Towards integrated social-ecological sustainability indicators: Exploring the contribution and gaps in existing global data

Odirilwe Selomane, Belinda Reyers, Reinette Biggs, Heather Tallis, Stephen Polasky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Sustainable development goals (SDGs), which recognise the interconnections between social, economic and ecological systems, have ignited new interest in indicators able to integrate trends in - and interactions between - nature and socio-economic development. We explore whether existing global data can be used to measure nature's contribution to development targets and explore limitations in these data. Using Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1- eradicate extreme hunger and poverty. We develop two indicators to assess the contribution of nature to progress in this goal. The indicators (based on income and employment data from nature-based sectors (NBS) represented by agriculture, forestry and fisheries) show large but declining contributions of nature to MDG 1: NBS contributed to lifting 18% of people out of poverty and provided 37% of global employment between 1991 and 2010. For low income countries, the contributions were 20% and 55% respectively. In exploring data gaps the study highlighted low reporting rates especially in low income countries, as well as lack of other measures of poverty alleviation beyond income and employment. If we are to move beyond target setting to implementation of sustainable development goals at national scales, these shortcomings require as much attention as the elaboration and agreement on the post-2015 development goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)140-146
Number of pages7
JournalEcological Economics
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Centre (SESYNC) under funding received from the National Science Foundation DBI-1052875 ; the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa; and SIDA , the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through a grant administered by the Resilience and Development Programme (SwedBio) at Stockholm Resilience Centre. The Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study (STIAS) supported fellowships to South Africa by Stephen Polasky and Heather Tallis.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier B.V.


  • Existing datasets
  • Human-wellbeing
  • Millennium Development Goals
  • Nature based sectors
  • Sustainable development goals


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