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New UN report highlights value of indicators for transitioning to green economy

Photo: UNEP
Photo: UNEP

New UN report highlights value of indicators for transitioning to green economy

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today launched a new report that shows how indicators can measure progress towards a resource-efficient, green economy as well as inform policy decisions that support sustainable societies.

“Green economy indicators provide a mirror on the journey to an environmentally stable, economically sound and equitable society,” said UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner.

“This publication is intended to help policy-makers understand how useful such measurements are for informing policy decisions and advancing their green economy agendas at a national level,” he added, referring to the report, ‘Measuring Progress towards an Inclusive Green Economy.’

The report comes as experts from major institutions and governments meet in Geneva at the first major gathering since the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Brazil in June, which called on the UN and its partners to advance the work on developing methodologies to evaluate green economic policies.

The three-day Geneva meeting aims to learn from countries and businesses that have developed green economy/green growth-related indicators, and provide advice on how to harmonize these approaches, as well as identify the knowledge gaps and research priorities to advance this work.

According to UNEP, indicators can be used at all stages of policy interventions: identifying the key environmental issues; assessing the potential cost and performance of various policy options to understand which investment will yield the highest return in environmental, social and economic terms; and tracking the impact of the policies on human well-being and equity.

“When we put in place a framework to account for and value environmental goods and services, we are making the contribution of nature to our collective well-being more visible, and acknowledging the fact that investing in natural capital is necessary for our continued economic prosperity,” said the Chief of UNEP’s Economics and Trade Branch, Steven Stone.

UNEP pointed out that currently, most countries concentrate too heavily on gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of economic performance, and policy-makers do not factor in depreciation of fixed assets such as forests, clean air or water resources.

“The idea is to supplement GDP, which monitors macroeconomic activity, with other measures that better reflect the multidimensional nature of human well-being and quality of life,” said a UNEP Economic Affairs Officer and co-author of the new report, Sheng Fulai.

The report details a range of indicators that policy-makers can use to formulate, focus and track the impact of their green economy policies, including in the areas of climate change, resource efficiency, green investment, employment, and health.

The report notes there are already several indices and indicators available for countries interested in promoting sustainable development, such as the new UN System of Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA), which sets new statistical standards for collecting and integrating economic and environmental data.

Government officials from Barbados, China, Denmark, Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, Indonesia, Morocco, Thailand and Uruguay, all of whom are engaged in developing a comprehensive set of indicators to inform their national green economic policies, are attending the Geneva meeting.

Also participating are representatives from academia, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Bank, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.