SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting Revision

In March 2013, the United Nations Statistical Commission endorsed the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting – Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EEA) as the basis for commencing testing and further development of this new field of national accounting. The SEEA EEA was formally published in 2014 as a joint publication of the United Nations, European Commission, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank.

Given the level of interest, testing and experimentation, the body responsible for the development and advancement of the SEEA, the UN Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting (UNCEEA), following the decision of the United Nations Statistical Commission from March 2017, determined in June 2017 that a revision of the SEEA EEA drafted in 2012 was appropriate with the intention to reach agreement on as many aspects of Ecosystem accounting as possible by 2020. This revision process has now commenced and is based on the SEEA EEA endorsed in 2013, the experiences of the many initiatives on ecosystem accounting in practice, and on the Technical Recommendations in support of the SEEA EEA 2012 (white cover publication).

As customary when launching a revision process, issues that remain unsolved and need to be addressed have been identified. A list of issues has been developed through discussions at the June 2016 and June 2017 meetings of the UNCEEA and the October 2017 meeting of the London Group on Environmental Accounting. The current list has been endorsed by the SEEA EEA Technical Committee, the working group under the auspices of the UNCEEA that is overseeing the revision process. Please consult the Revision Issues Note for details on the revision issues. 

General progress on the SEEA EEA Revision

The SEEA EEA Revision was officially launched in March 2018 at the 49th session of the United Nations Statistical Commission. In June 2018, approximately 100 experts gathered for the 2018 Forum of Experts on SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting. Since the Forum, five working groups have been focusing on advancing the four research issues identified as priority areas for the SEEA EEA revision – spatial areas, ecosystem condition, ecosystem services and valuation. Each of the groups are drafting a set of discussion papers that will be reviewed by a group of expert reviewers. Most of the discussion papers were finalized in time for the 2019 Forum of Experts in June 2019 where they were further discussed by a broader community of experts. The papers are also undergoing a broader review by an Expert Review Group and will, in turn, serve as input into drafting of the chapters of the revised SEEA EEA.

Working group 1 on spatial units

Spatial units are at the heart of ecosystem accounting. The key focus in this research area is to establish statistically and accounting relevant classifications for land use, land cover and ecosystem types and application, where possible, of existing classifications of this type. This working group will also establish clear principles for defining ecosystem type classes. In addition, the working group will also explore accounting for urban areas, the use of national boundaries for statistical purposes, the role of atmospheric units in delineation of the environment and accounting for marine and coastal areas.

Working group lead: Sjoerd Schenau, Statistics Netherlands

The Expert Consutation of the discussion papers on spatial units drafted by Working Group 1 was concluded on 31 May 2019. Draft discussion papers from the expert consultation are available below. 

Working group 2 on ecosystem condition

The measurement of ecosystem asset condition is a fundamental aspect of ecosystem accounting since it is the regular monitoring of asset condition that is central to assessing the changing capacity of ecosystems to supply ecosystem services. The working group will provide a broad structure for the core types of ecological and non-ecological characteristics and associated indicators which should be the focus of measurement in different ecosystem types. The use of reference conditions and the measurement of ecosystem capacity will also be explored.

Working group lead: Joachim Maes, European Commission - Joint Research Centre

The Expert Consutation of the discussion papers on ecosystem condition drafted by Working Group 2 was concluded. Draft discussion papers from the expert consultation were discussed at the 2019 Forum of Experts and some further revised. Latest versions are available below. 

Working group 3 on ecosystem services

Measuring ecosystem service flows in physical terms is important to enable a broad mapping of the role of ecosystem assets and the relevant beneficiaries; and to facilitate the valuation of ecosystem services. The working group is focusing on a wide range of measurement boundary challenges, including the boundary between final and intermediate ecosystem services and benefits, the distinction between SNA and non-SNA benefits and more. There is a focus on ensuring that the most commonly measured ecosystem services are described in a consistent way with agreed terms for each service.

Working group leads: Lars Hein, Wageningen University, the Netherlands and Rocky Harris, DEFRA, UK

Draft discussion papers will be available for expert review later.

Working group 4 on individual key ecosystem services

In the area of measurement and valuation of ecosystem services, it has been agreed to focus on a number of selected key ecosystem services and use a bottom-up approach to work towards agreed definitions and treatment of ecosystem services in an ecosystem accounting context. Ten key ecosystem services were identified, for which discussion papers outlined their definition(s), biophysical measurement methods and valuation. Nature of these research papers was to outline the state of play in measurement and valuation with respect to accounting. Small drafting teams worked on the papers, involving over 45 experts from various governments, academia and the private sector.  

Working group lead: Rocky Harris, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), UK

The ten discussion papers were presented and discussed at the Expert Meeting on Advancing the Measurement of Ecosystem Services for Ecosystem Accounting, which took place during 22-24 January 2019 in New York and have been subsequently updated with the comments received. The latest versions of these papers are availabe below. 

Working group 5 on valuation and accounting treatments

Much of the work in this group is focused on placing in context a wide range of economic and accounting thinking that has developed over time and from this thinking establish proposals for appropriate treatments for ecosystem accounting purposes. Key issues that emerge include:
   •    Establishing the concept of exchange values in non-market situations for the valuation of ecosystem services;
   •    Understanding environmental economic concepts of externalities, disservices and welfare values in an accounting context; 
   •    Conceptualizing ecosystem capacity for accounting purposes; 
   •    Measuring ecosystem degradation and enhancement and establishing appropriate recording options for the accounts, including attribution to economic units; and 
   •    Valuing ecosystem assets, including link to the valuation of land and estimating the future flow of ecosystem services.

Working group lead: Juha Siikamaki, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

An expert consutation on the first two discussion papers on valuation and accounting treatments has been completed. The drafts of the two discussion papers from the expert consultation are available below. 

Second wave of consultations on additional two discussion papers is expected for mid-October. 

Latest documents

1. New and updated version of Discussion Paper 2.1: Purpose and role of ecosystem condition accounts

2. Drafts of the first two discussion papers from Working Group 5 on valuation and accounting treatments:

3. All of the Forum of Experts materials and presentations are available online at the event website.

Meetings related to the SEEA EEA Revision