Sustainable development means the coherent and consistent development of the social, economic and environmental areas to guarantee people a high quality of life and a safe and clean living environment today as well as in the future. In Estonia, sustainable development has been given more consistent consideration since 1995 when the Sustainable Development Act was prepared on the basis of the Agenda 21 programme approved at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
The goals of the four areas of sustainable development in Estonia – viability of the Estonian cultural space, growth of welfare, social cohesion and ecological balance – have been defined in the national strategy “Sustainable Estonia 21” adopted in 2005. In the framework of sustainable development, all those areas are observed as a whole, meaning that development cannot be sustainable if one area improves while the situation in another area deteriorates.
In 2008 the Government Office prepared a report outlining the results of the implementation of “Sustainable Estonia 21”, the Estonian national strategy for sustainable development. The report focused on the development trends that are important for Estonia in order to describe the relevant issues from the perspective of sustainability. The analysis was based on the set of indicators selected by the Government Office and ministries and non-governmental organisations. The indicators selected have also served as the basis for the publication “Säästva arengu näitajad. Indicators of Sustainable Development” published by Statistics Estonia in 2009 and 2011.
In 2013, the set of sustainable development indicators was renewed by the Sustainable Development Commission, the Government Office of Estonia and an inter-ministerial working group for sustainable development. Compared to the previous set, there are 26 new indicators and 69 indicators altogether. These indicators also form the basis for the new publication of sustainable development indicators published in 2015.
The earlier publications of Statistics Estonia on sustainable development – “Säästva arengu näitajad. Indicators of Sustainable Development” published in 2002, 2004 and 2006 – were based on the list of sustainable development indicators of the Statistical Office of the European Communities (Eurostat) and the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. The list was linked to the chapters of Agenda 21.
There are more than 100 indicators (incl. 11 key indicators) with their trends available on Eurostat’s web site for measuring progress towards the goals of the EU sustainable development strategy both on the EU level and in individual Member States.
In the survey conducted in 2010–2011, Statistics Estonia made an attempt to map and analyse the relevance and quality of the indicators of sustainable development used in Estonia.
Life has shown that knowledge and understanding of problems, data and trends are often available only to the experts of the particular field. However, for a dialogue involving the whole society, it is paramount that the information regarding the bottlenecks and key issues of sustainable development would be spread from the narrow circle of researchers and stakeholders to the general public and politicians.