Today, the majority of leaders acknowledge the degradation of natural capital and the urgent need to protect the environment. Nevertheless, in order to define appropriate public policies, they must be able to rely on scientific standards that allow them to assess the state of a territory’s natural capital.
It remains difficult to assess this state, or even to define exactly what a "good state" of the planet should be: most existing instruments have an incomplete definition of environmental sustainability, lack of relevant indicators or fail to set appropriate targets to achieve good environmental status. There is therefore no satisfactory approach that would allow decision-makers or experts to know whether a country is moving towards environmental sustainability.
Based on a dashboard assessing the state of 23 environmental components, the ESGAP framework aims to address this need. However, the lack of appropriate standards for many essential natural capital contributions and in many countries is one of the most notable gaps identified in the ESGAP pilot projects in New Caledonia, Kenya and Vietnam.
Watch the video: How to measure the state of the planet?
This research project with EcoAct aimed to identify missing standards for several components of the Environmental Sustainability Gap (ESGAP). It discusses possible strategies to develop appropriate standards in the event that no standards are available globally.
ESGAP is an innovative tool initially developed with University College London (UCL) that assesses the state of a territory’s environmental functions and their level of sustainability. For all critical components of natural capital in the territory concerned (air or water quality, pollution, forest resources, fishing resources, etc.), this indicator calculates the difference between their current state and a state that would be sustainable (that is, a state compatible with a sustainable functioning of the processes necessary for the preservation of life, human activities and well-being). This allows the calculation of an “environmental sustainability gap” (ESGAP), which highlights the path to environmental sustainability. This can then serve as a guide for public policies to estimate and preserve the natural state of a given territory.
Standards have been proposed for 16 out of the 22 ESGAP indicators examined in this research project. For 8 indicators, there was not enough solid information to propose a global standard. The study identified 13 datasets available to calculate these indicators globally and provided the source and link to these publicly available databases.
The next step to produce a standard of good ecological condition applicable to all countries involves, for indicators with "standards to be defined by experts" (Fairbrass, 2020), to consider who the experts might be and how to engage with them to define a globally applicable standard. This depends on the existence of a globally recognized authority (such as the World Health Organization for pollution or the Food and Agriculture Organization for fisheries), or if the indicator is developed by different teams of scientists or organizations.
Future work could also focus on examining the state of knowledge and options for setting standards from unconventional sources, such as geospatial data, big earth data, etc. The ARIES project related to the compilation of ecosystem accounts under the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting – Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA-EA) could be an interesting source for this.
Find out more about ESGAP:
- A single indicator of strong sustainability for development: Theoretical basis and practical implementation (2019)
- Monitoring the Environmental Sustainability of Countries through the Strong Environmental Sustainability Index (2022)
- Are We on the Right Path? Measuring Progress towards Environmental Sustainability in European Countries (2022)
on the same region
on the same topic