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. 

The SEEA EEA revision has been co-financed from contributions by Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics and Department for Environment and Energy), the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Office of National Statistics and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), and the European Union (Eurostat).

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 were submitted for a broader review to an Expert Review Group and serve as input into drafting of the chapters of the revised SEEA EEA. As the draft chapters of the revised SEEA EEA are becoming available, they will undergo a global consultation, which will involve two phases: the consultation on individual chapters that will take place progressively until June 2020 and the consultation on the complete document expected to take place before the end of 2020. 

Global consultation on individual chapters

Draft chapters of the revised SEEA EEA will be progressively distributed in batches covering related topics with a commenting period lasting approximately 6 weeks. The comments received will be made public on this website, which will continue to serve as a repository of the technical papers prepared during the revision process, presentations and minutes of meetings. All comments on the chapters should be provided using the accompanying comments form. Please find the relevant documents related to the global consultation: 

Chapters 3-5

The global consultation on individual chapters is starting with the Chapters 3-5 on ecosystem units, ecosystem extent and ecosystem condition respectively. All comments on the chapters should be provided using the below comments form, to be sent to seea@un.org by 30 April 2020. 

Work on the research areas

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 Consultation 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 Consultation 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

The expert consultation of the discussion papers on ecosystem services is ongoing until 31 March 2020. Please review the two discussion papers below and provide your feedback using this comment form:

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 available 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 consultation on all five discussion papers on valuation and accounting treatments has been completed. The drafts of the discussion papers from the expert consultation are available below. 

Meetings related to the SEEA EEA Revision