Regional Workshop on Indicators of Sustainable Development for Latin America and the Caribbean Region
10 Mar 1997 - 12 Mar 1997
San José, Costa Rica
Report of the Workshop
I. Foreword by the Government of Costa Rica as Host for the National Conference and the Workshop on Indicators of Sustainable Development
The current national policies of the Government
of Costa Rica are guided by the concept of sustainable development,
following the general principles of Agenda 21. To promote such a
development strategy, the Government of Costa Rica, through the
coordination of the Ministry of National Planning (MIDEPLAN) has promoted
creation of a National System for Sustainable Development.
The National System for Sustainable Development
(SINADES) is a mechanism to articulate strategies, policies and actions of
the public sector oriented to the promotion of sustainable development.
SINADES is in the process of implementation with the support of a
technical cooperation project funded by a grant from the Inter-American
Development Bank (IDB) (ATN/SF/4717-CR). The project includes training
activities intended to promote changes in attitudes, through workshops,
courses and conferences. These activities are oriented to public servants
and civil society leaders holding positions at the decision-making level.
In this context, the National Conference on
Indicators of Sustainable Development was included within the framework of
the Regional Workshop on Indicators of Sustainable Development in Latin
America and the Caribbean. The purpose of the National Conference was to
include a broader audience of national decision-makers and to discuss and
compare different conceptual and practical approaches for the assessment
of sustainable development, stressing the relevance of sustainable
development indicators and the adjustment of national accounts.
II. Opening Session
The Meeting with nearly 100 participants was
opened by the Vice-Minister of National Planning of Costa Rica, followed
by welcome addresses of the Director of the Latin American and Caribbean
Office of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Assistant
Director of the Human Development, Institutions and Technology Branch on
behalf of Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development (DPCSD)
The Government of Costa Rica
H.E. the Vice-Minister of National Planning, Sr.
Mario Mora, warmly welcomed the participants of the Workshop and a large
invited audience including representatives from diverse sectors of the
Costa Rican Society attending the National Conference on Indicators of
Sustainable Development. The Vice-Minister noted that the Government face
three basic challenges, including (1) to achieve equity in its social
programmes, particularly in education and health as fundamental mechanisms
for social mobility, (2) to achieve economic growth based on an
intelligent integration with the rest of the world, including rational
utilization of the natural resource base and properly valued human
resources, and (3) to strengthen the participation of society in the
national development process. He said that the country has understood that
these three challenges must be met in a holistic way to achieve the
desired national goals. This is one of the pillars of sustainable
development for Costa Rica. It is within this framework that sustainable
development indicators acquire a high degree of relevance. The Ministry of
Planning and Economic Policy has developed concrete actions in this regard
and supports all efforts such as the present National Conference and
The UN Development Programme (UNDP)
Sr. Fernando Zumbado, the Director of the Latin
American and Caribbean Office of UNDP said that Agenda 21, Chapter 40,
establishes very clearly the need for developing sustainable development
indicators. This task has to be undertaken by national governments as well
as by governmental and non governmental international organizations.
However, it is until now, and after many initiatives of the Commission of
Sustainable Development, that light is starting to shine on the horizon
for SD indicators.
Indicators of national development are urgently
needed as such societies start to take their own destiny in their hands.
In this sense, relevant and pertinent information for the decision making
process is fundamental, not only for appropriate policy making, but also,
to strengthen democratic participation of people in national affairs, and
for supporting accountability.
This Regional Workshop on SD indicators that
starts today represents a hope for the Region because, in the near future,
we might have a concrete and pragmatic recommendation from the Commission
on Sustainable Development on indicators of sustainable development to be
implemented at the national level. It also gives me satisfaction to
inaugurate this type of workshop in my home country, Costa Rica, because
it is a recognition of the efforts that the Government of Costa Rica and
public national universities, with the support of UNDP, have shown towards
the development of sustainable development indicators at the national
The UN Department for Policy Coordination and
Sustainable Development (DPCSD)
Mr. Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for the
Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development sent a
statement to the meeting which was read by Mr. Lowell Flanders, Assistant
Director, Division for Sustainable Development, DPCSD. In his statement,
Mr. Desai expressed his sincere appreciation and gratitude to the
Government of Costa Rica for sponsoring the regional workshop on
indicators of sustainable development. He stressed the importance of the
forthcoming Special Session of the UN General Assembly which will review
and appraise the progress achieved in the five years since UNCED. He noted
that one of the areas where considerable progress has been made by the
Commission on Sustainable Development is in its Work Programme on
Indicators of Sustainable Development. The Latin American and Caribbean
region has played a critical role in the UNCED process and has contributed
substantially to the progress made since the Earth Summit, hence the
initiative taken by the Government of Costa Rica in hosting the regional
workshop was yet another example of the leadership role played by Latin
American countries in realizing the objectives of Agenda 21.
III. Organization of the Meeting
The Regional Workshop on Indicators of
Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean was organized
by the Government of Costa Rica at San Jose, in cooperation with the
United Nations Department of Policy Coordination and Sustainable
Development, from 10 to 12 March 1997.
The Meeting started with a National Conference
on Indicators of Sustainable Development.
The meeting was attended by representatives
from the host country Costa Rica as well as Argentina, Barbados, Bolivia,
Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico,
Panama, Venezuela and the United States.
The United Nations bodies and other
international institutions represented included the Department for Policy
Coordination and Sustainable Development (DPCSD), the Department for
Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis (DESIPA), United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Costa Rica Office, the International
Labour Organization (ILO) Panama Office and the International Center of
Economic Policy for Sustainable Development in Costa Rica.
Leading representatives from Costa Rica had
been invited to attend the National Conference on Indicators of
Sustainable Development, including senior officials, policy and
decision-makers, congressmen, local authorities, the academic and business
communities, politicians, labour leaders and representatives of
B. Election of Officers:
The Workshop elected H.E. Vice Minister, Mario
Mora as Chairperson, and Dr. Edgar E. Gutierrez-Espeleta as
Vice-Chairperson and Sr. Oscar Lücke as Rapporteur.
C. Adoption of the Agenda:
The Workshop adopted the following agenda:
Opening of the Meeting.
Adoption of the Agenda.
National Conference on Indicators of Sustainable
he Canadian Experience in the Use of Environment-Related
Indicators of Sustainable Development in Latin America and the
Caribbean: from Concept to Use Information for Policy-Making.
The Indicators of Sustainable Development in Costa Rica - the
pioneering experience of Costa Rica.
The CSD's Indicators of Sustainable Development.
Experiences of Countries and Agencies in
Small Group Sessions:
The Selection of Priority Indicators of Sustainable Development.
The Indicator Methodology Sheets.
The Guidelines for National Testing of Indicators of Sustainable
IV. The National Conference on Indicators of
(Item 3 of the Agenda)
The need to measure progress
towards sustainable development was recognized in Agenda 21, and a wide
range of efforts have been made at the national and international level to
develop commonly accepted criteria, framework and methods for measurement.
The goal of measurement is complicated by the fact that it has been
difficult to arrive at an operational definition of sustainable
development that sets the specific targets against which national efforts
could be measured. The purpose of the Conference was to familiarize
national level decision-makers with efforts underway at the international
level and in various countries to address these problems. The
presentations made at the Conference shared the experiences of Canada and
Costa Rica in their respective national experience. The other presentation
examined the issues from a regional perspective and the fourth covered
international efforts to implement a work programme on indicators of
sustainable development as approved by the UN Commission on Sustainable
Item 3 (a) of the agenda: Ms. Anne Kerr (Canada)
Ms. Kerr stated that Canada already reports on
many of the economic and social indicators in the CSD list of indicators
of sustainable development. Over the past seven years they have been
concentrating efforts on developing environmental indicators through the
National Environmental Indicators Program. The objective of this program
is to provide a profile of the state of the environment and a means of
tracking progress towards sustainable development. Key elements of their
approach are: goals/themes for environmentally sustainable development;
issue selection; a stress-condition-societal response and ecosystem model;
indicator selection criteria; consultations and partnerships; and
indicator bulletins. Issues of national significance are categorized under
three themes for environmentally sustainable development. Over the years,
they have been modifying and improving their indicator development
framework. The traditional stress-condition-societal response matrix has
evolved to a cyclical model that is more illustrative of ecosystem
linkages and interactions. This conceptual modification has allowed them
to incorporate more economic and social/health links. Examples include
presenting gross domestic product (GDP) trends with the indicators of new
supplies of ozone-depleting substances and carbon dioxide emissions
respectively. Graphed together one can judge whether, over time, there is
a decoupling in the rate and direction of change in emissions (CO2) or
supplies (ozone-depleting substances) and economic activity. Three key
challenges of indicator development are: data availability and
accessibility; balancing scientific detail with the need for indicators to
be understandable to non-specialists; and limiting the number of
indicators to a small set. Recent institutional developments include: the
legislative requirement for federal departments to produce sustainable
development strategies and measures of progress, and the creation of a
Government-wide Performance Indicators Project coordinated by the Treasury
Board which may eventually lead to government-wide indicators of
Item 3 (b) of the agenda: Mr.
(International Center for Tropical Agriculture)
Mr. Winograd said that the concept of
sustainable development implies, at minimum, the consideration of the
economic, social and environmental components and their interlinkages In
practice it is needed to produce and use 3 types of indicators:
economic, social and environmental indicators.
socio-economic, socio-ecological and ecological-economical
At the same time, the information needed to
monitor the development process and progress toward sustainability should
be produced as a function of the different steps of the policy-making
cycle. In practice, to produce and use information for policy making in
the context of the sustainable development it is necessary to identify
driving forces in order to measure and monitor the state and impact on the
system and generate responses. Nevertheless the use of indicators depends
on different scales (temporal and spatial). In practice the production of
information and the use of indicators to measure and monitor the
development process are more than simple menus, listing or summation of
indicators. The important question is to obtain a perspective of the whole
pattern of the development process. In order to do this it is necessary to
produce information at different scales (global, regional, national and
local) and levels (administrative and ecological) allow us to obtain and
use indicators in different formats (i.e., tabulated data, maps).
Item 3 (c) of the agenda: Mr.
Pablo Sauma (Costa Rica)
Mr. Sauma reported that in Costa Rica
quantitative information is abundant as a result of the development models
adopted. Today, Costa Rica has a reliable and continuous economic
Costa Rica developed its economic model with
the creation of socially oriented institutions like the Ministry of
Education, the Social Security System and others. These institutions also
generated an important information base expressed in social indicators. A
strong need for developing environmental indicators became evident by the
seventies with the implementation of the Protected Area System and the
birth of a strong environmental movement. At present environmental
information is dispersed, is not continuous over time and has problems of
availability and consistency.
The Ministry of Planning and Economic Policy
has been working for about two years in developing and stabilizing a
National Sustainable Development System based on two key elements: One a
data base and the other institutional links with information users and
The data base includes more than five hundred
indicators in three areas: The socio-demographic, the economic and the
This Sustainable Development System is going to
be the basic instrument of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Policy to
prepare and to follow up to the National Development Plan.
Finally, it is important to visualize what still
has to be done with regard to the National Sustainable Development System.
These tasks could be listed as follows:
To secure the continuity of the National Sustainable Development
System based on information demand.
To develop and implement the National Institute of Statistics. This
institute will be responsible of the National Sustainable Development
To set policies to continue the integrative process of the social,
economic and environmental dimension of sustainable development.
To involve local organizations in regionalizing the system.
To guarantee free access to the data base through Internet.
Item 3 (d) of the agenda: Mr.
Lowell Flanders (DSD/DPCSD)
Mr. Flanders, in his statement, gave a brief
description of the activities leading up to the 1997 Special Session of
the General Assembly which will review the progress since UNCED. He then
provided an overview of the CSD Programme on Indicators of Sustainable
Development, its origin and evolution. He made reference to the previous
presentations which provided a context for understanding how indicators
can be used and be useful in charting a course towards sustainable
development, emphasizing that indicators are not an end in themselves, but
only a tool to help measure progress or give a picture of where things
stand at a particular moment in time. Note was made of the gradual
realization among countries that traditional economic measures of progress
such as GDP do not provide a complete picture of societal well-being and
that in recent years much more emphasis has been given to finding other
ways to measure development that take into account the social, economic
and environmental dimensions.
The importance of having good information
available for decision-makers was stressed while noting the paradoxical
situation that although information and information sources are
proliferating at an astounding rate, decision-makers often find it
difficult to find the right kind of information that aids in
decision-making. Indicators provide a means to help bridge the information
gap. Although indicators have many advantages in terms of providing
concise and aggregated information, they also have various pitfalls that
need to be kept in mind when using them.
It was noted that while environmental
indicators are relatively new, the idea of sustainable development
indicators is even newer. Mr. Flanders reviewed the criteria used in
selecting the core set of CSD indicators and the process of consensus
building that was used in selecting them. The Driving Force/State/Response
(DSR) framework was explained as a means of organizing the indicators and
providing an appropriate analytical framework. The CSD Work Programme on
indicators was reviewed, pointing to the current status of work, including
completion of the methodology sheets for each indicator that is contained
in the "Blue Book." The various elements of the methodology
sheets were briefly reviewed.
The efforts of countries of the Latin American
and Caribbean region and the interest of the participants in the work
programme on indicators was greatly appreciated by DPCSD, because only
through efforts at the country level would it be possible to implement the
programme and see the wider use of sustainable development indicators.
V. Experiences of Countries and Agencies in
(Item 4 of the Agenda)
Under this agenda item, the representatives of
participating countries provided a brief review of their efforts and
experience related to indicators of sustainable development. These reports
are presented in abbreviated form in Annex III of the Report. In addition,
participating agencies of the UN system were invited to make brief
The representative of the UN Statistical
Division, UNSD, Ms. Reena Shah, provided the workshop with an overview of
the work being done in the fields of environmental statistics, indicators
and accounting. This included a description of the Framework for the
Development of Environment Statistics (FDES) which was endorsed by the
Statistical Commission in 1984, and of related technical reports on human
settlements statistics and natural environment statistics. In response to
UNCED, FDES was combined with the clusters of Agenda 21 to produce a
Framework for Indicators of Sustainable Development (FISD). The
similarities and differences of the FDES and FISD to other indicator
frameworks were noted, and it was emphasized that frameworks were an
organizing tool and that one should not get confused by these slightly
different approaches but focus on the indicators themselves and their
policy use and analysis. The list of environmental indicators, approved by
the Statistical Commission at its twenty-eighth session for international
data compilation by UNSD, was presented. The main methodological work in
the area of integrated environmental and economic accounting was also
More generally, it was noted that UNSD obtains
official data from national statistical services where they have undergone
rigorous statistical procedures to ensure validity and reliability and
have been compiled according to common definitions, standards and
classifications set by the Statistical Commission. The meeting was also
informed that in response to the recent major United Nations conferences
in the social field two significant achievements had taken place: the
endorsement of a minimum national social data set (MNSDS) by the
Statistical Commission and the output by the Population Division of DESIPA
of a Wall Chart on Basic Social Services for All (BSSA), consisting of 12
VI. Small Group Sessions:
a. The Selection of Priority Indicators of Sustainable Development.
(Item 5 (a) of the Agenda)
The First Small Working Group Session had
before it the CSD Preliminary Working List as contained in the Programme
on Indicators of Sustainable Development (September 1996) and the UN
publication "Indicators of Sustainable Development: Framework and
Methodologies." Delegates discussed and determined their priority
issues and selected those indicators most appropriate to measure
sustainable development in their country.
The main purpose of this exercise was to have a
clear idea of the process of selection and prioritization of sustainable
development indicators based on the CSD list. The CSD List of indicators
facilitates the process of indicator selection by offering a common base
or platform for national indicator selection and prioritization.
Participants recognized that the selection of priorities and related
indicators can be a complex process, particularly at the national level
where many stakeholders have to be involved. Simulation of this process
during the workshop helped participants gave insight into the possible
difficulties to be encountered.
b. The Indicator Methodology Sheets.
(Item 5 (b) of the Agenda)
The purpose of the second small group
discussion was to allow participants to become familiar with the
methodology sheets contained in the UN publication Indicators of
Sustainable Development: Framework and Methodologies. Participants were
requested to review a sampling of the methodology sheets for some of the
priority indicators identified in the first small group session. Groups
were asked to comment on the adequacy of the methodology sheets, to
discuss current use of the indicator, and to reflect on data availability.
Despite the general unfamiliarity with the
collection of methodology sheets, participants felt that they represent an
effective and concrete tool for countries to select and develop priority
indicators relevant to national priorities and programs. The translation
of the methodology sheets is considered crucial and a strategic issue for
developing indicators in Latin American countries. Within countries,
participants recognized the need to engage a wide diversity of interests
to assist with the evaluation and application of the methodology sheets.
For many methodology sheets, groups reported that the indicators were
already developed. Data availability, however represents a constraint for
other methodology sheets. Participants emphasized the need to strengthen
the use of indicators in country decision-making processes.
c. The Guidelines for National Testing of
Indicators of Sustainable Development.
(Item 5 (c) of the Agenda)
The Third Small Group Session had before it the
Guidelines for National Testing. The representative of DPCSD pointed out
that the testing phase is voluntary and that testing arrangements may vary
from country to country. The Guidelines for National Testing as possible
procedures would help to obtain a common understanding of the testing and
comparable results from the evaluation. The idea of working in partnership
through twinning arrangements during the testing phase was stressed. Since
the testing process is a resource-intensive process, a pragmatic approach
would be necessary.
The establishment of a national coordinating
mechanism and the appointment of a focal point in the country were
recommended. Whereas existing institutional arrangements and experience
should be used, wherever feasible, the widest possible participation among
all stakeholders involved including the National Commission for
Sustainable Development, relevant ministries as well as statistical
offices, non-governmental organizations and the scientific community
should be considered.
VII. Conclusions and Recommendations
The participants found the Workshop on
Indicators of Sustainable Development to be very useful for better
appreciation of the relationship between priority setting and measurement
and the methodological issues related to sustainable development
indicators. The background information, provided, particularly the UN
publication: "Indicators of Sustainable Development: Framework and
Methodologies" was acknowledged as a useful starting point for
developing a national indicator programme, however, the translation of the
methodology sheets into Spanish is considered a crucial and strategic step
for developing indicators in Latin American countries.
The small group discussions were seen as useful
way to introduce countries to the process of indicator development and
testing and problems of selecting indicators in relation to national
priorities and developing related methodologies.
Participants recognized that developing and
applying indicators would take time, effort, resources and commitment over
the long term. The Workshop agreed that it was necessary to be practical,
pragmatic and flexible, building on strengths on individual countries.
It was noted that, in many cases, information
and data are already being collected for several indicators at the
national level, but many gaps still exist. It was agreed that, wherever
possible and appropriate, existing data and indicators should be used as
the basis for indicator development. The development of composite indices
for each category of indicators would be useful, and should be submitted
for testing in groups of countries. Sectoral indicators are lacking and
could be developed at a national level based on the specific needs of the
Sharing of information, capacity building, and
initiation of activities to exchange experiences among the testing
countries and other countries interested in the process were identified as
particularly important. At the national level, it is essential to develop
a network of people working on this topic and the idea of a national focal
point, where appropriate, was endorsed.
With regard to the testing at the national
level, participants felt that mechanisms for coordination should be
country specific given the variety of different governmental structures.
The proposal of having an inter-agency coordination mechanism at the
national level to bring various stakeholders together was endorsed. Such a
mechanism should include key decision making bodies such as finance,
planning, national councils of sustainable development, statistical
offices, environmental and sectoral ministries, where appropriate. It
would be important to link the effort to the highest political levels to
ensure full support for the process. A wide variety of stakeholders should
be involved and participate in the process of indicator development.
Further discussion and work is needed on how to
get decision-makers to use indicators of sustainable development. The link
between indicators and decision-makers should be based on a communications
strategy. Very professional presentations would need to be developed to
present information to decision-makers.
While participants felt that resources would be
required to initiate a national programme on indicators, the need for
capacity building efforts at the country level to get the process started
was particularly mentioned. Country workshops to brief working level staff
on indicators could be helpful. It was felt important to mobilize
technical and other forms of assistance from UNDP, the World Bank and
regional institutions, such as the IDB and the OAS, in addition to
Twinning arrangements were seen as useful to
support the testing process. Such arrangements need not necessarily
involve a developed and a developing country, but might include countries
at different levels of indicators use and development.
VIII. Other Matters
7 of the Agenda)
The participants expressed their sincere gratitude to the Government of Costa Rica for hosting this very useful regional workshop and complementing the Workshop with the National Conference on Indicators of Sustainable Development. The Workshop noted in this context the continuous commitment of the Government of Costa Rica to promoting the development and use of indicators of sustainable development. The participants commended the sponsors for the excellent organization of the meeting and, in particular thanked Costa Rica for the generous hospitality extended to them.