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Frontier Issues in Ecological Economics

Frontier Issues in Ecological Economics

Philip Lawn

Ecological economics formally emerged in the late 1980s in response to the failure of mainstream economic paradigms to deal adequately with the interdependence of social, economic and ecological systems. Frontier Issues in Ecological Economics focuses on a range of cutting-edge issues in the field of ecological economics and outlines plausible measures to achieve a more sustainable, just, and efficient world for all.

Chapter 6: An Introduction to Sustainable Development Indicators

Philip Lawn

Subjects: development studies, development economics, economics and finance, development economics, environment, ecological economics


INTRODUCTION Since the late 1980s and, in particular, the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, many national governments have introduced a range of policy measures in an attempt to steer their economies along a more sustainable path. On the surface, at least, this appears to be a positive trend. But should we be scratching the surface and asking whether nations have been successful in moving toward the sustainable development goal? Is it possible that we have focused too heavily on policy measures and have forgotten to supplement the means to achieving sustainable development with a suitable range of indicators to assess a nation’s sustainable development performance? Or, alternatively, do we now have appropriate sustainable development indicators at our disposal but the policies implemented to achieve sustainable development have been horrendously conceived and/or inadequately implemented? Either way, we could be aimlessly moving along a catastrophic pathway or, as Costanza (1987) describes it, be caught in a ‘social trap’ because of our reliance on misleading signals or our failure to heed the warning signs revealed by recently established indicators. Given the questions asked above, it is important that we think more seriously about the potential value and shortcomings of sustainable development indicators already in use as well as what can be done to improve upon them. If successful, we should be better informed about the impact of past policies and what is required to avoid past failings. In Chapter 2, a broad definition of sustainable development was established to serve...

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