The indicators, debated at a national conference on 20 January, will allow annual evaluation of the National Sustainable Development Strategy, which will be adopted soon.
The barometer will be used to inform the French government, parliament, local authorities, businesses, NGOs and citizens about sustainable economic development and environmental pressures in a drive to support initiatives that boost sustainable behaviour.
Flanked by indicators, the national sustainable development strategy was developed thanks to a wide national consultation on environmental issues (the so-called ' Grenelle de l'environnement '), launched in 2007.
French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo stressed that as the strategy and indicators had been developed through broad dialogue and there was wide consensus between all actors on the matter, the indicators would be easily embraced by society as a whole.
The sustainable development barometer features four broad economic and social indicators, including unemployment and distribution of income.
Another 45 indicators have been identified to respond to nine specific sustainable development challenges, which relate to climate change and clean energy, sustainable mobility, sustainable consumption and production, biodiversity, public health, social integration, the knowledge society and governance.
France plans, for example, to measure its total greenhouse gas emissions as well as its carbon footprint, including the 'imported' CO2 footprint resulting from trade.
Energy and resource use per inhabitant, resource productivity, the share of different transport modes in freight, sectoral waste generation - whether household, agricultural or industrial waste - and the recycling rate are also going to be calculated.
As for nature conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity, the indicators are set to assess the evolution of bird populations, changes to natural habitats and loss of natural environments.
Further indicators to be taken into account when measuring the overall sustainable development of the French nation include the suicide rate, the integration of young people into society, R&D investment as a share of GDP, female participation in governance and international development aid.
France's line could contribute to 2020 strategy
France's work on sustainable development indicators is taking place alongside the EU's reflection on the matter and could provide additional input to the EU's overall strategy.
The European Commission's communication on measuring progress beyond GDP foresees the development of a comprehensive environmental index and the improvement of existing quality-of-life indicators to complement GDP (EurActiv 31/08/09). Other initiatives include the establishment of a European Sustainable Development Scoreboard and threshold values for environmental sustainability.
A pilot version of an index to measure pollution and other environmental harm within EU territory is due to be published in 2010. It will help to assess the results of environmental protection efforts regarding climate change and energy use, nature and biodiversity, air pollution and health impacts, water use and pollution, waste generation and resource use.
According to the EU executive, the reflection on indicators could contribute to setting new strategic goals for the post-2010 Lisbon Strategy, known as the EU 2020 Strategy.
Experts agree that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) alone cannot reflect the economic performance of modern society, as it does not show how a country's wealth is distributed and fails to measure its natural resources or human and social capital.
In parallel to international initiatives to improve measurements of societal progress (EurActiv 17/07/07), the European Commission announced in 2007 that it would develop additional indicators to complement GDP (EurActiv 20/11/07).
The aim, it said, is "to take stock of natural resources and human and social capital, rather than just the use of these resources" and to focus on "the role of eco-systems in providing welfare". A Commission communication entitled 'GDP and beyond - Measuring progress in a changing world', was adopted in August 2009 (EurActiv 31/08/09).