Edited by Jeroen C.J.M. van den Bergh
Onno J Kuik and Alison J Gilbert 1. Introduction In the last decade sustainable development has become an important policy objective for many governments and other decision-making bodies across the world. A question that logically follows the adoption of sustainable development as a policy objective is how to measure its achievement. Sustainable development has been described as a meliorative concept: it offers a general direction to policy making, but it is not very precise in its operational guidance. Although the concept of sustainable development may be clear enough at a sufficiently high level of abstraction, not so clear are its practical, day-to-day, policy implications. In the preparations for UNCED this was clearly understood. The action programme of UNCED, Agenda 21, thus calls for the development of indicators for sustainable development, rather than for precise measurement. In fact, Agenda 21 argues that ‘Indicators of sustainable development need to be developed to provide solid bases for decision-making at all levels and to contribute to a self-regulating sustainability of integrated environment and development systems’ (UNCED, 1992). Indicators are bits of information that highlight what is happening in the large system; they are small windows that provide a glimpse of the ‘big picture’ (Sustainable Seattle, 1996). Clearly, sustainable development is such a ‘big picture’. Indicators of sustainable development should highlight, or provide a glimpse of, the sustainability of development. The primary functions of indicators are simplification and communication. They are a compromise between scientific accuracy and the demand for concise information. The purpose of...
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