The socio-ecological system (SES) approach to sustainable development indicators

Authored by: Gilberto C. Gallopin

Routledge Handbook of Sustainability Indicators

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138674769
eBook ISBN: 9781315561103
Adobe ISBN:


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An attempt is made to clarify the concepts of sustainable development, sustainability, and indicators using a systemic approach. It is argued that such an approach is required to do justice to the different functionally interconnected aspects involved in the quest for sustainable development at the global, national, and local levels. The concept of socio-ecological system (SES) is proposed as a useful neutral and universal systemic framework for identifying and ordering indicators of sustainable development. It is argued that, with very few exceptions, among the indicators generally available at the country level no single indicator can provide information on the dual nature of sustainable development, but a set of carefully selected indicators can, collectively, do the task. An example of application at the national level (Honduras) and the aggregate regional level (Latin America and The Caribbean) is presented. The framework has also been officially employed by Argentina and the Catalonian Region of Spain. The chapter ends with a discussion of the importance of including the critical causal interlinkages among subsystems of the considered SES and its implications for the feasibility of advancing towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) adopted by the United Nations.

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