Title: Mono-dimensional accounting and multidimensional measures of sustainable growth
Authors: GIAMPIETRO Mario
Editors: SALTELLI Andrea
Publisher: Publications Office of the European Union
Publication Year: 2014
JRC N°: JRC92579
ISBN: 978-92-79-44003-8
ISSN: 1831-9424
Other Identifiers: EUR 26917
OP LB-NA-26917-EN-N
URI: http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC92579
DOI: 10.2788/244356
Type: EUR - Scientific and Technical Research Reports
Abstract: The terms of reference of the contract define two contributions: (i) a theoretical analysis addressing the epistemological challenges posed by quantitative indicators for sustainable growth (Part 1); and (ii) an applied analysis of the ongoing work on a composite indicator for monitoring Environmental Pressure in the EU at the national level (G03 collaboration with Environment Directorate-General) and the Environmental Pressure Index developed in collaboration with Yale and Columbia University (Part 2). Building on the wisdom of George E.P. Box, “all models are wrong, some are useful”, the report first shows why all models are necessarily wrong and individuates the factors determining the usefulness of wrong models. Practical examples of food and energy accounting demonstrate that quantitative analysis of environmental pressure generated by socio-ecological systems always demands the simultaneous consideration of multiple space-time scales and multiple dimensions of analysis. Based on these epistemological premises, a critical appraisal is then provided of two ongoing efforts aimed at quantifying environmental impact - the Environmental Performance Index and the Composite Index of Environmental Pressure - with the goal to strengthen the usefulness (political relevance) of these protocols. Observations on the Environmental Performance Index include: (i) Excessive concern for rigorous data handling hides the neglect of the discussion about the relevance of what should be measured; (ii) The implications of the DPSIR framework (Drivers, Pressure,States, Impact, Response) are not properly addressed; (iii) The environmental pressure externalized to other countries through imports is not considered; (iv) The inclusion of outcome-oriented indicators, for measuring the effect of policies (Response), makes the whole assessment shaky by mixing numbers relevant for different purposes. As regards the Composite Index of Environmental Pressures: (i) The conceptual issue of cross-country data comparability is not properly addressed; (ii) It is impossible to use quantitative assessments of pressure without making reference to state and impact. Therefore, rather than grouping indicators into five themes (air, water, land, climate, chemicals) without providing an external referent, it is recommendable to refer to the potential impact on structural elements, such as terrestrial ecosystems, aquatic funds (such as aquifers), agricultural soils and the atmosphere, at the global (for GHG emissions) and local scale (inhabited areas; to account for those indicators that exert pressure.
JRC Directorate:Joint Research Centre Corporate Activities

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