ARCHIVE: Background: economics of sustainable development

The UK Government’s approach to sustainable development is set out in its statement of principles, published in its 2005 sustainable development strategy "Securing the Future". The strategy sets out the responsibilities of all UK government departments to take account of sustainable development in selecting and designing policies. However, it is often difficult to pin down how we do this in practice since sustainable development is such an all-encompassing concept.  

Economists across government work with policy managers to give Ministers advice on how best to deliver their objectives.  They use a number of common approaches in doing so – set out in the Treasury’s Green Book, and in the Better Regulation Executive’s guidance for producing impact assessments, documents which must be produced for each new proposed policy to assure Ministers that the advice they are being given is soundly based.  

The principles of sustainable development do not in themselves provide a framework for comparing the sustainability of one policy option with another. The challenge of this Review is to assess whether existing approaches to sustainability in the Green Book and Impact Assessment guidance provide a good framework for assessing the sustainability of different policy options; and whether alternative or supplementary approaches might help. It will aim to identify approaches which merit further investigation and development. 

There are countless competing definitions of and approaches to sustainability, and this often muddies the waters when policymakers try to assess policies. This Review will therefore also aim to establish clearly what sustainability means for policy development in the UK, and what it doesn’t.

The Review was launched at a joint seminar held by the Government Economic Service and the Sustainable Development Commission at HM Treasury in 2008. Richard Price’s paper for the seminar provides more information on the background and motivation for the Review (see "key papers").

Page last modified: 16 April 2009
Page published: 16 April 2009