In its consultation paper, the Government says that the strategy will need to bring together policies on business, jobs, welfare, education, training and health under the banner of sustainable development, as well as addressing the traditional areas of environmental policy.1The Government's "four broad objectives" for sustainable development confirm the breadth of its thinking:
To track progress against these objectives, the strategy will identify a "handful" of key indicators. Those under consideration cover: climate change, air quality, water quality, biodiversity, the beauty and tranquility of the countryside, economic growth, poverty and deprivation, health and housing.
The decision to develop six or seven "headline" indicators was announced last year by Environment Minister Michael Meacher. He said he wanted them to have a high profile "to be reported on the six-o'clock news, for instance, as are the key economic indicators."
A set of some 120 indicators of sustainable development was published in 1996. These will be reviewed as part of the new strategy and are likely to be widened to measure social issues including health, education, poverty and crime.
In a recent report on indicators, the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development said that the Government should set targets for the key indicators if it wishes them to acquire public "resonance".2 It also said that targets must be arrived at by a "transparent and logical process", and warned of the dangers that Government decisions in choosing the way indicators are calculated could be "seen as a matter of political convenience".
"Changes in the choice or methodology of indicators...must be carried out openly and for clear reasons," the Round Table said, adding that indicators should not be changed too often.
One area in which indicators could be used to support sustainable development policy would be in measuring the efficiency of resource use - but the Government's paper does not specifically mention such an approach. Recent work by the US World Resources Institute, for example, measured the "total material requirement" of the US, Dutch, German and Japanese economies - providing measures of the resources used per unit of economic output and linking resource use to individual economic sectors .
Nevertheless, the paper breaks new ground in UK policy by discussing the concept of "eco-efficiency" - getting more economic output from fewer resources - as a central plank of sustainable development policy (ENDS Report 272, pp 20-24 ). The paper suggests that the concept could, in particular, inform policies on energy and water use and waste production.
"We need to stimulate and support those influences which encourage producers to provide better goods and services while using resources more efficiently," it says.
To advance eco-efficiency thinking in Government policy, the paper proposes measures which include:
The paper gives a special mention to the need to promote sustainability in buildings and the construction industry - in particular by improving energy efficiency. However, it scarcely discusses the role of economic instruments, despite the Government's growing interest in their use.