Office for National Statistics correspondence with the Environmental Audit Committee on Green Jobs

Dear Mr Dunne,

I am writing to you and the Committee to provide an update on recent and upcoming Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) environmental work. This includes work on the UK natural capital accounts, potentially useful background for the Committee’s “role of natural capital in the green economy” inquiry, as well as measuring green jobs, greenhouse gas emissions, and other environment-related publications.

Measuring green jobs

In our March 2023 green jobs update, we outlined our proposed definition, developed through extensive stakeholder engagement: “Employment in an activity that contributes to protecting or restoring the environment, including those that mitigate or adapt to climate change.”

Our September 2023 release, “Experimental estimates of green jobs, UK: 2023”, provided our first estimates of green jobs in the UK, with indicative estimates using three bases – industry, occupation, and firm.

We are continuing to develop the measurement of green jobs, towards increasing timeliness and accuracy, thus enhancing the evidence base on this important issue.

Greenhouse gas emissions (residence based) estimates

On 9 October 2023, we published the latest UK environment accounts, including provisional estimates of greenhouse gas emissions on a residence-basis for 2022, alongside air pollution figures.

In July 2023, we published our first experimental estimates of quarterly UK greenhouse gas emissions on a residence basis, up to Quarter 1 (January to March) 2023. We will be publishing further estimates, up to Quarter 2 (April to June) 2023, on 3 November. We use modelling techniques to provide more timely statistics alongside our annual estimates. While these estimates are different to territorial measures (emissions that occur within the UK’s borders) used to monitor UK emissions targets, produced by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, as they are residence-based, they are comparable with a range of important economic statistics, including gross domestic product (GDP).

Natural capital accounts

We produce the UK Natural Capital Accounts, which monitor the changing capacity and demand for natural resources and the benefits they provide.

Widely regarded as world-leading, these accounts are produced on a consistent basis with the System of National Accounts (SNA) used to produce Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and so help to understand the links between the environment and economic statistics. As they are produced to UN standards and guidance, they are also broadly internationally comparable.

We have continued to develop our methodology, updating the “Principles of UK natural capital accounting” in June, outlining how we interpret and apply international guidelines to the UK context.

We published the latest urban habitat accounts in September.  A summary of the latest UK natural capital accounts was also published in the Blue Book 2023 on 31 October, ahead of the full accounts being published in November. We have previously produced stand‑alone accounts for Scotland and England, and November’s release will feature breakdowns for all four UK nations for the first time.

Additionally, these natural capital accounts are an important element of our work to better understand inclusive wealth, the concept proposed in the HM Treasury-commissioned Dasgupta Review of the Economics of Biodiversity.

Businesses

We are also regularly using our Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS) to understand business responses to environmental issues.

In the period 7 to 20 August 2023, we asked UK businesses about climate change, finding 39% to be “very” or “somewhat concerned”, 44% “not concerned” and 17% “not sure”.

In terms of actions, 7% of businesses reported monitoring climate related risks, 4% having a climate change strategy, 3% having a greenhouse gas emissions target and 1% having a target that includes the supply chain. We also found that 3% of businesses reported monitoring nature or biodiversity risks, and 2% having a nature or biodiversity strategy.

In the period 24 July to 6 August 2023, 75% of businesses reported that they had not assessed the risks of any of the specified climate change effects (water scarcity, coastal erosion, increased flooding and temperature increases).[2] Of those that had assessed these risks, 28% had not taken any action, 18% did not expect to be impacted, while 18% reported they had been unable to take action either because of costs, or the lack of information or guidance.

Our BICS release, scheduled for 16 November[3], will look at barriers to business actions and whether climate change impacts are considered in businesses investment plans.

Individuals

We also continue to publish fortnightly statistics about issues of concern in Public Opinions and Social Trends.

The issue for the survey period 4 to 15 October 2023 found that, when asked about the important issues facing the UK today, the fourth most commonly reported issue was “climate change and the environment”, by 62% of adults in Great Britain.

We are planning further insights on public perceptions to the environment in the coming months. Our next update to our measures of national well-being dashboard, which includes a measure tracking pro-environmental lifestyle changes to tackle environmental issues, is on 10 November 2023.

Other relevant publications

We published “Climate-related mortality, England and Wales, 1988 to 2022” as experimental statistics in September, showing an estimated 4,507 deaths associated with the hottest days in England in 2022.

Our annual energy efficiency of housing release was also published on 1 November. We are also looking at the feasibility of linking energy performance certificate data to Census data to understand more about the households in high and low-rated energy efficient properties.

We would be happy to brief the Committee further on any aspect of our work if helpful.

Yours sincerely,

Mike Keoghan

Deputy National Statistician for Economic, Social and Environmental Statistics

Office for National Statistics correspondence to the Environmental Audit Committee regarding publication of climate change and wellbeing insights alongside GDP

Dear Mr Dunne,

Thank you for your letter of 28 June, of which you noted the interest of the Committee in our evaluation of the pilot publication we released on 12 May, which brought together climate change-related statistics with the preliminary quarterly estimate of Gross Domestic Product
(GDP). I also noted in my letter of 26 April to the Committee that we would look to publish wellbeing-related statistics alongside preliminary GDP estimates from 12 August 2022.

I am very happy, therefore, to confirm to the Committee that we have today published our new quarterly package of statistics, bringing together climate change and wellbeing insights alongside estimates of GDP. This marks the first update to the Measures of National Wellbeing dashboard since the pandemic and captures how some of these indicators have changed. The combined package of statistics is an important step in our ongoing mission to provide a more holistic understanding of the UK economy, society and environment.

We value and welcome feedback on this new approach as we determine whether this becomes a permanent release. Initial feedback from stakeholders across government to the May publication has been positive.

I thank you and the Committee for both your interest and support, and we will of course continue to engage with you as we progress.

Yours sincerely,
Professor Sir Ian Diamond

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry on aligning the UK’s economic goals with environmental sustainability

Dear Mr Dunne,
Thank you for your letter of 5 April 2022, following oral evidence from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the inquiry, Aligning the UK’s economic goals with environmental sustainability.

We welcome both the Committee’s recognition of our work to date on wellbeing, the environmental accounts, and the cross-government UK climate change statistics portal, and its recommendations for potential future work. While a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) metric will always be required to measure the economy, we also accept the need for a broader set of indicators to account for wider environmental and social progress, building on our Sustainable Development Goals and National Wellbeing resources.

In particular, your main recommendation was that:

“The ONS publish quarterly estimates of greenhouse gas emissions alongside GDP figures, as part of the same release. As further methodologies are developed to improve the means of accounting for the impact of nature depletion, we suggest that the ONS consider including the relevant outputs in these releases. The ONS would thereby help to provide greater focus on the climate and biodiversity impact of particular policies in the public policy debate.”

Building on the inclusion of environmental and natural capital accounts in the Blue Book, we will be increasing the prominence of ‘Beyond GDP’ elements of our outputs. We will publish a pilot publication of climate change-related statistics on the same day as the preliminary quarterly estimate of UK GDP on 12 May 2022. Subject to assessment of impact and feedback, the intention would be for this to become a regular quarterly publication. In addition, we will look to publish wellbeing-related statistics alongside preliminary GDP estimates from 12 August 2022.

We produce annual estimates of residence-based greenhouse gas emissions, which enable direct sectoral comparison with the national accounts. We have been reviewing options for a quarterly estimate of this emissions measure and will publish an initial methodological
publication also on 12 May 2022. Further progress will be informed by stakeholder and user feedback.

Linking economic activity with related environmental impacts through GDP or wealth accounts is a substantial undertaking. Our work developing robust estimates of UK natural capital accounts are world leading. Our work to adapt these figures to link with the national accounts is in progress, including publishing a new approach bringing together statistical indicators of the extent and condition of nature in the UK on 3 May 2022.

We will set out our Beyond GDP plans on 12 May, with a timeline for delivering an initial assessment of the environmental impact of changes in quarterly GDP by the end of 2023. We will also publish our detailed workplan for natural capital accounts development by July 2022.

We will be taking the Committee’s recommendations into account as we deliver the above and accelerate our work and will update the Committee about this later in the year. We will also share all upcoming relevant publications noted within this response with the Committee when published.

Yours sincerely,
Professor Sir Ian Diamond

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry on aligning the UK’s economic goals with environmental sustainability

Dear Mr. Dunne,

I write in response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s request for evidence for its inquiry into aligning the UK’s economic goals with environmental sustainability.

As the Committee will be aware, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the UK’s National Statistical Institute and largest producer of official statistics. We aim to provide a firm evidence base for sound decisions and develop the role of official statistics in democratic debate.

We provided written evidence to the Committee for its inquiry on ecosystems and biodiversity in May 2021, which referenced natural capital accounting. We welcome this opportunity to contribute to this new inquiry and update the Committee on our work.

Our economic statistics include the National Accounts, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), prices, the labour market, productivity, public sector finances and trade. Users include the Bank of England, HM Treasury and other departments, the devolved administrations and other sub-national authorities.

The ONS’ environmental statistics include the environmental accounts, as outlined below, key surveys of the environmental economy and the natural capital accounts. These are used by a similarly broad range of departments and other bodies, including BEIS, DEFRA, the Climate Change Committee, and the Office for Environmental Protection.

As our evidence submission outlines, with understanding of the interlinkage of the environment and the economy – such as through climate change and biodiversity loss – increasing, these domains can no longer be treated as distinct and unrelated statistical domains. Additionally, Annex A contains further information on other measures of progress the ONS has developed or collaborated with other organisations on.

Our UK and international work is evolving, and we would be happy to keep the Committee updated as we progress. Please do not hesitate to let me know if we can provide anything further.

Yours sincerely,

Liz McKeown

Environmental Audit Committee: Aligning the UK’s economic goals with environmental sustainability: Written evidence from the Office for National Statistics

Executive Summary

  1. The ONS produces annual environmental accounts which show how the environment interacts with the economy. They are used by predominantly government users, both nationally and internationally. They are comparable to some accounting estimates, such as GDP, as they are compiled in accordance with international guidelines.
  2. In any move ‘Beyond GDP’, there is no agreed understanding of ‘prosperity’ or ‘progress’. A ‘one-size fits all’ approach to measuring progress is not necessarily the ideal model. The requirement to measure the economy means a GDP-style metric will always be required in its present form. But to meet the varied needs of different users with different needs, a range of different metrics are likely to be needed. While there is limited agreement on alternative measure(s), the ONS is contributing to this debate.
  3. The UK produces its National Accounts in line with recognised international guidance developed by the UN and partner organisations, the System of National Accounts (SNA) (2008). The UK is actively engaging in work to update international guidance and ensure the key challenges. However, a key objective will be maintaining international coherence and consistency so the statistics are valuable and useable, we would not wish to change UK guidelines ahead of common international guidance.
  4. The ONS has made and is making significant progress in addressing some of the key recommendations in the Bean and Dasgupta Reviews. This includes improved engagement with a range of users and a variety of new and experimental measures, such as estimates of the physical and mental benefits of outdoor recreation.
  5. Operationalising Professor Dasgupta’s concept of ‘inclusive wealth’ means collating a range of measures of capital stocks. The ONS is currently working with academics to develop a measure of the overall stock of capital assets, including addressing the complex methodological challenges, and their practical application.

How does the way the Government currently uses GDP in setting macro-economic policy affect the development of environmental policy and of cross-departmental action to achieve the UK’s economic goals?

The Environmental Accounts

GDP and the National Accounts sit at the centre of a network of coherent and consistent ‘satellite accounts’ produced by the ONS. These provide further information either beyond the production boundary of the National Accounts or providing deeper interpretations of the data within the Accounts, so to better inform policymakers and the public.

The Environmental Accounts is one such set of satellite accounts. These show how the environment interacts with the economy – for example, through the extraction of raw materials – and how the economy interacts with the environment – for example, energy consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollution. They have three elements:

  • natural capital accounts: estimating the physical and monetary flows from a broad range of services delivered by the natural world;
  • physical flow accounts: atmospheric emissions, material flows, water use; and
  • monetary accounts: environmental taxes, environmental protection expenditure and environmental goods and services.

They show how society responds to environmental issues – for example, through taxation and expenditure on environmental protection, industrial decarbonisation, and changes in land use. Importantly, the environmental accounts enable apportioning greenhouse gas emissions by industry through their linkage to the national accounts.

The Environmental Accounts are used nationally and internationally, primarily by governments, but also by researchers and development organisations, to inform policy, to evaluate the environmental impacts of different sectors of the economy, and to model impacts of fiscal or monetary measures.

The UK’s environmental accounts are published annually and are also included in the Blue Book. As they are compiled in accordance with System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA), which closely follows the UN System of National Accounts (SNA), they are comparable with economic accounting estimates such as GDP.

How could GDP, or other current measures of macro-economic activity, more fully account for human and natural capital assets? What are the challenges and/or opportunities in moving to a way of measuring economic progress which takes greater account of such assets?

The National Accounts – and GDP – came into being around 80 years ago, in the aftermath of the Second World War. When material consumption was widely considered to be the most significant driver of human well-being, GDP rapidly became used as a short‑hand for concepts like living standards, welfare, and utility.

Economists generally define welfare as the utility or satisfaction society derives from the consumption of goods and services. These goods and services are delivered either by the market or through non-market arrangements (such as within the household or via the environment). The goods and services relating to market transactions are covered by GDP[1].

Non-market goods and services can play an important role in the quality of life of society. In this sense, welfare is multidimensional, encompassing material living standards such as income, consumption and wealth and the non-economic aspects of people’s lives (what they do and what they can do, how they feel, the natural environment in which they live, etc). There have been multiple instances where the international statistics community has identified that alternative measures are required[2].

The ONS is clear that while GDP is often used as a measure of welfare beyond the market, by its nature it is unlikely to provide a good proxy for those elements the National Accounts exclude. This debate has become essentially: if GDP is the accepted measure of welfare, should it be re-defined to become a good measure of welfare, or should alternative measures be created to accompany GDP to address these differences?

A ‘one-size fits all’ approach to measuring progress is not necessarily the ideal model. Given economic requirements to measure expenditure and market outputs mean a GDP-style metric will always be required broadly in its present form. To meet the varied needs of different users, a range of different complementary metrics are likely to be needed to suit these purposes.

While a range of alternatives have been developed, the debate continues – not least because there is limited international agreement on which alternatives to adopt, but also because GDP is the most successful economic statistic, dominating policy debate and public discourse, setting a competitive benchmark for any new metrics to gain media and public traction.

International work to tackle these questions is inevitably limited by the financial constraints faced by National Statistical Institutes around the world. Consistent delivery of any new measures requires these to be affordable to produce for most countries. To help solve this question the ONS has focussed its research on how to aggregate existing data to produce complementary statistics which could be used alongside GDP to meet wider user needs, without significant additional cost.

Statistics from the Environmental Accounts and the Household Satellite Accounts provide a strong foundation for this work. The Spectrum framework developed within this research delivers the capability to integrate these data, alongside human capital, into new measures which build upon rather than try to replace the National Accounts.

We are able to do this because satellite accounts are aligned with the SNA. As noted above, it is important to note that not all countries have been able to fully progress this agenda and deliver the necessary satellite accounts to enable even this relatively lower-cost approach. There also remain some methodological and empirical issues we need to resolve; in particular measures of natural capital depletion, and how to aggregate human capital alongside National Accounts data. This may require the re-consideration of various existing components of the national accounts. For example, Government and Private health and education spending, both of which create human capital, might need to be viewed as investment rather than consumption under this scenario. Social capital is a further area where the ONS produce data which could fit methodologically into this process.

As part of wider international discussion about these data, the UK is a leading participant in the newly formed UN Network of Economic Statisticians. Sessions are being planned in spring 2022 to discuss the implications and key barriers in going ‘Beyond GDP’ with economic statistics. The UK will be joint-leading, with the USA, a series of sessions on measuring capital including human and natural capital, which will help address the challenges outlined here.

How effective has the Government’s response to the recommendations of Sir Charles Bean’s Independent Review of Economic Statistics (2016) and Professor Sir Partha’s Dasgupta Review of the Economics of Biodiversity (2021) been to date?

Bean Review: The ONS has been working to address the recommendations of the Review since 2016, from strategic management of these economic statistics through to detailed methodological improvements.

Focusing on the key recommendations, the ONS has:

  • improved engagement with external experts through the establishment of the Economic Experts Working Group;
  • improved engagement with academic researchers through establishing the ESCoE research centre, which has greatly enhanced the co-ordination of research into measurement matters, the development of a PhD pathway for those wishing to focus their research on economic measurement and putting in place an international conference which has boosted the UK’s reputation in this field;
  • improved internal capability through extensive recruitment of economic skills, increasing recognised economist numbers from 40 to around 200;
  • tackled methods issues relating to the innovative frontier of the economy, particularly relating to the digital economy, such as telecommunications;
  • implemented world-class double deflation methods for National Accounts production;
  • established a regular on-line time-use survey, providing cheaper and more frequent data than available in any other country in the world;
  • and funded research into Beyond GDP matters, such as natural capital, human capital, and the household satellite account.

Dasgupta Review: The Review had a broad audience, including government, academia and beyond. As the leaders on natural capital accounting, the ONS agreed with HM Treasury to undertake additional work in the remainder of FY2020/21 to accelerate the natural capital accounts enhancements.

Our 2021 publications added estimates for:

  • carbon sequestration in UK seas;
  • value of fish capture linked to the sustainability of those fisheries;
  • and longer trips for tourism were added to our recreation value.

Other work this year, accelerated by the additional funding and yet to be published, includes:

  • improvements to our work estimating the impact of public green space on house prices;
  • developing models to estimate annual changes in pollination effort;
  • developing Supply and Use tables to understand how natural capital feeds through to the rest of the economy;
  • experimental estimates of the physical and mental benefits of outdoor recreation;
  • updating our air pollution removal models;
  • producing the first UK Extent and Condition Accounts which describe the areas of different habitats and their environmental condition;
  • developing methods to estimate the physical degradation of natural assets separate from the expected flow of value.

We anticipate undertaking further work which would contribute to the response to the Review in the coming years. We intend to publish an updated UK natural capital accounts roadmap later in 2022 to give stakeholders clarity about our plans.

How could Professor Dasgupta’s conception of ‘inclusive wealth’ be made operational as an economic measure?

Professor Dasgupta’s proposals would enable us to understand whether, for example, cutting down a woodland to build a school delivers a net gain or a net loss to society’s ‘inclusive wealth’. Operationalising this is likely to mean bringing together high-quality measures of capital stocks capturing productive, human capital and natural capital, as a minimum[3]. We are working with academics to develop our initial work on a single statement of the overall stock of capital assets, beyond the usual limits of the National Balance Sheet, a part of the National Accounts.

However, current statistics face some noticeable challenges in fully delivering Professor Dasgupta’s vision. In particular, the ‘accounting prices’ concept[4] proposed in the Review is methodologically and operationally complex.

There are also practical considerations, as inclusive wealth encompasses and extends beyond economic activity covered in the National Accounts. As the Spectrum framework shows, measuring the UK’s inclusive wealth would radically extend beyond existing frameworks for the three capitals and expand on stock-flow consistent accounting found in the National Accounts.

To address this, the ONS is commissioning research from leading academics via ESCoE and engaging with other National Statistics Institutes and other International Organisations.

How is the Office for National Statistics’ work on the measurement of national well-being and on the development of natural capital accounts contributing to the development of the Government’s macro-economic policy?

Government departments are best placed to advise how they use ONS outputs to inform their decision-making. However, we regularly engage with users across government to understand their needs in relation to the statistics produced.

To what extent is the preparation of the UK’s national accounts governed by international standards for national government accounting? In the light of the Kunming Declaration of October 2021, what prospects are there for reform of the United Nations System of National Accounts (SNA) to assign greater importance to natural capital?

The UK produces its National Accounts in line with recognised international guidance developed by the UN and partner organisations, the System of National Accounts (SNA) (2008). As a key objective is maintaining international coherence and consistency so that statistics are reliable and comparable, we would not wish to change UK guidelines ahead of common international guidance.

However, international guidance is evolving at a rapid pace and the UK is actively engaged in this process. There has been intensive work internationally in recent years to both develop additional guidance on how to value natural assets and services in the form of the SEEA[5], and how this interacts with the SNA to ensure consistency.

The first commitment in the Kunming Declaration is to “implement an effective post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework”. Current drafts of that framework draw on the UN SEEA Ecosystem Accounts framework which underpins the Natural Capital Accounts. In that respect, satellite natural capital accounts will play an important role on this commitment. However, as most countries are yet to develop such satellites accounts, even under existing guidance, this commitment should also provide support for the wider development of natural capital accounts globally, and so a closer relationship between those accounts and the SNA methods. We are actively sharing our learnings on developing natural capital accounts with other countries.

In addition to the SEEA agenda, the UN is leading work to update the SNA, including a focus on better alignment with environmental and other data. Following investment via the Bean Review and the development of world-leading research capability both in ONS and ESCoE, the UK is one of a small number of countries who have been invited to be active in all of the relevant UN-run task-teams considering changes to the SNA and recent SEEA revisions.

These include addressing sustainability and well-being. The ONS is working to ensure changes to the guidance work which enable us to address the key challenges we have described above. Some changes could have significant effects, but current indications are that there is a strong international consensus to include either natural or human capital within the National Accounts.

How might the public, businesses, financial institutions, and the financial system react to any move away from GDP as the primary indicator of prosperity? What challenges could this present for policymakers, and how might these be overcome?

There are likely to be many different interpretations of ‘prosperity’. In some cases, GDP may well be the most appropriate measure, but other users may find other new and complementary measures better fit their needs, such as a new measure of stocks, such as inclusive wealth or measures of the flows of welfare arising from this wealth, like those developed by the ONS as part of its Spectrum framework.

Others may interpret ‘prosperity’ as better represented by wider measures of multiple data sources, covering economic, environmental, and social progress, such as may be represented by national wellbeing measures and the SDGs.

In all cases regular and as timely as possible publication of such statistics is required to inform debate and meet user needs. While the ONS’ ability to produce multiple high-quality measures is limited by its resources, we would be keen to gather wider stakeholder views on a common set of methods, data, statistics, and analysis to support as many users’ needs as possible.

Footnotes

[1] Noting that non-market activity delivered by the Government is included in the National Accounts.

[2] For example, In November 2007, the European Commission, European Parliament, Club of Rome, the OECD and the Worldwide Fund for Nature hosted the ‘Beyond GDP’ conference, with the objectives of clarifying which indices are most appropriate to measure progress and how to best integrate these into decision-making and promote their use in public debate. The starting point in this and other initiatives was the that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) alone was no longer the best way to measure a country’s progress and needed to be complemented by environmental and social indicators.

[3] Social capital is generally seen in this framework as an enabling asset that contextualises values attributed to the other capitals.

[4] Accounting Prices internalise the values of any externalities (positive or negative) inherent in observed transactions. In simple terms, the costs of carbon emissions from burning coal to produce electricity would be added to the price of electricity to consumers and businesses in the analysis so the full impact of decisions can be observed. This would be challenging as a large number of adjustments would need to be prioritised and calculated (should we address the health costs resulting from tobacco consumption for example), and other prices may already capture some component of these costs (in our coal example, if green taxes are applied to electricity producers we would need to calculate if these have fully accounted for the costs of pollution), which would need to be stripped out.

[5] System of Environmental-Economic Accounting 2012: Central Framework – final, official publication 2012, UN, EC, IMF, OECD and World Bank System of Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting, United Nations, European Commission, International Monetary Fund, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and World Bank 2012

Annex A: ONS & measures of progress

The ONS has engaged with stakeholders, such as the OECD, to develop well-being measures, and in 2010 launched a four-year Measuring National Wellbeing (MNW) development programme to establish “an accepted and trusted set of National Statistics, which help people to understand and monitor national wellbeing”, after a national consultation. This framework, with 41 indicators across 10 domains, including the environment, has been used as the basis for proposals by a number of organisations, e.g. Carnegie UK Trust’s report Gross Domestic Wellbeing (GDWe): An alternative measure of social progress (Nov 2020).

We have also developed measures of personal wellbeing for the UK, known as the ‘ONS 4’. These questions cover a respondents’ life satisfaction, whether they feel things done in life are worthwhile, happiness yesterday and anxiety yesterday. We have published Personal and Economic Well-being on a quarterly basis alongside economic outputs, and as a response to the coronavirus pandemic are now publishing wellbeing data from the ONS’ Opinions & Lifestyle Survey on a two-weekly basis.

The ONS was heavily involved in developing indicators for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which bring the economic, environmental, and social dimensions together. We lead on UK reporting as required by the SDG framework through a world-leading reporting platform, based on OpenSDG which the ONS developed with US partners and is currently used by over 30 countries, cities and regions globally. We have also continued to focus on our user research programme to understand and meet user needs and these activities have informed developments to both the UK website and Open SDG. As of December 2021, the UK platform is currently reporting on 83% of the 247 global SDG indicators, and we are currently testing approaches to measuring progress on the SDGs, a need identified by national and international stakeholders.

The ONS launched the prototype UK Climate Change Statistics Portal in October 2021, ahead of the COP26 UN climate talks. We worked closely with analysts from across a range of government departments to bring key climate change statistics into one place for the first time. The Portal is a ‘one-stop shop’ for climate change related statistics, including drivers like energy use and emissions levels, and provides clear, accessible, and accurate information.

Our economic statistics research team has also published theoretical and empirical papers, including developing the Spectrum ‘Beyond GDP’ framework, which seeks to bring in natural and human capital to deliver a measure of economic welfare that builds on the National Accounts. This work has been undertaken in partnership with the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE), an academic research centre hosted by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and delivered in collaboration with the ONS.

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry on ecosystems and biodiversity

Dear Mr Dunne,

I write in response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s request for evidence for its inquiry into Ecosystems and biodiversity, specifically addressing the Committees questions regarding the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) work towards incorporating the Natural Capital Accounts and the Environmental Accounts into the wider national accounts.

The ONS has been working with and actively involved in developing international approaches in this area, and the following provides both a summary of where we are and avenues for progress:

(1) Have the Natural Capital accounts been incorporated into the wider UK Environmental Accounts as planned for 2020?

The Natural Capital Accounts tables were published as part of the Environmental Satellite Account within the Blue Book for the first time in 2020.

Our Natural Capital Accounts development work continues, improving the methods and range of services being estimated. Key development areas include improving the granularity (detail) of the accounts and how changes in environmental condition and their impact are incorporated.

We are also looking at expanding our ability to include natural and other ‘missing capitals’ – manufactured and social – within experimental ‘Inclusive Wealth’ measures as proposed in the Dasgupta Review of the economics of biodiversity, alongside figures from the traditional national accounts (as detailed below).

(2) What steps need to be taken to integrate the Environmental Accounts into mainstream national accounting?

The ONS recognises that user needs are evolving. There is increasing emphasis on stepping outside the traditional linear framework and exploring economic aggregates in a more cohesive manner by expanding into other domains, such as environment and social.

We compile the core UK national accounts in line with internationally agreed guidance in the European System of Accounts 2010 (ESA2010).  This is in turn consistent with the UN’s System of National Accounts 2008 (SNA2008). While these ensure international comparability and quality of national accounts, they do not currently allow for the direct incorporation of environmental accounts into core national accounts.

We are actively involved in discussions regarding revisions to the System of National Accounts but at present, to remain comparable, we are not able to integrate the environmental accounts elements into the core national accounts. As the national accounts are an integrated set of stock and flow accounts, any such integration would need to capture both the stocks of environmental assets, but also the flows (positive and negative) associated with these.

The current international guidance does allow for Environment Satellite Accounts to interact with the core accounts, under the System of Environmental–Economic Accounting focussing on the environment, or other experimental outputs combining different elements and providing bespoke presentations as required. This enables us to use a similar framework and terminology to the core national accounts to bring economic and environmental data together for analysis and to better inform policy.

To reflect user needs, we are also developing our National Balance Sheet, which shows the wealth of the nation by non-financial and financial assets and the sectors that own them. Its many uses could include being a place for natural capital integration. These data are used to monitor economic performance, to inform monetary and fiscal policy, and for international comparisons. An annual publication and a National Statistic, this was developed to be broadly in line with SNA2008 and ESA2010.

We are also currently developing new and innovative frameworks for measuring the economy to meet the increased user demand for our statistics to move ‘Beyond GDP’. This includes the Spectrum framework, which seeks to extend the production and asset boundaries to include natural and human capital – as well as several other aspects of economic activity which currently fall outside of GDP, such as household production – to develop a measure of economic welfare that builds on the national accounts. Alongside this, the ONS is in the very early stages of exploring a possible workplan to respond to the Dasgupta Review’s call for a national measure of ‘Inclusive Wealth’, incorporating the market price of produced, natural, and human capital and also externalities associated with these.

For example, we are considering how to present a more unified presentation of the different estimates of capital stocks which the ONS already produces (e.g. productive capital, human capital, natural capital) on a consistent basis to help inform the public and decision-making.

(3) Is it possible to integrate natural capital accounting into the national accounts now?

We are working to develop our innovative frameworks building on the national accounts and extending beyond them. This includes new research via the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence, called the ‘Spectrum’ approach, as mentioned above. We are also developing ‘Inclusive Wealth’ measures in response to the Dasgupta Review. Some of this work will require further funding, which we are exploring, and timelines are likely to be funding dependent.

The guidance on Natural Capital and the System of Environmental Economic Accounting are separate from the international guidance on the central framework for National Accounting. This does not restrict us developing experimental alternatives separate to the more traditional accounts.

The UK has developed a world leading set of statistics to measure our Natural Capital Assets in a way that is compatible with central framework concepts. If the international guidance were to be revised to permit full integration, taking a national accounts stocks and flows approach would be a significant and complex endeavour.

It should also be noted that our Natural Capital Accounts development aims to produce measures that are of use in a wider set of policy contexts beyond the national accounts. Over the last year or so, our Environment and Natural Capital Team has been able to use their datasets to, for example:

I hope this submission is useful to the Committee, and please let me know if we can provide any further assistance to this inquiry or the Committee’s other work.

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Athow
Deputy National Statistician and Director General, Economic Statistics
Office for National Statistics

 

Office for National Statistics response to Environmental Audit Committee’s report on Sustainable Development Goals follow-up: Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK

Dear Ms Creagh,

I am writing to offer the Office for National Statistics (ONS) response to the Environmental Audit Committee report on the ‘Sustainable Development Goals in the UK follow up: Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK’.

The Committee made two recommendations to ONS. Firstly:

“ONS should continue to develop its metrics to cover all SDG indicators. Government and civil society must work with ONS to ensure that Government is able to work from timely, UK-wide metrics to measure its performance, with sufficient disaggregation to identify areas of need. It should consider the existing data to determine whether it is fit for current purpose, and to ensure that it covers the outcomes of actions, rather than just outputs. Government should also ensure that it establishes specific mechanisms for action if performance is poor. The Government should show leadership by introducing an SDG impact assessment as part of the cost-benefit analysis undertaken by Government, or for politically strategic events such as the Queen’s Speech and Budget.” (Paragraph 138)

ONS welcomes this report and its recommendations. Sourcing and reporting data for all the SDG global indicators and making our data coverage more comprehensive to ensure no one is left behind is at the core of the ONS strategy for SDG reporting and in line with our wider statistical transformation plans.

Since I gave evidence to the Committee on 23 October 2018, we have continued our efforts to source the appropriate UK data for the global indicators, putting that data into context and making that data available to everyone. We are currently reporting data for 170 (70%) of the global SDG indicators, an additional 16 indicators compared with our position in September 2018. Over 40% of the global indicators reported contain at least 1 required disaggregation. All data are published and available to all via our National Reporting Platform (NRP).

We continue to work closely with stakeholders across government and civil society to ensure the best possible data are used to report progress towards the SDGs. This includes meeting on a weekly basis with SDG goal champions from across government to review data quality.

To reinforce the principle of “leave no one behind”, ONS has also partnered with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD) and its global network. This reiterates our commitment for
1 January 2018, SDGs in the UK follow-up: Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK report 2 National Reporting Platform improved and strengthened data breakdowns through the Inclusive Data Charter. We will work together to improve the quality, quantity and availability of inclusive data. For example, one of the biggest data disaggregation gaps for the UK is migrant status. In September 2017 ONS set out a comprehensive work programme utilising new powers under the Digital Economy Act to improve migration statistics that will deliver by spring 2020. We anticipate the outcome of this work will help fill SDG data disaggregation gaps.

Our second annual progress report for measuring the SDGs which outlines our developments and sets out next steps was published in November 2018. It provided an important update on: our assessment of data gaps at global indicator and disaggregation level, our progress towards the inclusive data action plan for developing new data sources and methods to increase data coverage, and plans for prioritising the work to fill data gaps.

“We recommend that the Government work with the Office for National Statistics to measure the potential impact that Universal Credit may have on rates of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms in pilot Universal Credit areas. To be effective this measure should account for the rates of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition before and after the implementation of Universal Credit and compare these rates with areas where Universal Credit has not been applied.” (Paragraph 59)

ONS are committed to supporting the evidence needs of the UK government. We will continue to meet with government departments on a regular basis to determine their requirements for statistical support.

Goal 2 of the SDGs (Zero Hunger) requires the measurement of undernourishment, food insecurity and malnutrition. In respect of indicator 2.1.2 (prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in the population, based on the UN Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES), we have conducted a comprehensive review of relevant existing data from both official and non-official sources and are looking at options to fill any data gaps. Alongside this, we convened a roundtable on 25 February 2019 centred around the strong and growing user need for better statistics on food insecurity. The event brought together representatives from across government alongside civil society organisations which included the Independent Food Aid Network, Food Foundation and Feeding Britain.

At the event it was confirmed that the Department for Work and Pensions will be including food insecurity questions on the Family Resources Survey (FRS) – a development which was strongly welcomed by all stakeholders. Data will be collected throughout the year from April 2019 to March 2020 and we would expect the first set of results by end March 2021.

Participants welcomed ONS leading and convening the roundtable, finding it extremely valuable. I agreed we would look to host a follow-up event in September. I will of course keep the Committee updated on this work.

Yours sincerely,

Iain Bell Deputy National Statistician and Director General, Population and Public Policy Office for National Statistics

Related links:

Iain Bell’s follow up written evidence

Iain Bell’s oral evidence

Iain Bell’s written evidence

Office for National Statistics follow-up written evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry on Sustainable Development Goals follow-up: Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK

Dear Ms Creagh,

While providing evidence at the Environmental Audit Committee on 23 October on Sustainable Development Goals, I promised to provide further information on a number of areas. These are set out below.

UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) statistics

SDG indicator 2.1.2 requires data on both ‘moderate’ and ‘severe’ food insecurity.

In September 2018, the UN FAO released data on severe food insecurity as provisional estimates which require further validation. The dataset does not include moderate food insecurity at this stage. Therefore, we are unable to update the SDG indicator. UN FAO plan to release the full dataset in Autumn 2019, when we will update the National Reporting Platform and notify yourselves and the Committee of the latest data.

Based solely on severe food insecurity, the estimate for the UK was 3.4% and covers the average of 2015-17. The previous estimate was 4.2% and covered the years 2014-2016. As two of the three years are in common between the estimates, caution should be taken in reading too much into changes due to the small sample sizes in any one year.

We have only one data point for SDG indicator 2.1.2 for both moderate and severe food insecurity which is 9.7% for the years 2014-16. This figure is comparable to the EU average.

You were also interested in international comparisons. Annex A illustrates estimates of moderate or severe food insecurity for those countries where comparable data exists. Estimates are derived from a sample survey and are subject to a margin of error which has been visualised as error bars on the graph. The proportion of people reporting food insecurity was highest in South Sudan and lowest in Japan.

As I outlined at the Committee, ONS need to get a clear picture of user need for the ongoing measure of this indicator and then establish the right administrative and survey mechanisms for doing this. We are urgently working on this and I will write to you when we have a clear path forward.

Indicators that require development of data sources

Our current assessment is that there are 6 indicators for which data sources need the most development, which are as follows.

  • 1.1.1 Proportion of the population below the international poverty line. We have development work in progress on how to widen the coverage of our surveys beyond private households and on improvements to data related to homelessness.
  • 1.5.2 Direct economic loss attributed to disasters. We require domestic agreement on the definition of disaster. The first meeting of an ONS chaired cross-government working group to determine this will be on 14 November 2018.
  • 2.4.1 Proportion of agricultural area under productive and sustainable agriculture. There are currently no agreed international methods.
  • 8.7.1 Proportion and number of children aged 5 – 17 years engaged in child labour. There needs to be further discussions with crime experts to produce relevant data for this indicator.
  • 11.5.2 Direct economic loss, damage to critical infrastructure and disruptions to basic services attributed to disasters. Similarly, to 1.5.2, we require domestic agreement on the definition of disaster.
  • 15.3.1 Proportion of land that has degraded. There are currently no agreed international methods.

We are always adding data to the National Reporting Platform and are currently reporting on 157 (64%) of all global indicators. In addition to the 6 indicators that need significant development of data sources, there are a further 81 indicators where we have assessed there are suitable data available for the UK but are still in discussions with topic experts to acquire that data and produce a suitable indicator to report to the UN. These can be found at Annex B.

The Committee may also wish to note that this week we published our second annual progress report for measuring the SDGs which outlines our developments and sets out next steps.

I hope the Committee finds this note helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.

Yours sincerely,

Iain Bell, Deputy National Statistician and Director General, Population and Public Policy

Related links:

Iain Bell’s oral evidence

Iain Bell’s written evidence

Iain Bell’s letter regarding the Environmental Audit Committee’s report

Annex B: Indicators that require development of data sources

  • 1.3.1 Proportion of population covered by social protection floors/systems, by sex, distinguishing children, unemployed persons, older persons, persons with disabilities, pregnant women, newborns, work-injury victims and the poor and the vulnerable
  • 1.4.1 Proportion of population living in households with access to basic services
  • 1.a.2 Proportion of total government spending on essential services (education, health and social protection)
  • 1.a.3 Sum of total grants and non-debt-creating inflows directly allocated to poverty reduction programmes as a proportion of GDP
  • 1.b.1 Proportion of government recurrent and capital spending to sectors that disproportionately benefit women, the poor and vulnerable groups
  • 2.2.1 Prevalence of stunting (height for age <-2 standard deviation from the median of the World Health Organization (WHO) Child Growth Standards) among children under 5 years of age
  • 2.b.1 Agricultural export subsidies
  • 2.c.1 Indicator of food price anomalies
  • 3.1.1 Maternal mortality ratio
  • 3.3.5 Number of people requiring interventions against neglected tropical diseases
  • 3.5.1 Coverage of treatment interventions (pharmacological, psychosocial and rehabilitation and aftercare services) for substance use disorders
  • 3.7.1 Proportion of women of reproductive age (aged 15-49 years) who have their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods
  • 3.8.1 Coverage of essential health services (defined as the average coverage of essential services based on tracer interventions that include reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases and service capacity and access, among the general and the most disadvantaged population)
  • 3.b.3 Proportion of health facilities that have a core set of relevant essential medicines available and affordable on a sustainable basis
  • 3.d.1 International Health Regulations (IHR) capacity and health emergency preparedness
  • 4.a.1 Proportion of schools with access to: (a) electricity; (b) the Internet for pedagogical purposes; (c) computers for pedagogical purposes; (d) adapted infrastructure and materials for students with disabilities; (e) basic drinking water; (f) single-sex basic sanitation facilities; and (g) basic handwashing facilities (as per the WASH indicator definitions)
  • 5.6.1 Proportion of women aged 15-49 years who make their own informed decisions regarding sexual relations, contraceptive use and reproductive health care
  • 6.1.1 Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services
  • 6.2.1 Proportion of population using safely managed sanitation services, including a handwashing facility with soap and water
  • 6.3.1 Proportion of wastewater safely treated
  • 6.4.1 Change in water-use efficiency over time
  • 6.4.2 Level of water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources
  • 6.6.1 Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time
  • 6.b.1 Proportion of local administrative units with established and operational policies and procedures for participation of local communities in water and sanitation management

 

  • 8.8.2 Level of national compliance of labour rights (freedom of association and collective bargaining) based on International Labour Organization (ILO) textual sources and national legislation, by sex and migrant status
  • 9.3.2 Proportion of small-scale industries with a loan or line of credit
  • 9.c.1 Proportion of population covered by a mobile network, by technology
  • 10.5.1 Financial Soundness Indicators
  • 10.7.1 Recruitment cost borne by employee as a proportion of yearly income earned in country of destination
  • 10.7.2 Number of countries that have implemented well-managed migration policies
  • 10.a.1 Proportion of tariff lines applied to imports from least developed countries and developing countries with zero-tariff
  • 11.2.1 Proportion of population that has convenient access to public transport, by sex, age and persons with disabilities
  • 11.3.2 Proportion of cities with a direct participation structure of civil society in urban planning and management that operate regularly and democratically
  • 11.6.1 Proportion of urban solid waste regularly collected and with adequate final discharge out of total urban solid waste generated, by cities
  • 11.a.1 Proportion of population living in cities that implement urban and regional development plans integrating population projections and resource needs, by size of city
  • 12.3.1 Global food loss index
  • 12.4.1 Number of parties to international multilateral environmental agreements on hazardous waste, and other chemicals that meet their commitments and obligations in transmitting information as required by each relevant agreement
  • 12.4.2 Hazardous waste generated per capita and proportion of hazardous waste treated, by type of treatment
  • 12.6.1 Number of companies publishing sustainability reports
  • 12.a.1 Amount of support to developing countries on research and development for sustainable consumption and production and environmentally sound technologies
  • 12.b.1 Number of sustainable tourism strategies or policies and implemented action plans with agreed monitoring and evaluation tools
  • 12.c.1 Amount of fossil-fuel subsidies per unit of GDP (production and consumption) and as a proportion of total national expenditure on fossil fuels
  • 13.b.1 Number of least developed countries and small island developing States that are receiving specialized support, and amount of support, including finance, technology and capacity-building, for mechanisms for raising capacities for effective climate change-related planning and management, including focusing on women, youth and local and marginalized communities
  • 14.1.1 Index of coastal eutrophication and floating plastic debris density
  • 14.3.1 Average marine acidity (pH) measured at agreed suite of representative sampling stations
  • 14.6.1 Progress by countries in the degree of implementation of international instruments aiming to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing
  • 14.7.1 Sustainable fisheries as a proportion of GDP in small island developing States, least developed countries and all countries
  • 14.a.1 Proportion of total research budget allocated to research in the field of marine technology
  • 14.b.1 Progress by countries in the degree of application of a legal/regulatory/policy/institutional framework which recognizes and protects access rights for small-scale fisheries
  • 14.c.1 Number of countries making progress in ratifying, accepting and implementing through legal, policy and institutional frameworks, ocean-related instruments that implement international law, as reflected in the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea, for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans and their resources

 

  • 15.1.2 Proportion of important sites for terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity that are covered by protected areas, by ecosystem type
  • 15.4.1 Coverage by protected areas of important sites for mountain biodiversity
  • 15.9.1 Progress towards national targets established in accordance with Aichi Biodiversity Target 2 of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020
  • 16.2.1 Proportion of children aged 1-17 years who experienced any physical punishment and/or psychological aggression by caregivers in the past month
  • 16.2.2 Number of victims of human trafficking per 100,000 population, by sex, age and form of exploitation
  • 16.4.1 Total value of inward and outward illicit financial flows (in current United States dollars)
  • 16.4.2 Proportion of seized, found or surrendered arms whose illicit origin or context has been traced or established by a competent authority in line with international instruments
  • 16.5.1 Proportion of persons who had at least one contact with a public official and who paid a bribe to a public official, or were asked for a bribe by those public officials, during the previous 12 months
  • 16.5.2 Proportion of businesses that had at least one contact with a public official and that paid a bribe to a public official, or were asked for a bribe by those public officials during the previous 12 months
  • 16.6.1 Primary government expenditures as a proportion of original approved budget, by sector (or by budget codes or similar)
  • 16.6.2 Proportion of population satisfied with their last experience of public services
  • 16.8.1 Proportion of members and voting rights of developing countries in international organizations
  • 16.9.1 Proportion of children under 5 years of age whose births have been registered with a civil authority, by age
  • 16.10.1 Number of verified cases of killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and torture of journalists, associated media personnel, trade unionists and human rights advocates in the previous 12 months
  • 17.2.1 Net official development assistance, total and to least developed countries, as a proportion of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee donors’ gross national income (GNI)
  • 17.3.1 Foreign direct investments (FDI), official development assistance and South-South Cooperation as a proportion of total domestic budget
  • 17.3.2 Volume of remittances (in United States dollars) as a proportion of total GDP
  • 17.4.1 Debt service as a proportion of exports of goods and services
  • 17.5.1 Number of countries that adopt and implement investment promotion regimes for least developed countries
  • 17.6.1 Number of science and/or technology cooperation agreements and programmes between countries, by type of cooperation
  • 17.7.1 Total amount of approved funding for developing countries to promote the development, transfer, dissemination and diffusion of environmentally sound technologies
  • 17.10.1 Worldwide weighted tariff-average
  • 17.11.1 Developing countries’ and least developed countries’ share of global exports
  • 17.12.1 Average tariffs faced by developing countries, least developed countries and small island developing States
  • 17.13.1 Macroeconomic Dashboard
  • 17.15.1 Extent of use of country-owned results frameworks and planning tools by providers of development cooperation
  • 17.17.1 Amount of United States dollars committed to public-private and civil society partnerships
  • 17.18.1 Proportion of sustainable development indicators produced at the national level with full disaggregation when relevant to the target, in accordance with the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics
  • 17.18.2 Number of countries that have national statistical legislation that complies with the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics
  • 17.18.3 Number of countries with a national statistical plan that is fully funded and under implementation, by source of funding
  • 17.19.1 Dollar value of all resources made available to strengthen statistical capacity in developing countries

Office for National Statistics oral evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry on Sustainable Development Goals follow-up: Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity

On 21 September 2018, Iain Bell, Deputy National Statistician, gave evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s call for evidence to its follow-up inquiry on the Sustainable Development Goals in the UK.

A transcript of which has been published on the UK Parliament’s website.

Related Links:

Iain Bell’s written evidence (September 2018)

Iain Bell’s follow up written evidence

Iain Bell’s letter regarding the Environmental Audit Committee’s report

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry on Sustainable Development Goals follow-up: Hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity

Dear Ms Creagh,

I write in response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s call for evidence to its follow-up inquiry on the Sustainable Development Goals in the UK.

As the Committee are aware, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the UK’s National Statistical Institute, and largest producer of official statistics. We aim to provide a firm evidence base for sound decisions, and develop the role of official statistics in democratic debate.

ONS provided written evidence to the Committee’s previous inquiry on the Sustainable Development Goals in late 2016, and my colleague Abigail Self also appeared in front of the Committee to give oral evidence.

In response to the Committee’s new inquiry on this topic, the following short note provides an update on our work in this area since the publication of the Committee’s report in April 2017. In light of the inquiry’s terms of reference, it also provides additional information on UK reporting on food insecurity and other indicators under Goal 2.

I hope this evidence is helpful to the Committee. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance.

Yours sincerely,

Iain Bell, Deputy National Statistician and Director General for Population and Public Policy Office for National Statistics

Related links:

Iain Bells oral evidence (September 2018)

Iain Bell’s follow up written evidence

Iain Bell’s letter regarding the Environmental Audit Committee’s report

Office for National Statistics – Written Evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee: Sustainable Development Goals in the UK follow up

Progress and developments from ONS since last SDGs inquiry

  1. Since the publication of the committee’s report on Sustainable Development Goals in the UK in April 2017 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has made significant progress towards sourcing the appropriate UK data for the global indicators, putting that data into context and making that data available to everyone.
  2. We are currently reporting data for 154 (63%) global SDG indicators, a further 22 (9%) are currently in progress and for the remaining 68 (28%) we are exploring data sources (only Netherlands report on more global indicators). Over 40% of the global indicators reported contain at least 1 required disaggregation (a much higher proportion than any other country). All data are published and available to all via our new National Reporting Platform (NRP) which was launched alongside our first annual report in November 2017, our second annual report will be published in November 2018.
  3. We have started to release a series of narrative publications which have included short pieces on child mortality, partner abuse, people on remand in custody, a slide share on renewable energy, and a broader compendium publication looking at economic statistics related to SDGs.
  4. During Summer 2017 we undertook a consultation to understand how stakeholders want us to report on SDGs and how to prioritise filling data gaps. Our response to this consultation was published on 11 December 2017.
  5. The consultation responses were supportive of our proposed programme of work and expanded on details that aligned with our development work. Geographic breakdowns to the lowest level possible were highlighted as a priority area for development and respondents suggested further prioritisation should be centred around what is relevant and a priority for the UK.
  6. On 19 March 2018 we published the first UK Data Gaps report detailing the global SDG indicators with no known UK data sources and the biggest data disaggregation gaps for the UK. To coincide with the UK commitment to the Inclusive Data Charter, on the 13 July 2018 we published our data development plans to fill SDG data gaps at both the headline and disaggregation level.
  7. For example, one of the biggest data disaggregation gaps for the UK is migrant status. In September 2017 ONS set out a comprehensive work programme utilising new powers under the Digital Economy Act to improve migration statistics that will deliver by Spring 2020. We anticipate the outcome of this work will help fill SDG data disaggregation gaps.

Goal 2 – Zero Hunger, food insecurity reporting

  1. Measuring food insecurity is a key priority and a requirement for indicator 2.1.2 (prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in the population, based on the UN Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES)). Given that few countries to date have collected FIES data in national surveys, the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN (FAO) has produced provisional baseline country estimates for more than 140 countries. Whilst we are currently reporting these estimates for the UK there are several shortcomings. For example, the UK sample size is small so limits data disaggregation and the data are not timely.
  2. We have already begun work to improve statistics on food insecurity. We have researched all relevant existing data from both official and non-official sources and are looking at options to fill any data gaps. We have assessed the feasibility of including addition questions to existing household surveys and will be discussing this ongoing work with Emma Lewell-Buck MP, relevant government departments and a range of external stakeholders in October to understand any additional requirements.
  3. We are currently reporting data for 9 of the 13 global SDG indicators related to Goal 2 – Zero Hunger, a further 2 are currently in progress and for the remaining 2 we are exploring data sources.
    IndicatorDescriptionSourceReportingLatest Data
    2.1.1UndernourishmentData sourced from National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS). Median total energy intake for 2.5th percentile, 2015Available online668
    2.1.2Food insecurityEstimated prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity UK, 2015 on survey from FAOAvailable online9.7%
    2.2.1StuntingCurrently acquiring data on heights of children aged 4-5 from NHS Digital and the National Childhood Measurement Programme (NCMP).In progress
    2.2.2MalnutritionBMI data sourced from National Childhood Measurement Programme (NCMP).Available onlineData on obese, overweight and underweight BMI categories
    2.3.1Farming productionOnly land use for crops currently on tool, but we have worked to source additional data on crop production and are considering how best to incorporate this onto our NRP.Available online18,400,000 hectares of UK land used for agriculture and forestry
    2.3.2Income of smallscale producersReported on NRP as gross weekly earnings of food producers by sex.Available online£392 per week average gross earnings
    2.4.1Productive and sustainable agricultureNo data currently sourced. No agreed international methodsExploring sources
    2.5.1Genetic resourcesCumulative enrichment index reported online up to 2017Available online151000 CEI
    2.5.1Local breed extinction riskData sourced from DEFRA.Available online5.75%
    2.a.1Agriculture orientation indexReported on NRP until 2015. More recent data available, update to be completed.Available online0.436 AOI
    2.a.2ODA agricultureReported on NRP until 2015, but with 2016 update on staging site, ready to be pushed to live.Available online589000000
    2.b.1Agriculture export subsidiesNo data currently sourcedExploring sources
    2.c.1Food price anomaliesAt the early stages of promising discussions with Prices experts.In progress

International comparisons and work

  1. The UK is among the leading countries in its response to SDGs data for global indicators – from reporting data, to publishing plans and outputs in an open and transparent way. A quick look at other countries shows that there is a long way to go for many countries on both producing in line with UN meta-data standards and the levels of disaggregation. As noted above only the Netherlands report on more global indicators than UK and no country currently has a greater proportion of indicators for which at least one disaggregation is provided.This does not make us complacent and our published material sets out our plans for filling more gaps and increasing the levels of disaggregation.
  2. Our National Reporting Platform has been developed with our Data Science Campus and in collaboration with the United States. We have deliberately developed an open source solution so others can freely reuse our code. Technical guidance on copying our site is available in our wiki. Both Ghana and Rwanda are adopting and benefiting from our approach while we have also received interest from other countries including Germany and Australia.
  3. The UK is also a member of a United Nations Task Force on Reporting SDG indicators using National Reporting Platforms (NRPs). The Task Force is working on a document that maps the main features across several existing NRPs and includes case studies showing how different countries have approached reporting their data.
  4. We have completed a global project to evaluate the feasibility of using the ESRI geospatial platform as a reporting mechanism for SDGs, which would allow the UN to pull data directly from member states and plan to report on this with an update on the availability of geographic breakdowns for UK data in the Autumn.
  5. We are a Steering Group member of the Conference of European Statisticians’ (CES) Expert Group on Statistics for SDGs, and contributed to the development of a roadmap for the development of official statistics for monitoring SDGs, which was launched in June 2017. We are also co-chair of the UNECE group on Communicating Statistics on SDGS, as well as member on 2 other UN groups (Reporting platforms & Data development).
  6. As a member of the Geospatial Working Group of the United Nations Inter-Agency and Expert Group (UN IAEG), we have worked on the development of the Global Statistical Geospatial Framework – a set of principles developed by the UN Expert Group on the Integration of Statistics and Geospatial Information (UN EG-ISGI) to support the use of geospatial data within the sustainable development agenda. Background/ONS role
  7. As the UK’s national statistics institute, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is responsible for reporting of data for regular monitoring of UK progress towards the 244 global Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators. The comprehensive framework for SDGs fits with our Better Statistics, Better Decisions strategy. Sourcing and analysing data covering the economy, environment and society, which is then disaggregated to show the full picture, will enable better-evidenced policy decisions.
  8. We have committed to:
  • source the appropriate UK data for the global indicators
  • provide data to the international organisations responsible for each indicator, known as Custodian Agencies, who will report them to the United Nations
  • analyse the data so that we can put it into context
  • make the data available to everybody using an online tool and supporting reports

In addition, ONS and the wider Government Statistical Service (GSS), provides a wide range of data and analysis to government departments which supports Single Departmental Plans