Looking beyond GDP and providing insights on climate change

Today, for the first time, we are publishing climate change insights alongside our first quarterly estimate of GDP, outlining options for measuring quarterly emissions, and committing to plans to develop ‘Beyond GDP’ measures of inclusive income. In this post, Liz McKeown shares an update on the work of the ONS in informing understanding of economic, environmental and social progress.

A key question for the public and policymakers is ‘how is the UK faring?’ Or, in other words, ‘what progress is being made economically, environmentally and socially?’. Here at ONS, we are committed to providing the data, statistics and analysis to help address this.

We have previously set out how GDP is “a worthwhile, but incomplete measure”. It remains an influential statistic for measuring the productive economy, but is limited as a measure of our broader societal progress.

Reflecting that, in recent years, we’ve produced a range of indicators capturing wider economic, environmental and social progress, including through our National Wellbeing Dashboard, and the Sustainable Development Goals. We have also been working to develop new measures of economic welfare that complement GDP. Together, these provide a richer, holistic understanding of the economy, environment and society.

We are now taking this further, by launching new quarterly publications that provide users the opportunity to assess broader measures of progress alongside the latest measure of GDP. We are also providing plans on how we will develop our statistics and when you can expect new insights to become available.

Bringing together the latest climate change insights

This quarter we are focusing on the environment, and for the first time, we are bringing together climate change insights from across the Government Statistical Service into a new pilot quarterly publication, released today alongside key economic statistics including the latest preliminary estimate of GDP.

This publication builds on the ONS’s strong track record in providing valuable insights into the makeup and changes to our environment. This includes measuring the UK’s low carbon and renewable energy economy, producing the UK’s environmental accounts, and estimating the value of nature to the UK economy and its people, and more recently working with analysts across government to develop and launch the prototype Climate Change Statistics Portal, at COP26.

Today’s publication adopts the framework used by the Portal and shares its ambition “to make the best possible information and insights on climate change available everyone to aid understanding, inform policy and support responses… across the UK.”

We intend for today’s Climate Change Insights to become a regular quarterly publication – one which will evolve over time as our environmental statistics and analysis develop further, and we welcome feedback on potential priorities for this work. One area we are already exploring is the possibility of making our current annual estimates of greenhouse gas emissions accounts more timely; we today have also set out an option for estimating these on a quarterly basis.

Going further ‘Beyond GDP’ and estimating Inclusive Income

Alongside this we have also published an outline of further plans for ‘Beyond GDP’ work. This provides timelines for projects feeding into creating a new measure of ‘inclusive income’, aligned with the concept of ‘inclusive wealth’ in the Treasury-commissioned Dasgupta Review of the Economics of Biodiversity.

It expands our previous research, building on the framework of the National Accounts, toward a ‘Spectrum’ of accounting-based, decomposable economic welfare measures. As our Deputy Chief Economist, Richard Heys, has previously explained, “having a wider economic welfare measure that complements GDP and builds upon, rather than re-designs, national accounts, means a fuller, richer picture for policymakers and the public.

These measures, with further development, will ultimately enable us to provide an assessment of the environmental impact of changes in quarterly GDP which we would look to include in our quarterly publications as they become available.

Measuring national wellbeing

Recognising that our indicator-based approaches add value to how we measure progress in the UK, for the upcoming quarter we will also add timely insights on wellbeing.

We will publish an update to the Measuring National Well-being dashboard alongside our August 2022 preliminary GDP estimate release. This dashboard provides an overview of the quality of life in the UK through the lenses of personal well-being, health, the environment, the economy, personal finance and governance, among others, to provide a rounded view.

We are also planning to review the indicators used within the dashboard, engaging with expert users and the public to ensure it provides appropriate metrics for understanding life in the UK.

Share your views

Our three publications today mark the start of a new phase of our work on Beyond GDP, climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, and wellbeing.

We are keen to hear your views both on the publications, and how important different approaches to measuring the progress in the UK are to you. Please get in touch to share your feedback by emailing environment@ons.gov.uk or beyondgdp@ons.gov.uk 

Liz McKeown is Director of Public Policy Analysis at the ONS