Measuring well-being and sustainable development: Sustainable Development Indicators - Environmental Audit Committee Contents


1.  The separate development of the National Well-being and SDIs could obscure a coherent and full view of well-being that covers both a current and future generation perspective. Some types of measures are included in both sets of indicators, which is likely to confuse the public and also potentially policy-makers. (Paragraph 21)

2.  There is good reason to rationalise the SDIs, as proposed, not only to help refocus on the core aspects of sustainable development but to help find an accommodation with the parallel development of National Well-being measures. Defra's consultation on the SDIs, and most of the submissions to our inquiry, were positive about the way this was being done. (Paragraph 27)

3.  GDP clearly is a factor in current well-being. Its relevance for long-term, inter-generational, well-being is doubtful, although when juxtaposed with other SDIs it could help monitor the extent to which growth in the country is being decoupled from finite resource consumption—the foundation for sustainable development. (Paragraph 32)

4.  [The 'public sector net debt' indicator] does not distinguish between debt which funds investment to improve the lot of future generations and debt which helps pay for current consumption. The indicator has no target or threshold for determining when the level of debt becomes inter-generationally unsustainable. There is of course already a measure of the sustainability of Government debt—the interest rate on government bond issues—although that assesses a predominantly economic view of sustainability. (Paragraph 33)

5.  Equality is at the heart of the Society pillar of sustainable development, but it is not given sufficient coverage in the proposed SDIs to provide a basis for policy-making to narrow inequalities. (Paragraph 38)

6.  The bringing together in [the 'natural resource use'] Indicator of metal ores and minerals, which are finite resources, and biomass and timber, which can be sustainable crops is unhelpful. The inclusion also of fossil fuels consumption gives a false impression that we need to preserve this resource, like other resources, for future generations to use. If the overriding aim of its inclusion is to highlight fossil fuel consumption and thereby encourage emissions reduction, that is misplaced because it is already addressed in the separate emissions reduction indicator. (Paragraph 39)

7.  We welcome [that the 'natural resource use' Indicator would measure usage on a UK consumption-basis] not least because it reflects an acceptance of our recommendation for accounting for emissions on the basis of UK consumption (rather than production) in our October 2011 report on carbon budgets (Paragraph 41)

8.  The value of the existing SDIs had been questioned because in some cases there had been no link between the measures and the policies which might influence performance. The lesson for the current revision of the SDIs is that the process of considering and setting targets could help link the indicators to policy agendas more closely. The use of traffic-light assessments of the 'direction of travel' on indicators provides no insight to whether the UK is achieving, or falling short, on the sustainability implicit in those indicators. (Paragraph 44)

9.  Beyond taking account of the contributions to the SDIs consultation exercise, Defra has work to do to finalise the Indicators still under development, and then to accommodate the ongoing work of the UN Statistical Commission tasked at the UN Rio+20 Earth Summit with developing well-being indicators and the multi-national panels investigation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The linkage between these SDGs and the UK's SDIs was an area we had hoped to discuss with the Deputy Prime Minister, who led the UK delegation at the Rio+20 Summit in June, and it is regrettable that five months later we are still awaiting an opportunity for such a meeting. (Paragraph 47)

10.  The current set of SDIs is designated as National Statistics, and thus prepared under the Government Statistical Service code of practice, which has the benefit of providing assurance on the reliability and integrity of the results. (Paragraph 48)

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Prepared 29 November 2012