Previous post:

Next post:

Sustainable Development Indicators – in your pocket 2008

by mel starrs on August 5, 2008

in Publications & Standards

It’s that time of year again – the government’s Sustainable Indicators in your pocket 2008 is out.

Those long time readers will know I’m a sucker for stats and pretty graphs – and this document does not fail to satisfy. Some of the headlines for me (and there’s a wealth of stuff I don’t touch on below – if you have an interest in crime and poverty, download the pdf) I’ve picked out below.

To start – a definition:

the goal of sustainable development as enabling all people throughout the world to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, without compromising the quality of life of future generations

A nice global outlook to begin with, which is picked up elsewhere in the statistics, such as the introduction of a measure which estimates the level of carbon dioxide emissions associated with goods and services consumed by the UK.

In 2006 the UK government contributed 0.52% of GNI (gross national income), an increase from 0.27% in 1990, to official development assistance internationally.

The report does not try to give an overall indicator of progress as, “it is not practicable or meaningful to combine all 126 disparate indicator measures into a single index of sustainable development”.

Carbon Dioxide and Transport
The report clearly shows that aviation remains the bad guy in the UK mix of CO2. Although between 1990 and 2006 CO2 fell by 6%, business and residential users account for 14% and 5% each. Those associated with transport have risen by 12%. Between 1990 and 2006 emissions from aviation fuel use more than doubled to 36 million tonnes (carbon dioxide equivalent).


One thing the report makes abundantly clear is that our consumption is on the way up. So whilst we get more efficient at using the stuff we use (resources) and emit relatively less, it’s a smaller proportion of a bigger pie.

For instance, although we are now recycling 31% of waste, overall waste has increased by 2.4% since 1990, with each person generating half a tonne on average.

In addition, whilst the economy (GDP) has grown (48% since 1990) without an associated increase in UK resources, the UK is still consuming the same amount of the world’s resources every year as it did in 1993.


Between 1990 and 2006 generation from non-hydro sources (wind, wave, solar and biofuels) increased from being 10% of all renewable energy to 75%. Renewables now account for 4.6% of electricity compared to 1.8% in 1990.


Households consumed an average of 148 litres per person each day in 2006.

Land Use

In 2006, land use in the UK broke down as follows:

  • 52% grass or rough grazing
  • 18% crops or bare fallow
  • 3% other agriculture
  • 12% forest and woodland
  • 14% urban
  • 1% inland water


Only 42% of women and 36% of men in the highest income group ate 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day and just 22% of adults exercised for 30 minutes 3 times a week.

There was also a definition of fuel poverty, which I should have known but didn’t (much like the definition of recession which I only just learned) – the need to spend more than 10% of income, excluding housing benefit, on fuel to maintain an adequate standard of heating.