Sustainable development indicators introduced

Sustainable development is a fundamental and overarching objective of the European Union that is enshrined in the founding Treaties of Rome. Sustainable development can be defined simply as the pursuit of a better quality of life for both present and future generations. It is a vision of progress that links economic development, protection of the environment and social justice, and therefore concerns all citizens of the EU, and indeed of the whole world.

The EU´s commitment to sustainable development at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 led to an EU-wide sustainable development strategy, which was adopted by the European Council in Gothenburg in June 2001, and renewed in June 2006. The renewed strategy sets out a single, coherent approach that will enable the EU to meet its long-standing commitment to meet the challenges of sustainable development. The key challenges are:

  • climate change and clean energy;
  • sustainable transport;
  • sustainable consumption and production;
  • conservation and management of natural resources;
  • public health;
  • social inclusion, demography and migration;
  • global poverty and sustainable development challenges.

Measuring progress is an integral part of the EU´s sustainable development strategy. For this purpose, a set of sustainable development indicators has been developed by the European Commission, in cooperation with Member States, EFTA and candidate countries. The strategy foresees that Eurostat will produce a monitoring report based on this indicator set every two years.

What are the sustainable development indicators?

A set of 10 sustainable development strategy objectives have been defined and relevant indicators identified by Eurostat. They are described below.

Socioeconomic development with the strategic objective to 'promote a prosperous, innovative, knowledge-rich, competitive and eco-efficient economy, which provides high living standards and full and high-quality employment throughout the European Union’.

The indicator is: growth rate of real GDP per inhabitant expressed as a percentage. This is a measure of the dynamism of the economy and its capacity to create new jobs. A sufficiently high GDP growth rate means that society is generating additional economic resources to meet the (growing) economic needs of the present generation, to invest in the future, or to address social and environmental concerns.

Sustainable consumption and production with the strategy objective to 'promote sustainable consumption and production patterns’.

The indicator is: the EU-15 resource productivity expressed as an index relative to the year 2000 (=100). Resource productivity (GDP divided by domestic material consumption) is an aggregate measure of the material efficiency of an economy and provides insights into whether decoupling between the use of natural resource and economic growth is taking place. Taken on its own, DMC also assesses the absolute level of use of scarce resources.

Social inclusion has the strategy objective of 'creating a socially inclusive society by taking into account solidarity between and within generations and to secure and increase the quality of life of citizens as a precondition for lasting individual well-being’.

The indicator is: the EU-25 at-risk-of-poverty rate after social transfers expressed as a percentage. This indicator gives a picture of the situation regarding deprivation, poverty and social inclusion. The income level is usually considered as one of the main factors in determining an individual standard of living. Social transfers have an important redistributive effect that helps to reduce the number of people who are at risk of poverty. Its impact is more marked in the case of older people.

Demographic changes shares the strategy objective of social inclusion (see above).

Its indicator is: the employment rate of workers aged 55-64 expressed as a percentage. Longer working lives result in more contribution years and fewer benefit years, thus contributing directly to the adequacy and sustainability of the pension system. But many workers withdraw from the labour force at a relatively young age. This indicator is intended to monitor progress towards the objective that at least half of the EU population in the 55-64 age group should be in employment by 2010.

Public health has the strategy objective ‘to promote good public health on equal conditions and improve protection against health threats’.

Its Indicator is: EU-15 healthy life years and life expectancy at birth in years for both females and males. This data not only measures health simply in terms of longevity but also considers well-being. An improvement in healthy life years is considered as one of the main health goals for the EU.

Climate change and energy has the strategy objective ‘to limit climate change and its costs and negative effects to society and the environment’. This area has two indicators.

The first indicator is: total EU-15 greenhouse gas emissions and Kyoto target expressed as an index with the base year set at 100. There is growing evidence that emissions of greenhouse gases are responsible for global warming, with potentially dramatic economic, social and environmental consequences at the global level.

The second indicator is: share of renewables in gross inland energy consumption expressed as a percentage. Renewable energy sources are important for decreasing both the EU’s dependence on imported fossil fuels and its greenhouse gas and other pollutant emissions. The EU has set a target for the use of renewables to 12 % in 2010.

Sustainable transport has the strategy objective ‘to ensure that our transport systems meet society’s economic, social and environmental needs whilst minimising their undesirable impacts on the economy, society and the environment’.

Its indicator is: energy consumption of transport expressed as an index with the base year set at 2000 (=100). The renewed sustainable development strategy has the objectives of ‘achieving sustainable levels of transport energy use and reducing transport greenhouse gas emissions’ and ‘decoupling economic growth and the demand for transport with the aim of reducing environmental impacts’.

Natural resources has the strategy objective of 'improving management and avoid over-exploitation of natural resources, recognizing the value of ecosystem services’. It has currently one indicator: the common bird index with the base year set at 2000 (=100). Although not encompassing the entirety of biodiversity across the EU, this indicator provides a measure of the state of a number of common bird species, as well as species within one broad category of ecosystem: farmland.

The renewed common fisheries policy aims to maintain or restore stocks to levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield in fisheries and especially to achieve these goals for depleted stocks. Unfortunately, there is currently no defined headline indicator for this objective.

Global partnership has the strategy objective ‘to actively promote sustainable development worldwide and ensure that the EU’s internal and external policies are consistent with global sustainable development and its international commitments’.

Its indicator is: the EU-15 official development assistance expressed as a percentage of gross national income. The renewed sustainable development strategy includes the objective of raising the volume of aid to 0.7 % of gross national income by 2015 with an intermediate target of 0.56 % in 2010.

Good governance has the strategy objective ‘to promote coherence between all EU policies and coherence between local, regional, national and global actions in order to enhance their contribution to sustainable development'.

There is no defined headline indicator for this objective.

See also

All articles on sustainable development indicators

Further Eurostat information


Dedicated section

External links