UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


New reports published on 'strong sustainability' in Vietnam and Kenya

28 June 2022

Two academics and a PhD alumnus from the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources have co-authored reports sharing work piloting a new indicator framework for national reporting on strong sustainability.

Aerial view of a green forest

Institute of Sustainable Resources academics Dr Alison Fairbrass and Prof Paul Ekins with PhD alumuns Arkaitz Usubiaga-Liaño were part of the two international teams piloting the Environmental Sustainability Gap framework (ESGAP).

The 'strong sustainability' approach seeks explicitly to limit, in absolute terms, acceptable trade-offs of natural capital and environmental functions, and to define 'a safe operating space' in environmental terms, for human activity. The ESGAP framework contributes to strong sustainability by defining science-based standards for resource availability or environmental quality. Science-based standards guarantee that the environment can continue to perform its functions for human economies and societies. 

The partners in Vietnam were Dr Carolina Soto-Navarro (WWF Vietnam), a team at the Vietnamese Institute of Strategy and Policy in Natural Resources and Environment (ISPONRE). The partners in Kenya were international consultant Maurice Otieno, Dr Carolina Soto-Navarro and a team at Kenya's National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). The funder was the French Development Agency (AFD).

Find out more about the two reports below.

Environmental Sustainability in Vietnam

The Prime Minister of Vietnam issued a National Action Plan for the implementation of the Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development. Nevertheless, the limited number of indicators and data, and the lack of a nation-wide monitoring system jeopardizes the country’s ability to effectively measure and monitor the state of the environment in a robust way. Better monitoring, better data and better co-ordination between agencies and Government Ministries are still major challenges to effectively monitor performance towards achieving the Vietnam’s SDG targets. 

This study pilots the assessment of strong environmental sustainability in Vietnam using the Environmental Sustainability Gap framework (ESGAP), and the Strong Environmental Sustainability Index (SESI), which measures countries’ performance on maintaining four essential environmental functions (i.e., source, sink, life support and human health and welfare). The ESGAP framework is relevant to identify Vietnam’s remaining environmental challenges to achieve strong environmental sustainability and data gaps in the country.

The study found that out of 22 strong environmental sustainability indicators present in the ESGAP framework, five have data available in Vietnam, eight have insufficient data sources and were replaced by proxy indicators for Vietnam, and the remaining nine represent major data gaps on the environment for Vietnam. The Vietnam ESGAP framework has the potential to be leveraged as an effective communication tool which provides an overall picture of the gap to achieve environmental sustainability.

Read the full report here.

Environmental Sustainability in Kenya

To adapt the ESGAP framework to the Kenyan socio-ecological context, this project analysed the in-country environmental legislation landscape and existing environmental policy frameworks to determine challenges, gaps and opportunities for supplementing and strengthen existing processes. Challenges included data quality limitations, availability of adequate indicators and standards, and accessibility to data. 

The current Kenya ESGAP framework is composed of 12 indicators (in comparison with the 21 indicators used on the European SESI). Results suggest that the functioning of different elements of natural capital in Kenya, and their capacity to provide essential services in the long-term, is highly impaired because of excessive environmental degradation. The capacity of Kenya’s natural capital to provide critical services to maintain health and contribute to human well-being is the most severely impeded in Kenya.

The ESGAP process has demonstrated to be a useful framework to highlight crucial data gaps and major current threats to environmental sustainability in Kenya. However, further components of natural capital need to be assessed, requiring efforts to improve the data underpinning the framework. The ESGAP framework could be used as an important tool to integrate data and indicators for natural capital and environmental sustainability into economic planning complementing and cross benefiting from other adopted national processes to support environmental planning and management.

Read the full report here.

Photo by John O'Nolan on Unsplash