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NEWS from the
United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD)

Issue 6                                           January 1999 - July 1999


"Indicator" seems to be the key word of our age. Initiatives towards a set of development indicators, environmental indicators or indicators of sustainable development have been mushrooming everywhere. With its present issue Envstats starts a series introducing the most significant international programmes on environmental indicators, inviting to the Editorial page, as guests, various international organizations that have been active in this field.


Towards a European System of Environmental Pressure Indicators and Indices
by Inger Öhman
Head, Unit for Environment Statistics Eurostat

A publication containing 60 environmental pressure indicators for the European Union has been published recently by Eurostat. The goal of this publication is to present the first results of the Environmental Pressure Indices project, which aims to give a comprehensive description of the most important human activities that have a negative impact on the environment. The project reflects the efforts undertaken by the European Commission to provide decision-makers and the general public with the information necessary for the design and monitoring of an adequate environment policy for the European Union. The document is a first attempt to provide an overview of various environmental disturbances. The results represent a first stage of ongoing work and are dependent on data availability, which is in a state of constant improvement.

This work will also contribute to the development of indicators for measuring the effectiveness of the integration of environmental concerns into different sector policies. This will require the breakdown of these environmental indicators according to the main economic sector. While the publication has not done this directly, it is clear that many of the indicators identified are significant in considering the impact of agriculture, transport, energy and other activities.

Eurostat's approach to identifying the most relevant pressure indicators is unique. Instead of the usual approach of asking politicians which indicators they want for policy purposes, the decision was taken to ask the scientific and environmental community to identify the most important issues for each of the 10 policy fields* of the European Union's 5th Environmental Action Programme.

A panel of 2,300 European environmental experts (the Scientific Advisory Groups, SAGs), consisting mainly of senior natural scientists from 15 EU Member States, was consulted. On the basis of the advice from the SAG surveys, which included, among others, an assessment of the policy relevance and the responsiveness of the proposed indicators, and after consultation with statisticians and indicator experts, a set of 100 quantitative indicators covering these issues was defined, i.e. 10 per policy field.

The publication presents the first 60 indicators of this set, in the order of preference expressed by the experts in the SAG. Approximately one third of the indicators are based on data collected by Eurostat through regular activities. Other indicators make use of data gathered and processed by other international bodies, such as the European Environment Agency and its Topic Centers.

The remaining indicators have been constructed by the international team of consultants for this project. Future editions may include some additional indicators, subject to data availability. However, Eurostat will focus on improving data quality and sector breakdown, and in particular on presenting the links between Pressure and Driving Force (human activity) indicators.

A possible future development of the work could be the aggregation of the 60 indicators into 10 indices, one for each policy field, allowing a better comparison with economic indices such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The GDP index, even though criticized, is so well known and accepted that it is usually considered simply as an indicator. Building up indices, which then become common indicators, is basically the dream of policy makers dealing with the environment. The current debate in academic and scientific circles on methods to produce synthetic indices, which would allow the various pressures to be weighted and aggregated into a single index, is being followed.

For a more detailed description of the selection process, please consult the web site (http://e-m-a-i-l.nu/tepi/). This site is maintained in close cooperation with Eurostat by the team that produced the publication and provides a general information to the Environmental Pressure Indices Project, with background documents and many useful links to related activities.

A second web site is situated at the European Commission's Joint Research Center (http://esl.jrc.it/envind/). It is closely linked to the previous one, but focuses on the research aspects of the project, such as methodologies of aggregating the sixty indicators to ten Pressure Indices, linkages to economic and social indicators, and the potential to extend the current focus on pressures on the environment to "sustainability" indicators in the wider sense introduced by the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development (UN CSD).
* The 10 policy fields are: Air Pollution, Climate Change, Loss of Biodiversity, Marine Environment and Coastal Zones, Ozone Layer Depletion, Dispersion of Toxic Substances, Urban Environmental Problems, Waste, Water Pollution and Water Resources.


UNSD Workshop on Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting (New York, 7-11 June 1999)

The workshop brought together more than 30 representatives of national statistical offices and environmental ministries from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and Australia as well as from international and non-governmental organizations active in the field of environmental accounting or statistics. The workshop provided training on the more practical modules of the SEEA. The Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting - an Operational Manual, prepared by the Nairobi Group, and its accompanying software were used as training materials. The Manual will be published jointly by UNSD and UNEP as part of the Handbook of National Accounting series. The presentations and discussions focused on the framework, the environmental protection expenditures, the physical and monetary emission and asset accounts and environmental valuation. Participants shared information on country practices and discussed unresolved issues with a view to agreeing upon best practices. They felt that the Nairobi Group Manual was a useful tool to assist countries in setting up programmes on integrated environmental and economic accounting, which would provide practical guidance on the implementation of the SEEA.

The report of the workshop will be made available on the Environment Statistics website at www.un.org/Depts/unsd/enviro.

UNSD/FAO-FI Joint Workshop on Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting for Fisheries (New York, 14-16 June 1999)

Increased international and national public attention has recently been given to the problems facing marine fisheries including serious overfishing, large overcapacities of the fishing fleets, low economic returns, heavy subsidization, and environmental issues related to discarding by-catches, use of destructive fishing methods, habitat degradation and marine pollution. These problems, together with efforts to implement the recommended actions of Agenda 21, call for the development of integrated environmental and economic accounting for fisheries.

The workshop was attended by national accountants, environment statisticians and fisheries economists from developed and developing countries and from international and non-governmental organizations. The workshop reviewed and discussed draft guidelines on the system of integrated environmental and economic accounting for fisheries (SEEAF) currently being developed by UNSD, FAO and UNU. It also provided a forum to share experiences on the uses, current practices and problems encountered in the compilation of fisheries accounts. The discussion focused on the need for and uses of fisheries accounts, current country practices in the treatment of the fishery sector in the SNA, and institutional arrangements that would facilitate the implementation of the SEEAF.

The report of the workshop will be made available on the aforementioned Environment Statistics website and also on the FAO website at http://www.fao.org/fi/publ/meeting.htm.


Mr. Peter Bartelmus, Chief, Environment, Energy and Industry Statistics Branch, UNSD joined the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy in Wuppertal, Germany on 1 February 1999. The work of the Wuppertal Institute concentrates on the following main three areas: (i) public policy, such as formulating concepts for integrated environmental policies; (ii) business, such as analyzing energy and resource flows at company and product levels; and (iii) research, such as research into structures, incentive systems, motives and obstacles relating to eco-efficiency. The institute has over 120 staff who are organized into teams and divisions. Mr. Bartelmus is the Director of the Division for Material Flows and Structural Change.

Mr. Anthony Friend directed from the early seventies to the mid eighties, the Environmental Statistics Programme of Statistics Canada. He was instrumental, in collaboration with his colleague, David Rapport, in developing STRESS (Stress-response environmental statistical system). He has also served as advisor to the OECD, UN Agencies and the World Bank on environmental statistics, environmental accounting, and ecological economics. Currently he has his own consultancy firm, OIKO in Ottawa, Canada, and has been teaching courses in ecological economics to graduate students at the University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica.

Mrs. Inger Öhman is head of the Unit for Environment Statistics at Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Union located in Luxembourg. Mrs. Öhman is a statistician with extensive experience in the field of environment. Before entering Eurostat in 1996, she worked as head of Environment Statistics at Statistics Sweden and has been active in international cooperation in environment statistics.

Mr. Cesare Costantino has recently joined UNSD on a short- term contract to collaborate with the Environment Statistics Section. Mr. Costantino, who graduated from the Faculty of Economics of the University of Rome, is the head of the Environmental Accounting Unit of the Italian National Statistical Institute (ISTAT) and has extensive experience in environmental statistics and accounting both at the national and international levels.

Within the framework of the UN Internship Programme, Ms. Cristina Picco and Ms. Gisella Mercaldi from the Bocconi University, Milan, Italy, and Ms. Yoko Matsuzawa from the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia assisted the work of UNSD in the field of environment statistics and indicators.


Statistical Commission (Thirtieth session) The Statistical Commission held its thirtieth session in New York from 1 to 5 March 1999. The Commission discussed the report of the Secretary General on environment statistics and the report of the London Group. The Commission: (1) approved the work programme of the United Nations Statistics Division in the field of environment statistics; (2) approved the suggestion made by the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) Subcommittee on Statistical Activities at its thirty-second session that the Task Force on Environment Statistics should be discontinued; (3) stressed the need for continued coordination in environment statistics and approved the ACC Subcommittee on Statistical Activities carrying out such coordination to the extent possible; and (4) welcomed the continued work of the London Group on Environmental Accounting leading to the revision of the System of integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA).

Fifth Expert Group Meeting on Indicators of Sustainable Development (New York, 7-8 April 1999). The meeting was organized by the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development and served a two-fold purpose. First, the meeting took stock of the progress in the implementation of the Work Programme on Indicators of Sustainable Development of the Commission of Sustainable Development (CSD) and discussed the content and process ahead. Secondly, the meeting discussed a report commissioned by the DSD co-sponsored by Eurostat, to assess major activities in the area of linkages and aggregation of indicators of sustainable development and their possible relevance to the further development of the CSD approach. A set of conclusions and recommendations were adopted by the meeting. The report of the meeting is made available at the DSD indicator homepage at: http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/isd.htm. The meeting was attended by representatives of the UNSD Environment Statistics Section.

Planned meetings

Expert Group Meeting on Environmental Statistics and Indicators (New York, 27 September - 1 October 1999). A group of invited experts from countries and international organizations throughout the world will discuss in the meeting the draft manual on Environmental Statistics and Indicators. The manual is intended to guide statisticians of national statistical offices in the development of environment statistics and indicators. The manual will contain brief descriptions of the various subject matter areas. It will provide concepts, definitions, classifications and descriptions of data sources, tabulations and data uses for selected environmental indicators, including those identified within the frame of the indicators of sustainable development.


Whither Environment Statistics?

by Anthony M. Friend (OIKOE )

This point of view is a critique and reflection on progress on the environment statistics programme of UNSD. One of UNSD's current major projects is the Manual on Environmental Statistics and Indicators; a hands-on workbook for environmental statisticians in developing countries. Underpinning the project is a list of environmental indicators drawn from FDES identified as a "core set" by the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Advancement of Environmental Statistics. At first glance a reasonable and doable project. The Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) have similarly drawn-up a list of 134 indicators aimed at measuring progress towards the implementation of Agenda 21. While clearly interrelated these two UN initiated Projects are not, in any formal sense, linked. This dual trajectory towards identical objective of capacity building in developing countries does not serve well, and may even hinder, the "advancement" of environment statistics. In part, because both projects are largely motivated by a "quick fix" in order to demonstrate the feasibility of constructing Sustainable Development (SD) indicators from available data. In part, because of an erroneous assumption that developing country indicator construction is a "simplified version" of environment statistics of the developed countries.

The following 5 points need to be addressed preferably in a coordinated UNSD-CSD indicator programme: (1) Recognition of the unique properties of ecological, social and economic (system) states represented by spatially configurated data; (2) Recognition of the holistic nature of SD Indicators that are conceptually sound and statistically robust to make credible the values obtained, i.e., supported by scientific evidence and reliable with respect to spatial-temporal sampling; (3) Demonstration of indicators as salient points of a complex, interlocking, system of data as proposed, for instance, by UNSD's Framework for the Development of Environment Statistics (FDES) and the System of integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA); (4) Establishment of agreed protocols for coordination and integration of environmental statistics with government departments, research institutes, private sectors industries, local NGOs, international agencies, and contiguous countries sharing environmental resources, e.g., watersheds and ecosystems and (5) Establishment of programmes on institutional capacity building and technology transfer with respect to data systems for environmental monitoring, mapping and modeling, including remote sensing imagery and ecological mapping.

The challenge, and thus an opportunity, is for UNSD to act as catalyst for the development of the infrastructure as outlined above. This is a big job and clearly beyond the resources available to the Environment Statistics programme as currently conceived. However, if viewed as a statistical support programme for the implementation of Agenda 21, the context changes from a one-to-one correspondence among institutions (talking statistics to each other) to a one-to-many transdisciplinary discussion across institutions. This requires that the somewhat listless, under funded, programme be redesigned as a capacity building effort under the aegis of Agenda 21. One possible route is to merge the current work into a single inter-UN agency task that might include, inter alia, CSD (SD indicators), UNEP's GRID (environmental monitoring) and FAO's land use/cover mapping.

A major difficulty is a persistent myopia of the Statistical Commission, while giving environmental statistics priority status, views it as just one other programme competing for an ever shrinking budget. A more farsighted position is to treat environmental statistics not as a subject matter area, but as a field defined by the spatial dimension of official government statistics. FDES-SEEA thus becomes a powerful instrumental means to integrate the critical parameters of ecosystem conservation and productivity with economic production, human settlements, and international trade, including tourism. In this way the UNSD programme may be seen as an efficient means to restructure and integrate developing country's national statistical system.

The rhetoric of the "big picture" is readily employed to sell programmes but, as we know, the risk adverse administrator habitually whittles down its implementation into progressively smaller and smaller sub-sets of "doable parts." This encourages internal competition for budgets, a high likelihood of duplication of effort, the inevitable fragmentation of programmes, and ultimately leads to insufficient critical mass to make any headway. UNSD agenda for environmental statistics, it seems, has fallen prey to the "quick fix" with the not surprising result of hardly any progress from the optimistic trajectory envisaged ten years ago and, one may add, may have inspired the default mode of "City Groups" to consider the "fundamentals." The challenge, in my view, is to put Humpty Dumpty together again. Environment Statistics must be built-up from its foundations as one seamless, coordinated, system of statistics that is not just desirable, but necessary, for the development, implementation and assessment of progress of Agenda 21.

Note of the Editor

The "Point of View" column serves as a forum for individual opinions about hot issues in environment statistics. Its aim is to initiate discussion. Your comments on the role of environment statistics and that of the UNSD is solicited and appreciated. Please send them to the address below.

envstats is produced by the Environment Statistics Section of the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD). The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations. Comments and contributions for inclusion in future issues should be sent to Kathleen Suite, envstats, DC2 - 1638, 2 United Nations Plaza, New York, New York 10017.
Tel: (1-212) 963 4847. Fax: (1-212) 963 0623.
E-mail: envstats@un.org.


United Nations Statistics Division - Environment Statistics, envstats - issue6