Frequently Asked Questions

The System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) is an international statistical standard that uses a systems approach to bring together economic and environmental information to measure the contribution of the environment to the economy and the impact of the economy on the environment. The SEEA uses a structure and classifications consistent with the System of National Accounts (SNA) to facilitate the development of indicators and analysis on the economy-environment nexus. This collection of Frequently Asked Questions provides an introduction to the main elements of the SEEA.

  1. What are environmental-economic accounts?
  2. What is the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA)?
  3. What kind of information does the SEEA provide?
  4. What are some applications of the SEEA?
  5. How does the SEEA relate to other official statistics?
  6. How are SEEA environmental-accounting standards determined?
  7. How many countries have SEEA accounts?
  8. Where can I access SEEA datasets?
  9. How are environmental-economic accounts different than environmental statistics?

 What are environmental-economic accounts?    Return to top

 

Environmental-economic accounts are integrated statistics that illuminate the relationship between the environment and the economy, both the impacts of the economy on the environment and the contribution of the environment to the economy.  Environmental-economic accounts can provide information about the extraction of natural resources, their use within the economy, natural resource stock levels, the changes in those stocks during a specific period and economic activity related to the environment.  Environmental-economic accounts present this information in physical and monetary terms, as appropriate.

What is the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA)?  Return to top

 

The System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) is the accepted international standard for environmental-economic accounting, providing a framework for organizing and presenting statistics on the environment and its relationship with the economy. It brings together economic and environmental information in an internationally agreed set of standard concepts, definitions, classifications, accounting rules and tables to produce internationally comparable statistics.

The SEEA is produced and released under the auspices of the United Nations, the European Commission, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group.

It consists of two parts:

  • The SEEA Central Framework (SEEA CF) was adopted by the UN Statistical Commission as the first international standard for environmental-economic accounting in 2012. The Central Framework looks at “environmental assets”, such as water resources, energy resources, forests, fisheries, etc.,their use in the economy and returns back to the environment in the form of waste, air and water emissions. In addition there are also several methodological documents that have a sectoral approach such as : SEEA-Energy; SEEA-Water and the SEEA Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries (AFF) 
  • The SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA-EA) complements the Central Framework and represents international efforts toward coherent ecosystem accounting. It takes the perspective of ecosystems and considers how individual environmental assets interact as part of natural processes within a given spatial area. Ecosystem accounts enable the presentation of indicators of the level and value of “ecosystem services” in a given spatial area. A revision of the SEEA-EA is underway and scheduled to be completed by 2020.

Finally, the SEEA Applications and Extensions illustrates to compilers and users of SEEA Central Framework based accounts how the information can be used in analysis and to derive indicators.

What kind of information does the SEEA provide?  Return to top

 

The SEEA presents information in physical and monetary terms regarding environmental stocks and flows between the environment and the economy as well as economic activity related to the environment.  The SEEA provides frameworks for producing accounts in several thematic areas, including:

Agriculture, Forests, and Fisheries Accounts. The System of Environmental-Economic Accounting for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries integrates information on the environment and economic activities of agriculture, forestry and fisheries using the structures and principles laid out in the SEEA Central Framework. These activities depend directly on, as well as have an impact upon, the environment and its resources. Integrating information about agriculture, forestry and fisheries facilitates understanding of the trade-offs and dependencies between these activities and their related environmental factors.

Air Emissions Accounts The air emissions accounts in the SEEA provide information on emissions released to the atmosphere by establishments and households as a result of production, consumption and accumulation processes using the structures and principles laid out in the SEEA Central Framework. The air emissions accounts record the generation of air emissions by resident economic units according to type of gaseous or particulate substance.

Energy SEEA-Energy is a multi-purpose conceptual framework for organizing energy-related statistics. It supports analysis of the role of energy within the economy, the state of energy inputs and various energy-related transactions of environmental interest. Energy information is typically presented in physical terms, but the SEEA-Energy also applies monetary valuations to various stocks and flows, based on the SEEA accounting approach

Environmental Activity Accounts The environmental activity accounts to provide information on transactions concerning activity undertaken to preserve, protect and manage the environment. These accounts follow a purpose-based approach and use the structures and principles laid out in the SEEA Central Framework. Understanding environmental activity is critical to understanding whether economic resources are being used effectively to reduce pressures on the environment and maintain the capacity of the environment to deliver benefits.

Ecosystems Accounts The SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting constitutes an integrated statistical framework for organizing biophysical data, measuring ecosystem services, tracking changes in ecosystem assets and linking this information to economic and other human activity. 

The SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting complements the SEEA Central Framework by taking a different perspective. The Central Framework looks at “individual environmental assets”, such as water resources, energy resources, etc. and how those assets move between the environment and the economy. In contrast, the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting takes the perspective of ecosystems and considers how individual environmental assets interact as part of natural processes within a given spatial area. 

Land Accounts These accounts provide information on land use and land cover and can enable an assessment of the changing shares of different land uses and land cover within a country. Understanding these characteristics and changes is critical to understanding the impacts of urbanization, the intensity of crop and animal production, afforestation and deforestation, the use of water resources and other direct and indirect uses of land.

Material Flow Accounts The SEEA Material Flow Accounts can provide an aggregate overview of material inputs and outputs in terms of inputs from the environment, outputs to the environment, and the physical amounts of imports and exports. Understanding economy-wide material flow is critical to understanding resource use by the economy and eco-efficiency.

Water SEEA-Water is an integrated approach to water monitoring, bringing together a wide range of water related statistics across sectors into one coherent information system. It serves as a conceptual framework and set of accounts which presents hydrological information alongside economic information in a consistent manner.

What are some applications of the SEEA?  Return to top

 

Examples of the kinds of questions that the SEEA can help answer include:

  • Who benefits and who is negatively impacted from natural resource use? What are the impacts on the state of the environment and on specific sectors of the economy?
  • How does depletion of natural resources affect measures of the real income of a nation? What extracting industries and owners of natural resources are responsible for depletion?
  • To what extent is decoupling between resource use and economic growth taking place? Which sectors have the highest water productivity of are most energy intensive?
  • How is the wealth of nations, specifically its natural capital, developing over time?
  • Are the expenditures on environmental protection effective?
  • To what extent is the tax system greening? What economic instruments are in place? And what is the impact of new instruments?
  • What is the size of environmental investment in the economy? How many green jobs is the economy generating?
  • Are current trends in production and consumption of resources sustainable? Is the amount of waste generated increasing or not; how much of this is being recycled in what economic sectors?
  • What is the carbon footprint or water footprint of the nation?
  • Which ecosystem services are being generated, who is benefiting from them, and where are they located? 

The SEEA Applications and Extensions illustrates to compilers and users of SEEA Central Framework based accounts how the information can be used in analysis and the derivation of indicators.

How does the SEEA relate to other official statistics?  Return to top

 

The System of National Accounts (SNA) is a measurement framework that has been evolving since the 1950s to embody the pre-eminent approach to the measurement of economic activity, economic wealth and the general structure of the economy. The SEEA Central Framework applies the accounting concepts, structures, rules and principles of the SNA to environmental information. Consequently, the SEEA Central Framework allows for the integration of environmental information (often measured in physical terms) with economic information (often measured in monetary terms) in a single framework. Because it uses the same accounting conventions, the SEEA Central Framework is aligned, in general, with the SNA.  For example, SEEA accounts use the “residence principle” in determining boundaries, so that data is based on residence of producer units rather than the territory in which activity occurs, the same approached used for Gross Domestic Product.  

How are SEEA environmental-accounting standards determined?  Return to top

 

The UN Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting (UNCEEA) was established by the UN Statistical Commission at its 36th session in March 2005. The UNCEEA functions as an intergovernmental body to provide overall vision, coordination, prioritization and direction in the field of environmental-economic accounting and supporting statistics. The UNCEEA meets once a year in New York and is governed by the Bureau of the UNCEEA which convenes regularly between the annual meeting. Its members included representatives from national statistical agencies and international organisations.

Among its roles is to further methodologies and submit recommendations to be adopted by the United Nations Statistical Commission. The Bureau of the Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting, consisting of representatives elected among its members and acting under delegated authority from the Committee of Experts, manages and coordinates revisions to the SEEA.

Development of standards involves the contributions of experts from many disciplines and regular consultation with the statistical community and beyond Drafts undergo a global consultative process and during the course of any updates, recommendations and updated text are posted on the SEEA website for worldwide comment, thereby achieving full transparency in the process.

How many countries have official environmental-economic accounts?  Return to top

 

Over 80 countries have active environmental-economic accounting programmes.

Where can I access SEEA data-sets?  Return to top

 

Dozens of countries in all regions of the world compile SEEA accounts on a regular basis. The accounts compiled vary based on the priorities of the countries, as well as the available data. Eurostat maintains hosts environmental-accounting data for European countries here.

The UNCEEA has been tasked by the UN Statistical Commission to explore the possibility of having global databases on various SEEA accounts (e.g. air emission account, physical energy supply and use accounts) based on existing data sources. A number of other international organisations, including Eurostat, FAO, OECD and UN Environment, are working in close collaboration with the UNCEEA and UNSD to develop global databases for SEEA accounts.

How are environmental-economic accounts different than environmental statistics?  Return to top

 

To place accounting frameworks in context it is relevant to consider the information pyramid. This pyramid has as its base a full range of basic statistics and data from various sources including surveys, censuses, scientific measurement and administrative sources. Generally, these data will be collected for various purposes with the use of different measurement scopes, frequencies, definitions and classifications. Each of these data sources will be relevant to analysis or monitoring of specific themes.

The role of accounting frameworks (at the middle levels of the pyramid) is to integrate these data to provide a single best picture of a broader concept or set of concepts – for example economic growth or ecosystem condition. The compiler of accounts must therefore reconcile and merge data from various sources taking into account differences in scope, frequency, definition and classification as appropriate.

Finally, having integrated the data within a single framework, indicators can be derived that provide insights into the changes in composition, changes in relationships between stocks and flows, and other features taking advantage of the underlying relationships in the accounts between stocks and flows, between capital and labour, between production and consumption, etc. Indicators such as GDP, national saving, national wealth, terms of trade and multi-factor productivity all emerge from the one national accounts framework. Indicators derived from SEEA accounts can be used coherently in conjunction with standard economic indicators.