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The sustainable development concept and indicators: an introductory essay

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While there has been considerable talk about how to achieve sustainable development (SD), there has been much less discussion about whether nations have been successful in moving towards the SD goal. This is due, in part, to the haste with which many SD indicators have been devised and the lack of a commitment on the part of the proponents of SD indicators to determine their worthiness, in particular, their policy-guiding value. A concrete representation of the socio-economic process is put forward as a means to establishing both broad and narrow definitions of SD – the latter required to facilitate the emergence of operational rules of thumb that can serve as the basis for a congruent set of SD indicators. Many of the currently existing SD indicators are analysed in this paper within this context. Despite each indicator possessing inherent deficiencies, they can, especially when examined collectively rather than individually, provide important information to policy-makers about past and present activities. Nevertheless, the policy-guiding value of SD indicators depends very much upon their continuous improvement and, where necessary, the rejection of unworthy indicators.

Keywords: sustainable development, indicators, coevolution, policy, environment, society, economy

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