Environmental targets are what give SEAs their 'bite': without knowing where we want to get to, it is hard to set priorities for, or test the sustainability effects of, the strategic action. However few SEAs include environmental targets, for several reasons including:
- Existing land use patterns, behavioural patterns or technologies may make it difficult to achieve outcome targets;
- Most outcome targets cannot be achieved solely by one strategic action or one authority, and it may be difficult to get other authorities to cooperate in achieving targets; and
- It may be difficult to agree on how feasible or how ambitious targets should be.
Sources of targets
Many legally mandated targets already exist in the form of pollution standards, safety regulations, and other legislation. For instance, the European Commission has a wide range of environmental standards and regulations.
Many countries already have some national-level (politically achievable) targets - for instance for recycling, greenhouse gas emissions, or air quality standards.
Non- or quasi-governmental organisations may also have set targets, for instance on biodiversity, open space, or access. The UK National Playing Fields Association, for instance, have a 'six acre standard' for open space: 2.4 hectares (6 acres) of open space should be provided for every 1000 people. Although this standard carries no legal weight, it provides a generally-acknowledged benchmark for planning authorities.
In some cases, it may be possible to adapt or disaggregate national-level targets directly to the regional, local or even the individual level. For instance, the target "year on year, reduce the amount of waste produced per head" or "year on year, reduce car mileage per head" is applicable at all levels, from the international to the individual.
In other cases, disaggregation of this type is much less simple. For instance, the national target "60% of new development should be on previously developed land" may be easily achieved in urban areas with large areas of previously developed land, but may be impossible in rural areas. Areas with much heavy industry may find it easier to reduce pollution levels by 20% than areas characterised by low pollution and a large tertiary sector. In these cases, disaggregation becomes more difficult because it will be more politically loaded: nobody will want to do more work than achieving the national average entails!
Another problem with disaggregation is that data that may be easy to collect at the national level may be much more difficult to collect at the local level, or may not make sense at the local level. For instance, national-level traffic counts may be based on extrapolations from traffic counts on major (but not minor) roads, but the uncertainty in these extrapolations may be such that they make little sense at the local level.
At the local level, targets can also be devised through Local Agenda 21 or community planning processes, or derived from visioning processes. For instance the London Borough of Merton's Agenda 21 processes led to a range of vision-based targets linked to indicators.
Finally, the UK Countryside Agency's Quality of Life Capital approach asks local people whether there are enough of various benefits: for instance, whether there are enough recreational opportunities near their homes, or is there enough visual amenity in their towns. This identifies a threshold of perceived amenity or benefit that should not be fallen below.
Aspirational v. politically achievable targets
Several different types of targets can be distinguished:
- aspirational targets, or "true sustainability" targets, describe an ultimate, long-term, ideal end-state;
- politically achievable targets are shorter-term targets that take into account current problems and political realities; and
- thresholds are states that should not be fallen below.
The illustration below provides an example of the types of targets.
Taking the example indicator discussed at unit 7, "to reduce NOx levels to <90% of 2005 levels by 2015 at sites A, B and C", one may need to ask:
- whether NOx a good indicator for air pollution;
- whether three monitoring stations are enough;
- if the monitoring stations already exist, whether they are located appropriately; if not, where they should go;
- how often the data should be collected, by whom, and what form it will take;
- whether a 10 percent reduction in NOx is enough; and
- whether such a reduction is feasible.
Input v. outcome targets revisited
As was suggested earlier, the achievement of many targets - especially aspirational outcome targets - will not be within the direct remit of the authority that is devising the strategic action, nor will they be directly related to the implementation of the strategic action. This is a key reason why so few targets are set. Some authorities deal with that issue by focusing on input rather than outcome targets, since these are in the authority's remit. The table below is an example.
|Target||Examples of policies and other actions required to achieve targets|
|1. To reduce the loss of greenfield land by 50% compared with 1986-1991 period
||SP2011 - directs development to main urban areas (Policy 2); Other actions - interpretation by local plans
|2. To increase the extent of protected sites covered by management agreements by 25%
||SP2011 - encourages management of wildlife sites (Policy 6); Other actions - work by voluntary conservation bodies