EU to develop indicators for eco-efficient economy

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EU environment ministers have asked the European Commission to develop robust indicators to measure the bloc’s progress towards an eco-efficient economy, a concept that will be at the core of the revised Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs, to be agreed upon next spring.

The request follows the recent adoption of a Commission roadmap for developing new environmental and social indicators to measure the real prosperity and wellbeing of nations beyond traditional GDP. 

The ministers, meeting in Luxembourg on 21 October, asked the EU executive to complement GDP with “additional robust, reliable and widely recognised indicators to measure progress towards an eco-efficient economy”. 

They also endorsed plans to draw up a sustainable development scoreboard monitoring member states’ progress in implementing the bloc’s sustainable development strategy.

Rapid progress in view of Lisbon Strategy review

WWF, an environmental NGO, cheered the “remarkably rapid progress” in bringing the issue onto the mainstream political agenda, as ministers took up the dossier just two months after the Commission published its paper on the matter.

Ulf Björnholm Ottosson, an environmental counsellor at the Swedish Permanent Representation to the EU, explained that the eco-efficient economy will be “a core area” in revising the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs next year. 

GDP growth is currently the main indicator for measuring the effectiveness of recovery plans launched last year to restore economic growth. But, in order to fuel growth, the world is consuming natural resources quicker than the planet can regenerate – a dilemma that the EU sustainable development strategy aims to resolve (EURACTIV 25/09/09). 

A “green economic transition” is needed to resolve both the economic crisis and combat climate change, Björnholm Ottosson stressed.

Eco-efficient economy

The counsellor argued that strengthening the eco-efficient economy concept is “a question of establishing the right economic framework”. 

“It is about putting a price on carbon emissions and creating the prerequisites for businesses using various taxation instruments and general rules, so that they benefit financially from using less energy and fewer resources.” 

The development of new technology and innovations should also be supported both at EU and national level to achieve this, he added. 

Indicators

A pilot version of an index to measure pollution and other environmental harm within EU territory is due to be published in 2010. 

It will help assess the results of EU environmental protection efforts in the following areas: climate change and energy use, nature and biodiversity, air pollution and health impacts, water use and pollution, and waste generation and resource use.  

Experts agree that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) alone cannot reflect the economic performance of modern society, as it does not show how a country's wealth is distributed and fails to measure its natural resources or human and social capital.

In parallel to international initiatives to improve measurements of societal progress (EURACTIV 17/07/07), the European Commission announced in 2007 that it would develop additional indicators to complement GDP (EURACTIV 20/11/07).

The aim, it said, is "to take stock of natural resources and human and social capital, rather than just the use of these resources" and to focus on "the role of eco-systems in providing welfare".

The resulting Commission communication, entitled 'GDP and beyond - Measuring progress in a changing world', was adopted on 20 August 2009.

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