental Indicator Initiatives in
the EU, with Special Reference to Biodiversity, Landscape and
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
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
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
"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 categorythe
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
Those designed more broadly to measure
progress in integrating environmental concerns into other areas
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
Clearance of natural and semi-natural
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
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 TERMthe
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
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.