Over the years, I have used a list of indicators on the environment. I thought it would be useful to share these so that you can make use of it in your work and planning for sustainability. As you can see the list is not complete, I will keep on adding to it, if you have an indicator to add let me know. A personal note, while writing up the list I was struck again by the gloomy picture. We really have a huge challenge at hand. I often hear that lack information is lacking.  But the statistics are actually quite clear in showing the situation. What might be needed is information to stimulate our creativity.



Indicator: Species extinction rates and threatened species

16.000 species have been identified to be threatened by extinction. (16% of the estimated 200.000 species that have been comprehensively assessed on their conservation status. Total species described by science are 2 million species. Estimates for total species are between 5 and 30 million.(1)

Extinction rates are estimated to be 100 times higher as indicated by fossil records. Respectively 30%

of amphibians, 23% of mammals and 12% of bird species are threatened (1).

Tropical moist forests contain the highest numbers of threatened species followed by dry forests, montain grasslands, and dry shrublands. The terrrestrial Living planet shows a decline of 33% of terrestrial species populations (1).

Marine species populations declined by 14% according to the Marine Living planet Index (2).

Distribution of threatened species in freshwater habitats is poorly known although the Freshwater living planet index suggests a decline of 35% in freshwater species populations from 1970-2005 (1,2).

Invertebrate species comprise the majority of species. Information on extinction trends of is not available (1).

Land and soils:

Indicator: Ecological footprint (land use and CO2 emissions)

In 2010, humanity is using 1.5 planets to sustain itself. US citizens consume 7 times more biocapacity then Indian citizens.

Total biocapacity of the globe (4): 1,8 Gigahectares

Global Ecological Footprint (4): 2,7 Gigahectares

Range from developed to less developed nations (4):10 Gh/capita – 0,5 Gh/capita

Indicator: land use change

From 1987 – 2006, 130 Giga hectares have changed from forest to woodland, grassland and urban areas.

Indicator: Wetland surface change

Since 1970, the available wetland area declined by 50% (2)

Indicator: land degradation: Net Primary production and rain use efficienty

In the period 1981-2005, there was an absolute decline in the Net Primary Production of 12 % of the global land area. A further 1 percent shows a strong negative change. In the same period, rain use efficiency showed an absolute decline in 29% of the global land area. The combined area is home to 15% of the world population (1).

Indicator: Soil pollution




Indicator Water Footprint global (green, blue and grey)

Total global blue water footprint (blue 1/3, green 2/3): 7452 Gm3/year (5)

Rough estimate of planetary freshwater boundary at: 4000 Gm3/yr (6)

Blue water footprint is 62% of the planetary boundary for freshwater implying that humanity is safely operating within the boundary, however this is a global average, water very unevenly distributed across the globe and local water scarcity

Indicator: Freshwater species deline

Since 1970, freshwater species populations declined by 35% (3)

Indicator: Rivers alterated

60% or the worlds largest 227 rivers are moderately to greatly fragmented by dams, diversions and canals leading to severe changes in patterns of river flow and discharge and sedimentation (1, Postel and Richter, 2003).

Indicator: Rivers running dry

10% of the worlds major rivers fail to reach the sea as a result of water abstraction (1)

Indicator: Water pollution


Indicator: Environmental water scarcity:

? an example is found in (7)


Indicator: fish stocks

75% of global fish stocks are overexploited (1).

Indicator: Ocean temperature

Has significantly increased since 1960 (depths up to 3000m) But how much?

Surface water temperature increases lead to higher frequency of of coral bleaching events, also intense tropical cyclone activity is increasing.

Indicator: acidification of oceans

TBD – mentioned in (1) and (6)


Indicator: Forest area

Global forest area shrank at a an annual rate of 0,2 % in the period 1990-2005. Largest reductions occurred in Africa, South America and the Carribean (1).

Indicator: Forest degradation

33% of forests are primary forests, rest is degraded (1)

Indicator: Tropical forest species populations

62 % decline (3)


Indicator: ozone depletion

The largest “holes” occurred in 2000, 2003 and 2006. On range of industrial chemicals first developed in the 1920s. 25 September 2006, it extended over 29 million square kilometres and the total ozone loss was the largest on record (WMO 2006b) . (1)

Indicator: GHG emmissions

150% rise in methane since 19th century (1)

Rise from 280 ppm in 18th century (pre-industrial) to 380 ppm today (1)

Indicator: Earth's temperature

0.74 degrees Celsius since 1905 (1 quoting IPCC)

Indicator: Air pollution

Two key pollutants (Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen oxides (NOX)) have been decreasing from 1990 in the US and Europe. Emissions in Asia and Latin America, emissions are increasing. In Africa, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, small increases have been reported . The main result is that global emissions of SO2 and NOX are increasing with respect to 1990 level. (1)

In many large cities in developing nations, air pollution concentrations are very high and still many times higher then the guideline of the World Health Organisation (annual daily mean SO2 < 20μg/m3 annual mean PM10 <= 20μg/m3) . There are severe impacts of air pollution on human health (an estimated 2.4 million people die prematurely each year), agriculture (decreasing crop yields with value of estimated USD 8 billion/yr), environment and ecosystems (biodiversity loss through eutrophication effects). (1)

Persistent Organic Pollutants and mercury are now found all over the globe and nest themselves in food webs, accumulate in predating wildlife and enter the the food chain of indigenous people. There is no sufficient information available on amounts released and the effects of the POPs. (1)





(1) Global Environment Outlook 4, 2007, Nairobi

(2) Living Planet Report, 2008, WWF, Switzerland

(3) Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Biodiversity Synthesis, World Resources Institute, Washington, DC

(4) ECOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT AND BIOCAPACITY, 2007 Results from National Footprint Accounts 2010 edition, www.footprintnetwork.org . Extracted on October 13, 2010

(5) Hoekstra and Chapagain, 2007, Water footprints of nations: Water use by people as a

function of their consumption pattern . Wat.Res.Man. 21 pp 35-48.

(6) Rockström, J., W. Steffen, K. Noone, Å. Persson, F. S. Chapin, III, E. Lambin, T. M. Lenton, M. Scheffer, C. Folke, H. Schellnhuber, B. Nykvist, C. A. De Wit, T. Hughes, S. van der Leeuw, H. Rodhe, S. Sörlin, P.K. Snyder, R. Costanza, U. Svedin, M. Falkenmark, L. Karlberg, R. W. Corell, V. J. Fabry, J. Hansen, B. Walker, D. Liverman, K. Richardson, P. Crutzen, and J. Foley. 2009. Planetary boundaries:exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and Society 14(2): 32. [online] URL: http://www. ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss2/art32/

(7) Smakhtin, V., Revenga, C. and Döll, P. (2004b) A pilot global assessment of environmental water requirements and scarcity, Water International 29(3): 307-317