Accounting for ecosystems and their services in the European Union (INCA) — 2021 edition
The EU INCA project was launched in 2015 to produce a pilot for an integrated system of ecosystem accounting for the EU, while serving as a large-scale test case for the first UN handbook on ecosystem accounting System of EnvironmentalEconomic Accounting – Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EEA) published in 2014. The results and findings of the INCA project provided feedback for the revised version of the UN handbook SEEA – Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA), completed and adopted in March 2021. The INCA project has shown that the production of a wide range of ecosystem accounts following the guidance of the SEEA EEA is feasible and it is possible to produce consistent and comparable information on ecosystems and the services they provide to society at the scale of the EU. This report summarises key results of the INCA project achieved by 2020. It presents ecosystem extent accounts (for 9 broad types of ecosystems), ecosystem condition accounts (for forests, agro-ecosystems and rivers and lakes) and ecosystem services accounts (for a subset of ecosystem services) for the EU. In separate chapters, the report also presents practical examples of the possible uses of ecosystem services accounts and existing policy applications. In addition, the report outlines crucial steps for making ecosystem accounts operational. Ecosystems contribute essential services to the economy and society. These include the provision of food, filtration of air and water, climate regulation, protection against extreme weather events such as heat waves and flooding, and many more. The ability of ecosystems to supply these services depends on their extent (‘size’) and condition (‘health’). Despite the crucial role of ecosystems and their services for society, there is no established and regular measurement of ecosystem extent, condition and their change over time, nor of the quantity of services these ecosystems supply. Ecosystem accounting is an emerging field that aims to address this major gap and provide an internationally agreed guidance to measure and record changes in ecosystems and ecosystem services in a consistent and comparable manner. Many of the services supplied by ecosystems are public goods and are not currently priced on markets and, consequently, are often not taken into account in economic decisions. This has had disastrous consequences for the natural world, and in turn, for society. Ecosystem accounting has adopted the language and guiding principles of economic accounts (System of National Accounts) that will enable ecosystems and their services to be properly incorporated into standard accounting frameworks, and thus allow for the value of nature to be included more fully in decision making.