The Environmental Audit Committee has today published the report of its inquiry into Measuring Well-being and Sustainable Development: Sustainable Development Indicators.
The Government should reconsider its proposal to drop the 'environmental equality' Sustainable Development Indicator and review each of the other proposed SDIs to see how they might capture the range of values for how they affect people’s lives, not just the average.
Chair of the Committee, Joan Walley MP said:
"The new Sustainable Development Indicators don't do enough to hold the Government to account for inequalities in the environment and in our communities, as well as the economic inequalities that have long been obvious.
There are huge gulfs between rich and poor in this country, not just in terms of income, but in the environmental factors that affect their quality of life.
Poorer communities are, for instance, much more likely to be living next to busy roads with air pollution problems that can take months or years off their life.
The Government should be measuring the range of impacts on people — the range of incomes not just the average; the range of life-expectancies between rich and poor communities, not just the average; and the difference in energy efficiency between high-value houses and poor homes."
The Environmental Audit Committee report also criticises the lack of targets in the new indicator set, despite there already being binding targets elsewhere in some areas covered by the SDIs - for emissions, air pollution and renewable energy. The MPs criticise, for example, not just the way the level of Government debt will be used to measure the economy's sustainability but also the absence of a target for this. The Government should instead use an indicator which reflects the extent to which public sector debt will be a burden rather than a boon for the next generation, such as Government bond rates.
Joan Walley MP said:
"The Government’s proposal to measure only the 'direction of travel' on indicators will provide no insight to whether the UK is achieving, or falling short, on its economic, environmental or social requirements. We need clear, measurable targets; otherwise the new SDIs will fail to hold the Government to account and undermine the whole point of the Indicators."
The Committee also criticised the ‘natural resource use’ indicator because it would monitor both finite and renewable resources taken together, and potentially treat fossil fuels the same as other resources which need to be preserved for future generations to use
The revision of the SDIs is running in parallel with the 'Measuring National Well-being' initiative, set up by the Prime Minister in 2010 and being run by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The Committee identified some overlap between the two indicator frameworks. They highlight that the distinction between the ONS focus on 'current' well-being and the SDIs on 'inter-generational' well-being is likely to be unclear for the public and possibly also for policy-makers, and the frameworks' separate development risks undermining a coherent and full view of well-being. They call for a single framework to be produced.