United Nations Statistics Division (DESA)
- Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
- Stakeholder type: United Nations & Other IGOs
- Submission Document: Download
- Additional Document:
THE CONTRIBUTION OF ENVIRONMENT STATISTICS TO
United Nations Statistics Division
Environment statistics are cross-cutting and are at the core of sustainable development objectives, through their contribution to monitoring, assessment and policy making. These statistics form the basic building blocks to facilitate harmonization and coordination of quantifiable environment-related information at the national, regional and global levels. They can ensure measurement of different aspects of the environment through commonly agreed concepts, methods and definitions.
Progress in environment statistics has been evident in the world in the last 20 years, but in a very heterogeneous way. While economic and social (including demographic) statistics are more advanced due to their longer history and established methods, environment statistics remains the weaker domain due to several factors. These factors include: insufficient data; insufficient human, technical and financial resources; a lack of adequate coordination; inadequate data quality; and general invisibility.
Environment statistics are needed for the production of environmental and sustainable development indicators, as well as for the system of integrated environmental and economic accounting (SEEA). Environment statistics are also required for other uses, such as to substantiate reporting to Multilateral Environmental Agreements, to inform about national environmental policies and agreed sustainable development targets, as well as to populate databases, producing yearbooks and compendia including or consisting of environment statistics series. Indicators and accounting have been widely referred to over the past two decades, starting in Agenda 21 (Chapters 40 and 8 respectively) while the precondition for their development, the underlying environment statistics have not gained the kind of attention in countries.
The need for evidence-based decision making cannot be overstated. Given the uneven level of the development of environment statistics and noting the obstacles to further development in many countries, it is evident that the capacities of countries to engage in monitoring what is going on in the environmental pillar of sustainable development and to produce proper evidence-based assessment for policy making need to be strengthened.
The United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the global body responsible for the development of statistical methodologies, is currently revising the Framework for the Development of Environment Statistics (FDES) and developing a Core Set of Environment Statistics, whose fundamental objectives are to improve the quality and availability of environment statistics. The FDES is a multi-purpose and flexible tool to serve different users and different needs (see Annex A below).
It is recommended that United Nations member States agree to:
1. Acknowledge the need for and commit to the task of improving environment statistics distinguishing them as the substantive mechanism through which the databases, compendia, indicators, accounts and different kinds of reports on the environment are organized and produced for enabling assessment and policy making on the environment at the national, regional and global levels.
2. Recognize that more rapid development in environment statistics, particularly in developing countries, is fundamental to providing information about the environmental pillar of sustainable development and to enabling integration into sustainable development assessment, monitoring and policy making.
3. Urge countries to use the FDES and the Core Set of Environment Statistics and other internationally agreed tools to improve the quality and availability of environment statistics at the national level.
4. Advocate for strong political commitment and national engagement to enable more rapid and sustained development and implementation of programmes on environment statistics, particularly in developing countries.
5. Facilitate the development and consolidation of inter-institutional collaboration platforms that are a sine qua non in the cross cutting domain of environment statistics, for national statistical offices, environmental and other relevant line Ministries, and related institutions.
6. Call upon the United Nations, its Funds, and the donor communities to mobilize more resources to devote for environment statistics, to provide the necessary support for technical assistance, and capacity building and strengthening, particularly for assistance to developing countries.
Annex A. Environment Statistics tools: The revised Framework for the Development of Environment Statistics and the Core Set of Environment Statistics
The United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the global body responsible for the development of international statistical methodologies, is currently revising the Framework for the Development of Environment Statistics (FDES) and developing a Core Set of Environment Statistics expected to be adopted by the 43rd session of the Statistical Commission in February 2012. The FDES is a multi-purpose and flexible tool to serve different users and different needs.
There has been significant development in the field of environment statistics since the publication of the Framework for the Development of Environment Statistics (FDES) by the United Nations in 1984. This publication was followed by two methodological documents, Statistics of the Natural Environment and Human Settlements Statistics. Several countries have used the FDES, which is a comprehensive but flexible framework for the development of environment statistics. While these documents were state-of-the-art at the time they were published, the subsequent three decades have led to dramatic increases in human knowledge regarding the environment and the role it plays in supporting life on earth and all human activities. With an awareness of these advances, the United Nations Statistical Commission , at its 41st session (23-26 February 2010), endorsed a programme of work for the revision of the FDES. To advance the process of revision, the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) convened an Expert Group that has met three times to date and has also worked remotely, providing invaluable substantive inputs to the process. Concomitantly, as requested by several countries, a Core Set of Environment Statistics is being developed to provide the required guidance to countries setting up or further developing the production of environment statistics.
The fundamental objective of the FDES is ultimately to improve the quality and availability of environment statistics. The revised FDES assists national and international coherence of policy-relevant data collection and compilation. To do this, the FDES aims at technically assisting the environmental statisticians in countries to adequately develop and broaden the production of statistical data series in this domain, by providing a general framework for guiding the process of prioritizing, collecting, structuring, describing and disseminating the variables in a progressive way.
The revised FDES is robust yet flexible enough to integrate the needs of different users and to stand the test of time as a useful, simple and applicable tool for organizing the production of environment statistics worldwide. It is scientifically based and stable over time, as well as sufficiently responsive to emerging new scientific and political agendas. It allows adjustment for different national circumstances, priorities, and for differing user needs, providing a menu approach suitable for countries at different levels of development.
Supplementary technical guidance documents will complement the FDES in subsequent years. These will include handbooks and guidelines on data collection, validation and description, addressing both the statistical know-how and the institutional arrangements that are critical to the cross-cutting field of environment statistics.
As described, UNSD, along with the Expert Group on Environment Statistics is working towards the finalization of the revised FDES and on agreement of a Core Set of Environment Statistics as central tools for assisting countries technically in the compilation and organization of environment statistics within their national official statistics programmes. Nevertheless, further efforts with the donor community will be required to provide technical assistance and capacity building based on these tools which are critical for significantly responding to the growing demand for environment statistics in developing countries.
Annex B. Rationale and assessment supporting the recommendations
Official recognition of the need for more engagement, commitment, national and donor investment in environment statistics programmes in the Rio+20 outcome document can undoubtedly help countries mobilize more resources and better be able to institutionalize the production of environment statistics within national statistical systems. The statistical know-how is increasingly available in this complex field through different methodological and networking tools, but reaching the countries in need requires considerably more financial resources than are currently available.
Member States and United Nations bodies can jointly bring the matter to the table using the opportunities posed by the Rio+20 Conference. It is imperative that no effort be spared in making the environment statistics domain more visible and advocating for stable financial and political commitment from countries, the United Nations and donors to enable this much needed development. These efforts will be best poised to yield success by a multi-pronged approach that includes ensuring political commitment and establishing institutional and financial mechanisms for successful implementation.