OECD assesses sustainability indicator work

Rome conference hears calls for more integration of sustainable development's three pillars

Progress is being made in the development of indicators of sustainable development, but more work is needed to integrate the three pillars of environment, society and economics, delegates to a conference in Rome organized by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) agreed at its close on Friday.

The three-day meeting, "Towards Sustainable Development: Indicators to Measure Progress," reviewed the current state of a three-year OECD initiative to clarify the concept of sustainable development. This will prepare analysis and policy recommendations for an OECD ministerial meeting in 2001, ahead of the tenth anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit in 2002.

OECD deputy secretary general Thorwald Moe told delegates: "The major difficulty in developing indicators to track progress towards sustainable development is not the lack of individual data but of frameworks to organise and summarise existing information," Progress towards sustainable development could only be achieved by extending the boundaries of economic measurement, he said, in order to focus attention at the highest political level. "What cannot be measured will not be done," Mr Moe stressed.

"Indicators are alive and well," meeting coordinator Domenico Siniscalco told the conference, "but they are having to meet changing demand. Ten years ago, they were intended to guide policy - now they need to be communication tools. They are still rather weak in social areas and need to take social customs and norms into account." The failure of the recent trade talks in Seattle proved the need to integrate economic with social and environmental considerations, he said.

Reduced, balanced sets of indicators better reflecting the linkages between the three pillars of sustainable development and highlighting key trends and policy variables would provide a base of comparable information to which countries could add to suit their circumstances, Mr Siniscalco said in his summing-up of the conference.

Core sets of indicators can also be adapted for a range of different purposes, from tracking performance against plans to budgetary information. Some already exist, such as the OECD environment indicators, or are within reach (for transport-environment and energy-environment), he explained. "There is also some convergence towards a core set of agri-environment indicators," Mr Siniscalco concluded.

Follow Up:
OECD, tel: +33 1 45 24 80 97. References: Background information on the conference is available on the OECD Sustainable Development web pages.

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