3. National System of Environmental Indicators
SEMARNAT, through its Dirección General de Estadística e Información Ambiental (Office of Environmental Information and Statistics), is responsible for developing and updating the National System of Environmental Indicators (SNIA) as a component of the National System of Environmental and Natural Resources Information (SNIARN, for its acronym in Spanish).
The SNIA’s objective is to provide decision makers and the general public with key information on the state of the country’s environment and natural resources and its relationship with human, economic and political activities that might affect the environment. The SNIA aims to integrate the efforts of various agencies of federal and state governments, research institutions, NGOs and other societal groups interested in environmental information.
3.1. Background at a national level
The first formal and systematic steps toward the development of environmental indicators in the federal government were taken in 1993, by the Instituto Nacional de Ecología (National Ecology Institute, INE, for its acronym in Spanish) with the North American Environmental Information Workshop, with the participation of Mexico’s INE, Environment Canada and the US Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA). The workshop's objective was to create an information base for the Report on the State of the Environment in North America. In this context, the study entitled An Approach Towards Environmental Indicators for Mexico 1994 was prepared, which set the conceptual basis for the development of environmental indicators in the country. Since then and until the year 2000, Semarnap -through INE- kept working on the subject, as shown by publications on indicators focused on the assessment of environmental performance and sustainable development.
The report entitled “Avance en el Desarrollo de Indicadores para la Evaluación de Desempeño Ambiental de México 1997" (Progress in the Development of Indicators for Assessing Environmental Performance in Mexico 1997) used the Pressure-State-Response (PSR) framework with some modifications for incorporating the experiences in these initiatives in some countries and international bodies which had made significant advances in these matters. The purpose of this report was to establish a set of indicators to serve as a tool for assessing the performance of environmental policies while setting the baseline for future reports. It did not intend to become a comprehensive or definite list; instead, it was an exercise where information needs and availability were balanced. In fact, a byproduct of this work was the identification of data gaps and inconsistencies, as well as of alternative data sources. Topics included were air, hazardous waste, municipal solid waste, wildlife, depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer and climate change.
The report on "Evaluación del Desempeño Ambiental. Reporte 2000” (Environmental Performance Assessment. 2000) was the outcome of continued efforts to integrate a national system of environmental indicators. This second report updated the indicators contained in the 1997 report, and incorporated the water, forests, soils and fisheries subjects. This report maintained the PSR model, seeking to establish the relationship between the environment and some productive sectors, from an environmental sustainability perspective.
Also in 2000, the report entitled "Indicadores de Desarrollo Sostenible en México” (Sustainable Development Indicators in Mexico) was published, which was jointly prepared by INEGI and Semarnap. The indicators included in this report were part of the country’s commitment to join the Programme of Action for Sustainable Development signed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This commitment involved the adoption of national and global measures towards sustainability, as well as actions aimed at producing indicators for measuring and assessing sustainable development policies and strategies. As a result of that effort, Mexico was able to document 113 out of the 134 indicators proposed by the UN Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD).
It is also worth mentioning a regional precedent in the use of indicators. The report "Indicadores Ambientales para la Región Fronteriza Norte" (Environmental Indicators for the Northern Border Region) was published in 1997; this was jointly prepared by INE and the US-EPA. It includes indicators related to human health and environmental conditions along the US-Mexico border, and even considers management or performance indicators. Its aim was to show the results achieved by the bi-national task groups conformed under the Border XXI Program. These used the PSR framework and the general guidelines proposed by the OECD. Subjects covered included: urban air, prevention of contingencies and response to emergencies, cooperation in law enforcement, environmental health, environmental information resources, hazardous and municipal waste, natural resources, pollution prevention and water (availability and quality).
3.2. SNIA Structure
Currently, the National System of Environmental Indicators (SNIA) provides, through different sets of indicators, a brief and clear overview of the current state of and changes in the environment and natural resources of the country, as well as the pressures affecting them and the institutional responses aimed for their conservation, restoration and sustainable use. The SNIA structure is shown in the figure below.
The SNIA’s base is the core set of indicators, which is oriented toward the evaluation of the country’s environmental performance through 115 indicators encompassing the priority subjects of the national environmental agenda and constitute the main body of this publication. The core set is organized following the Pressure-State-Response (PSR) scheme and is complemented by about 450 additional variables that provide context information and allow a better interpretation of the indicators.
At the centre of the system lies the set of key indicators, which provides, through 15 indicators, a synthetic view of the situation of the country's major environmental issues. Unlike the core set, it is targeted towards an audience that, while interested in the environment and its issues, has no prior or specialized knowledge of environmental issues.
The Core and the Key sets of indicators lie at the centre of the SNIA. Although both sets share some indicators, each possesses distinctive elements. Both sets are directly fed by statistical and geographical data from the National System of Environmental and Natural Resources Information (SNIARN). In addition to the Core and the Key sets of indicators, the SNIA also includes other relevant initiatives that may have different origins and objectives, among them:
State-level environmental indicators1. These sets are oriented to evaluating environmental performance at the state level. Their structure responds directly to the specific needs and characteristics of each state and they have been formulated and developed by the state governments’ agencies responsible of the environment and natural resources, in collaboration with and the advice from SEMARNAT. The versions provided for each indicators set are the most up-to-date available and it is the responsibility of the state governments’ environmental agencies to update them. To date, only the environmental indicators for the state of Hidalgo are available.
International indicators. The international indicator sets included in the SNIA are those developed in response to international initiatives of which Mexico is part. These include the Latin American and Caribbean Initiative for Sustainable Development (ILAC), the Millennium Development Indicators (specifically Objective No. 7) and the Environmental Indicators of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Regional indicators. These sets describe the state of the environment and natural resources across geographical areas that are strategically important or that possess particularly interesting characteristics. The SNIA initially includes in this category, the set of Environmental Indicators of the Border 2012 binational Programme (involving the governments of Mexico and the United States) and, later on, it will also host the sets of indicators formulated to assess the environmental performance of land-use planning schemes decreed in the country.