Moving Beyond the Impasse
Edited by James Meadowcroft, Oluf Langhelle and Audun Ruud
Chapter 9: Measuring what? National interpretations of sustainable development–the case of Norway
The concept of sustainable development was proposed by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) as a guiding principle to steer global development (Lafferty 1996). Global concerns, however, have to be translated into regional, national and local settings. To be able to draw actual policy implications from sustainable development at the national level, there are a number of issues that must be (pre)determined. First of all these issues concern the question of what to translate. It is necessary to determine what sustainable development means, what should be included in the concept, and how different dimensions of sustainable development are to be measured and weighed. During the past two decades various political efforts have been undertaken to promote, measure and operationalize sustainable development. Numerous challenges still remain and there is as yet no common measure of sustainable development. This is hardly surprising. As a report issued by the UNECE/OECD/Eurostat Working Group on Statistics for sustainable development (United Nations 2008, p. 13) has argued, sustainable development is ‘difficult to define with precision and, therefore, difficult to measure’. Moreover, there is no agreement on how to measure global sustainable development. Stiglitz et al. (2009, p. 234) argue that ‘no indicator emerges as consensual, even among those that try to rely on a well-defined concept of global sustainability. Such a situation is obviously a source of perplexity. . .’. Therefore one of the major challenges of sustainable development remains at the conceptual level, concerning what it is and how it should be measured.
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