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Sustainability indicators

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This article provides an introduction to sustainability and sustainability indicators. It discusses their role in integrated coastal management. It also describes testing sustainability indicators as part of an EU funded project SAIL [1] in the southern North Sea.

The sustainability concept

The concept of sustainability gathers together the various elements contributing to a human life support system on Earth and follows the seminal approach established by the Brundtland report on sustainable development (WCED (1987))[1]. Traditionally, sustainability is associated with criteria such as efficiency or equity from an economic, social and environmental viewpoint and deals with intragenerational and intergenerational issues. Nevertheless, this concept is difficult to seize and ambiguities arise (Roussel et al. (2007)) [2].

Sustainable development and therefore sustainability are linked not only by the three-way relationship between the environmental, economic, and social pillars but also by the institutional dimension of sustainable development. Prominent interactions exist respectively between the environmental and economic dimensions regarding viability and between the economic and social dimensions denoting equity. Furthermore, the distinction is conventionally made between weak sustainability as opposed to strong sustainability, allowing for a description of different types of capital and a total stock perspective. These types are natural capital, manufactured capital, human capital, social capital, and their substitutability determines the position held between weak sustainability and strong sustainability.

The Brundtland report and Agenda 21 identify the need for sustainable development within the coastal zone. Gallagher et al. (2004) [3] identify key constructs or mobile concepts of sustainability in a context of coastal management surrounded by professional coastal practitioners. In this analysis, sustainability becomes a guiding principle that may be viewed as a dominant paradigm, and may represent both the aim of coastal management plans and the means by which success is measured.

Sustainable development indicators

Regarding the definition and the scope of indicators, see the Coastal Wiki indicators page.

Many works have been conducted by international organizations as well as by national agencies and governments in order to elaborate national sustainable development strategies. The aim has been to elaborate incentive tools for considering the multidimensional nature of sustainable development and for assessing related progress (Rey-Valette et al. (2007)) [4].

The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development [2] led the way by implementing a work programme in April 1995 resulting in a first list of 134 indicators in 1996. After being tested in 22 countries in 2000, this list was reduced down to 59 so-called basic indicators for which a methodological guide was published in September 2001. From 1998, the OECD adopted the same approach based on an initial extensive list and several meetings among scientific experts until 2003, when a list of 69 reference indicators was published. EUROSTAT has employed a similar approach: a first test concerning the 134 United Nations indicators was carried out in 1997, and was then followed by the publication of list of a 69 indicators derived from basic United Nations indicators. After the Göteborg summit held in June 2001, a specific task-force resulted in a prioritized system consisting of 155 indicators which were validated in 2005: 12 so-called main indicators were to be used by high-ranking decision makers and a large public, 45 strategic indicators were related to sub-subjects, and finally, 98 so-called analytic indicators represented the various processes (Zuitnen (2004) [5], EUROSTAT (2005) [6]).

Although indicators were initially elaborated from the sustainable development pillars (environmental, economic, social, and institutional issues), the interactions between these pillars are mostly favored by issues, thus enabling the introduction of values and priorities of relevant populations. The European Union has thus recently drawn up guidelines and indicators concerning sustainable development whilst taking into account issues at stake (EUROSTAT (2005)). The aim is to integrate knowledge and create transversal bridges in order to link pillars and to encourage commitment of the people.

After their initial development at an international level, where sustainable development indicators essentially ensure a normative and educational function, these approaches were progressively implemented at other levels. They were then employed at national and local levels, where they were used for implementing sustainable management and decision support principles for managers. It is verified that interactions existing between the different pillars of sustainable development are best taken into account at a local scale where positive synergies between these dimensions are expressed most accurately.

Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) indicators

Sustainability indicators cover different areas of sustainable development. With regards to Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), sets of indicators have been developed both for measuring the sustainability of coastal zone development and the implementation of ICZM policies. In May 2002, the Recommendation concerning the implementation of integrated management of coastal zones in Europe (ICZM) was approved by the European Parliament and the Council. Member States were requested to report to the Commission about the experience gained with its implementation. The European ICZM expert group, at that time composed of all 20 coastal member States and two candidate States, recognized the importance of indicators. Their indicators and data working group (WG-ID) led by the European Topic Centre Landuse and Spatial Information ETC_LUSI, proposed in 2003 the Member States and candidate Countries to employ two sets of indicators:'


  1. An indicator set to measure the progress of implementation of ICZM (progress indicators).
  2. A core set of 27 indicators (composed of 44 measures) to measure sustainable development of the coastal zone (sustainability indicators).


The indicators are divided into seven groups according to the seven goals of the EU ICZM Recommendation. Taken together, the indicators in each group will help the European Commission, Member States and coastal partnerships monitor progress towards achieving the goals for coastal sustainability set out in the EU Recommendation.

Table 1.jpg

Indicator assessment

Since 2004 both sets of indicators are further tested. Regional testing of the core set of 27 SD indicators started with the initiative of SAIL, The resulting report, an indicator based evaluation of sustainable development in the coastal zone of the Southern North Sea Lescrauwaet, A.-K.et al. (Ed.) (2006a) [7] was welcomed by the Member States ICZM experts and lead to further national testing for the Dutch coast. The report on EU sustainable indicators for coastal zones in The Netherlands: a first inventory Lescrauwaet,A.-K. et al.(2006b) [8] proves the feasibility of data assimilation for EU SD indicators at national level. In both publications is described per indicator what the measurement shows, why monitoring is needed and what are the implications for planning and managing the coast. The DEDUCE project (INTERREG IIIC - South) 2005-2007 is now further testing the methodological framework and in the SPICOSA project (FP6) 2007-2011 integrated approaches to assess regional sustainability of coastal zones are undertaken. A technical report on the application of the sets of indicators based on the national reprorts further to the EU ICZM Recommendation has been presented by the working group on Indicators[9]. The Evaluation of ICZM in Europe in Europe stated that the "economic and social parameters were underepresented" and asks that "all three principles of sustainability have to be considered in a balanced way.." [10]

The role of the present EU sustainability indicators for coastal zones is still subject for further research and dialogue. Present challenges are to:

  • Investigate data-model integration possibilities in order to develop a set of sustainability indicators suitable for outlook reports.
  • Link to priority issues at regional and local level through stakeholders meetings.
  • Integrate with evaluation criteria of European legislation like Water Framework Directive and the Birds and Habitats Directives and coming EU regulations.
  • Use innovative studies on coastal science-policy processes to define next steps.
  • Discuss the application in ENCORA Theme 1.

References

  1. World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) (1987), "Our common future", Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  2. Roussel, S.; Crinquant, N. and Bourdat, E. (2007), "In search of coastal zone sustainability by means of social carrying capacity indicators construction: lessons learned from the Thau lagoon case study (Région Languedoc-Roussillon, France)", International Journal of Sustainable Development, 10 (1/2): 175-194.
  3. Gallagher, A.; Johnson, D.; Glegg, G. and Trier, C. (2004), "Construct of sustainability in coastal zone management", Marine Policy, 28: 249-255.
  4. Rey-Valette, H.; Damart, S. and Roussel, S., "A multicriteria participation-based methodology for selecting sustainable development indicators: an incentive tool for concerted decision making beyond the diagnosis framework", International Journal of Sustainable Development, 10 (1/2): 122-138
  5. Zuintnen, N. (2004), "Indicateurs pour un développement durable : aspects méthodologiques et développements en cours", Working Paper No. 4-04 of the Bureau Fédéral du Plan, Brussels, Belgium.
  6. EUROSTAT (2005), "Measuring progress towards a more sustainable Europe, sustainable development indicators for the European Union", Luxembourg: Office for official publications of the European Communities.
  7. Lescrauwaet, A.-K. et al. (Ed.) (2006). State of the coast of the Southern North Sea: an indicators-based approach to evaluating sustainable development in the coastal zone of the Southern North Sea . VLIZ Special Publication, 36. Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ): Oostende, Belgium. 140 pp. ISBN 90-810081-1-0.
  8. Lescrauwaet,A.-K.et al. (2006). Europese duurzaamheidsindicatoren voor kustgebieden in Nederland: een eerste inventarisatie {European sustainability indicators for coastal zones in The Netherlands: a first inventory]. VLIZ special publication 31.Vlaams instituut voor de Zee (VLIZ): Oostende, België 128 pp. ISBN 90-81008-14-5
  9. Report on the use of the ICZM indicators from the WG- ID, September 2006; http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/com/2007/com2007_0308en01.pdf
  10. Evaluation (2006). "Evaluation of Integrated Coastal Zone Managemenin Europe". Final Report, 18. August 2006. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/iczm/pdf/evaluation_iczm_report.pdf
The main author of this article is Roussel, Sébastien
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Further substantial contributions by Job Dronkers and Jannette van Buuren
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.