Sustainability Indicators for Policy Making

The Usefulness of Sustainability Indicators for Policy Making in Developing Countries: The Case of Madagascar”, by Timothée Ollivier and Pierre-Noël Giraud, both of MINES ParisTech, CERNA- Center of industrial economics, France, was recently published in the latest issue of the Journal of Environment and Development. Timothée Ollivier has provided additional background on the article:

Tell the story behind the article.  What prompted you to do this research and write this article? Do you have any specific memories about doing the research, writing or the review/publishing process that you would like to share?

There is a growing literature on how to measure development and how to assess the sustainability of that development. The limitations of the gross domestic product (GDP) as a welfare indicator were pointed out many years ago by welfare economists, and there is now consensus in the political sphere on the need to develop other indicators to measure the evolution of present welfare and the sustainability of the actual development paths. The issue is, however, policy recommendations and how to translate the information provided by these indicators into political action. This has been the focus and key insight of our work. Our work has been driven by one pragmatic question: what is the use of these aggregate indicators in terms of policy recommendations? We focus more specifically on aggregate indicators on a country scale which have a serious theoretical framework: the ecological footprint, the adjusted net saving, and the genuine progress indicator.

Why do you think this research is important? Why are people reading it and who else should be exposed to it?

 First, this research is important as it is a case study on a poor country which heavily relies on its natural resources. Sustainability indicators are more often applied to rich countries which have very different environmental issues. Thus, it is important to stress the strength and limitations of sustainability indicators for these countries. Secondly, our work stresses the link between these indicators and policy applications. It is important to explicit the policy relevance of sustainability indicators and how it can curb current policies. This paper can thus be of interest for policy makers.

Give us a specific review of the impact of this article. What additional research has this article led to (either your own or other’s)?

 We have no idea yet of the impact of this paper, it is certainly too early! Some African scholars asked us about the paper, as well as policy makers.

This article led to more specific research on one of the three indicators: the adjusted net saving, which is, although it has many shortcomings, one of the most promising sustainability indicators, in our sense. More generally, it led to research on wealth valuation, including natural capital. In this research area we recently published another article entitled “Assessing sustainability, a comprehensive wealth accounting prospect:  An application to Mozambique” in Ecological Economics.”

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