The UK’s progress towards sustainable long-term economic growth and social wellbeing will be easier for people to track under new plans announced by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman.
Defra has launched a consultation on a new set of Sustainable Development Indicators (SDIs) providing an overview of the UK’s progress towards a more sustainable economy, society, and environment.
The indicators will make it easier for people to monitor if the UK is developing in a sustainable way and help Government see where more work needs to be done. Updates will be published annually with a scorecard showing whether progress is in the right direction.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: “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. We have put sustainability at the heart of everything that the Government does, and these new indicators will help us take stock of our progress and give the public the means to chart our success.
“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 to measure the health and wealth of the UK.”
Assessments on the UK's use of natural resources, and the skills and knowledge the nation possesses, are amongst the new measurements proposed. Twelve headline measures are supported by 25 supplementary indicators.
The 12 headline indicators are economic prosperity, long term unemployment, poverty, knowledge and skills, healthy life expectancy, social capital, social mobility in adulthood, housing provision, greenhouse gas emissions, natural resource use, wildlife and biodiversity, and water availability.
The WWF said that wellbeing should be seen as an integral element of sustainable development.
However, the group observed that, out of the 41 measures of wellbeing, only 5 are environmental, saying that this downplays the contribution of the natural environment to quality of life, and the importance of maintaining the conditions of wellbeing in the future.
Luke Wreford, policy development officer at WWF-UK, said: “It’s great that the government is adopting broader measures of progress beyond GDP – this was one of the few useful things that governments around the world committed to at Rio.
“However, we’ve now got two overlapping frameworks, when really wellbeing should be seen as an integral element of sustainable development. It would be much better to combine the two frameworks to provide greater clarity for policy makers.
"There is also a lack of targets and goals, so it's hard to see how these indicators alone will lead to the shift in the government's direction we so urgently require. This is the real test – especially when the Treasury is currently derailing the green policies that would get us on track for a sustainable future."
The revised Sustainable Development Indicators will be used alongside the national wellbeing measures developed by the Office for National Statistics, and work on valuations of natural resources, to provide a wide set of measures to view how society is progressing.
Taken together, these measures demonstrate the UK’s leading role in championing the need to move beyond GDP as the sole measure of progress, which received international recognition at Rio+20.
Previous SDIs have been widely used outside of Government by academics, NGOs and businesses. This consultation will give these groups the opportunity to give us their views and feedback on the new proposed SDIs.