SEEA Implementation Guide: Compiling the accounts
Compiling the accounts
3. Compiling and disseminating the accounts
3.1 Data sources for SEEA implementation
3.2 Compilation of the accounts by the implementation teams/technical groups
3.3 Collaborating with line ministries/research institutions/academia to support additional analysis
3.4 Resources and activities to support the implementation of SEEA
3.5 Specific compilation and dissemination issues most relevant to SEEA EA
Country example on SEEA Central Framework: Costa Rica
Country example on SEEA Ecosystem Accounting: Netherlands
Experience of countries with well-established environmental-economic accounting programmes suggests that the greatest advances can be made through “learning by doing”, i.e., attempting compilation, building skills and experience, and improving the range and quality of data over time. Experience has also shown that administrative data can be very useful in compiling accounts, and global data sets can also be used for developing first tier of ecosystem accounts especially.
Hence, a generic approach in the implementation of environmental-economic accounts should be to use existing data, identifying gaps and overlaps, to develop experimental or preliminary accounts to start the process of both displaying the potential of the approach to users and building an understanding of compilation using an accounting approach. This learning by doing is an essential aspect of implementation and should include the release of preliminary/experimental accounts to encourage feedback from as broad a constituency as possible.
The discussion here presents a range of general considerations but does not explain approaches to dealing with any of the measurement issues which relate to the compilation of specific accounts, which are elaborated in more detail in the SEEA Technical Notes for the respective accounts.
Source data needed for the compilation of SEEA accounts come from different data sources with different collection characteristics (e.g. survey, administrative, earth observation, etc.) and collected for different purposes based on institutional mandates. Hence, they may have different statistical properties, and may have been collected using different classifications, for different time periods or with incomparable units. With some effort, the different data sets can be brought into a single accounting framework, by reviewing the way the data are collected or by adjusting the data.
In many cases the key data required to compile the SEEA accounts can be derived from existing national data sets that are often collected by various national agencies for different purposes. Spatially explicit data needed for ecosystem accounts can be collected utilizing global datasets and/or existing national datasets. It is useful when undertaking a data assessment to progressively compile an assessment of the various data sources.
An important part of using an accounting approach is the potential to undertake data confrontation within a structured conceptual framework and using the framework to identify data gaps and their significance. There may be important benefits from the confrontation of physical and monetary data in the SEEA framework in terms of improved data quality of national accounts, environment statistics, and other supporting statistics. Filling data gaps may be completed in several ways including additional data collection, the use of proxy variables, or more advanced modeling.
It is necessary to recognize that the initial assessment of data sources is aimed to get a general idea as to what data are available within a country and may be useful for implementing SEEA. At this initial stage a complete assessment of the suitability of data for accounting purposes need not be completed. However, in due course it will be necessary to move towards a data collection phase. It is at this later point that issues of fitness for purpose may arise. Thus, for example, data may be available and be of high-quality, but if definitions are not aligned with the required SEEA measurement boundaries then adjustment may be required for accounting purposes. Such adjustments do not imply that the source data are of poor quality, only that they may not be completely fit for the purposes of accounting. Bridge tables aligning the classifications may also be developed.
An illustrative (non-exhaustive) list of potential data sources for SEEA accounts:
- Water statistics
- Energy statistics and energy balances
- Waste statistics
- Forestry statistics
- Fisheries statistics
- Emissions inventories
- Land cover/use maps and cadastre data
- Ecological information (monitoring) systems
- National accounts
- International trade statistics
- Business statistics
- Government finance statistics
- Other (e.g., administrative data)
The implementation teams are responsible for integrating the different data into the accounts and consist of technical level experts from the national agencies and other relevant institutions. Compilation of each account will probably require a separate team, because of the different composition of agencies; however, some agencies may always need to participate, such as the national statistical office or ministry of environment.
Collaboration of experts from different disciplines is particularly important to ensure that the accounts are the results of the collective expertise of different experts. Participation of various types of subject-matter specialists working in the implementation teams alongside scientists and technical experts (such as GIS, data scientists, earth observation experts, etc.) will be required, especially for the compilation of ecosystem accounts. Each implementation team should have a clear timeline of activities and concrete deliverables.
A number of challenges may be encountered in the process of compiling the accounts, including incomplete or missing data, data compiled on a one-off basis, data not collected according to standard classifications, and data not meeting quality standards. Identifying data gaps and their significance would be important for the development of the medium-term strategy. Quality assurance steps will also need to be built into the process at this stage.
It is important to take a pragmatic approach and compile the accounts with the available data and release them, possibly as “experimental” to allow users and producers to build upon initial compilations. Releasing the first draft of (experimental) accounts is very important to understand the user need and policy relevance for these accounts. After the accounts have been released and socialized with users, the compilers may better understand how can they be improved and even generate interest of data collection agencies to improve their basic data, which will, in turn, improve the accounts. The compilation is an iterative process.
3.3 Collaborating with line ministries/research institutions/academia to support additional analysis
The ambition in implementation of the SEEA is to set up an ongoing program, and as part of that cooperation with line ministries and research institutions is crucial in particular in these aspects:
- If necessary, developing legal and institutional arrangements for producing environmental accounts and supporting statistics,
- Establishing data sharing agreements and service level agreements between data producers and compilers of the accounts,
- Capacity building in both data producers and data users,
- Establishing or modifying data collection (surveys, registers and frames, environmental monitoring),
- Changing classification systems or creating correspondences between existing classifications,
- Establishing or modifying IT infrastructure to facilitate data exchange, production and dissemination of the accounts,
- Determining timelines for implementation.
The users and producers of environmental accounts can often be found in the research community. There are different roles that academia can play in the implementation of SEEA. Academia can participate in the compilation of accounts; this is especially relevant for the implementation of the SEEA EA. On the other hand, academia can also play a role in making estimates for analytical purposes, such as for example scenario models or input-output models.
In countries that do not produce regular accounts, researchers and consultants may have produced similar analyses on an ad-hoc basis. Close cooperation with the research community can therefore be a means to recruit experienced compilers, increase the scope of users and implement the environmental accounts in a broader institutional context.
Cooperation can be established in many ways. One proven approach is for researchers and statisticians to engage in joint work. This has proven to increase the level of understanding of the principles of statistical systems and the advantages of using statistical classifications in analyses related to environmental and socio-economic issues. Establishing long term relationships with the research community should be an active area of work and one that is potentially formalized through agreements and institutional structures (such as inclusion in the implementation committees).
Support for the implementation of the SEEA is an ongoing priority for the international community. Activities and outputs of the international community include training and capacity building activities organized by regional and international organizations; and publishing statistical standards and methodological guidance. Countries should be aware of ongoing activities and leverage global activities and outputs as relevant in their implementation activities. Below are some details on resources and activities that countries can include in their implementation.
Training is available in the form of e-learning, in-person training and hands-on compilation activities with country experts. Training programs are available both online and in-person, including training seminars, workshops and meetings. Several e-learning resources are already available, especially in the form of self-paced modules and webinars, which are also available in various languages to ensure wider reach.
E-learning programmes have been conducted either in a blended approach, with an online phase and an in-person workshop, or in a completely online format. The e-learning courses consist of a set of self-paced modules that the learners can take at their own pace, and are accompanied with several live webinars, where an expert on the topic provides more detailed information on the subject and live interaction is also possible for further questions. Recordings of previous webinars are also published and are available as a resource to other learners in the future.
In-person training workshops are effective in providing further detail on the subject matter and are a good environment to focus on practical exercises. Hands-on compilation activities are usually organized with a specific country team to advance a compilation of a particular account, whereby the technical committee is accompanied with an expert to advance the implementation of the account in question.
UNSD website lists all the training resources at the same space, it includes the self-paced modules currently available, the past recordings of webinars, as well as links to in-person workshops that have been conducted on different topics.
b. Capacity building activities and experience sharing
Capacity building projects are an important component cornerstone of the global strategy for the implementation of SEEA globally. Many international and regional development partners are supporting countries with capacity building projects. Such projects provide not only technical and financial support to countries, but also enabling sharing of experiences (peer-to-peer) in developing sustainable environmental-economic accounting programs.
Regional communities of practice have proven to be a valuable resource for practitioners at the regional level from both statistical and policy communities. They allow for effective exchange of experiences and practical advice between countries at a similar level of advancement in SEEA implementation. Regional country groupings are also more effective in bringing together similar countries and provide for a more collegial environment.
For example, the Africa Natural Capital Accounting Community of Practice is a regional learning and knowledge platform that brings together professionals from governments institutions, non-governmental organizations and academia that are interested in or working on natural capital accounting in Africa. A similar, but a less formal, community of practice is also functional in the Latin American and the Caribbean region.
Annual international workshops and fora such as the Forum of Experts on SEEA Ecosystem Accounting and the Policy Forum on Natural Capital Accounting for Better Decision Making provide an opportunity to discuss on-going initiatives with different objectives. The Forum of Experts on the SEEA EA aims at sharing of best practices with the intention to standardize the methodology, as well as discuss new and emerging area that ecosystem accounting can tap into. On the other hand, the Policy Forum serves to better coordinate the development and implementation of accounts, as well as provide the opportunity for countries to share best practices and learn from one another.
c. Guidance materials and handbooks
The SEEA Central Framework and SEEA Ecosystem Accounting are official international statistical standards. Besides these two standards, the statistics community in collaboration with other experts has developed additional documents including manuals, guidelines, technical notes and tools as presented in figure 1 to support the implementation of the SEEA.
Figure 1: SEEA methodology manuals and guidance materials
Guidance materials on SEEA Central Framework
Subject specific manuals have been published on the SEEA sub-systems, namely SEEA-Water, SEEA-Energy and SEEA Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as well as the upcoming Statistical Framework for Measuring the Sustainability of Tourism. The sub-systems of SEEA CF provide additional detail on the particular account and can be used as a resource to those compiling those accounts.
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. It is fully consistent with the SEEA Central Framework. 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.
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. The SEEA-Water is the conceptual framework and set of accounts which presents hydrological information alongside economic information in a consistent way.
The System of Environmental-Economic Accounting for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (SEEA-AFF) 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. Understanding this complex relationship is critical for the analysis of sustainable food and agriculture.
The Statistical Framework for Measuring the Sustainability of Tourism (SF-MST) will consist of a standard framework for collecting, organizing and disseminating relevant information. SF-MST integrates tourism statistics with other economic, social and environmental information and provides a coherent base for deriving indicators that are relevant for monitoring and analyzing the sustainability of tourism.
Other resources for countries include the SEEA Technical Notes which have been developed on various accounts, including energy, water, material-flow accounting, air emissions and others, and are intended to provide an overview of the main measurement objectives and issues, and links to relevant supporting materials and examples.
Guidance materials on SEEA Ecosystem Accounting
Since the adoption of SEEA EA in 2021 by the UN Statistical Commission, several guidance documents have been published to support countries in their implementation activities. Global tools utilizing artificial intelligence have also been developed to support the compilation of ecosystem accounts. Details on three major guidance documents and one tool follow below.
The Guidelines on Biophysical Modelling for Ecosystem Accounting are designed for statistical agencies interested in compiling ecosystem accounts. They provide an overview of biophysical modelling techniques and the main modelling platforms and tools available, as well as an overview of available global data sets. They also contain chapters on modelling terrestrial ecosystem extent, condition and ecosystem services. They serve as starting point for developing agreed methods for the compilation of physical accounts;
The interim technical report on the Monetary Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Assets for Ecosystem Accounting is intended to provide practical guidance on the most common valuation methods. It also discusses, for each ecosystem service, the methods best suited for valuation in an accounting context and provide practical examples to illustrate how to apply the valuation methods; and
Policy Scenario Analysis Using SEEA Ecosystem Accounting which describes what types of analyses are possible when using the SEEA EA and what types of policy questions can be answered when using the accounts in modelling exercises. It provides an overview of the different types of models that are being used in scenario analysis. The intended audience of these guidelines goes beyond the statistical community and will include model developers and policymakers.
The ARIES for SEEA Explorer has been developed with the objective of compiling Tier 1 ecosystem accounts for ecosystem extent, selected ecosystem services and ecosystem condition for selected ecosystem assets. ARIES as a tool itself, over a decade in development, has long supported modelling approaches by building a semantic web of data and spatial models that achieve high-level semantic interoperability (which enables a receiving system to properly understand the meaning of data that are exchanged and reusing it in an appropriate manner, as opposed to lower-level syntactic interoperability, which relies on the use of compatible data formats and communication protocols). ARIES makes a large and growing collection of data and models easily accessible to users with limited experience in spatial modelling, including NSOs, and can also facilitate reporting on key global initiatives such as the SDGs, post-2020 global biodiversity framework and Paris Climate Agreement. The objective is to gradually expand the coverage of ecosystem services and ecosystem condition measures as new data layers become available and can be integrated in the technology.
Besides the items above which are targeted at compilers of accounts, several documents are available to increase policymakers' understanding of applications of natural capital accounting according to the SEEA EA and encourage its uptake for policymaking. Among others, the publications developed under the Enhance Natural Capital Accounting Policy Uptake and Relevance (EnhaNCA) project, are aimed for a broad, non-technical audience, including government ministries and central banks and cover natural capital accounting’s contribution to integrated policies including: (1) policies for sustainability; (2) biodiversity policies; (3) climate change policies; and (4) sustainable macroeconomic strategies.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of ecosystem accounting is that it is spatially explicit and generated by combining multiple layers of information (environmental, including ecological, and economic) which can be displayed on maps or summarized into accounts and tables. The multi-disciplinary nature of the accounts, as well as the challenge inherent in working with spatial data and novel measurement techniques, requires a collaborative approach which takes advantages of the strengths of NSOs in combination with the expertise of other agencies and research organizations.
There are several challenges when compiling ecosystem accounts. First, the data needed are not typically collected by statistical offices, which usually rely on, surveys, administrative data, censuses and the like. Data for the ecosystem accounts are often generated from big data/earth observation and with the use of biophysical modelling. Second, data is usually collected by many ministries and agencies that use it for monitoring rather than statistical purposes and thus often are collected irregularly, using definitions and classifications not consistent with standard statistical definitions, classifications or principles.
Third, time is required to educate the scientists, who are producing the data used for compilation of accounts, about the differences between the data they produce and the requirements of a statistical compilation process. In particular, in the statistical compilation process the emphasis needs to be placed on comparable data through space and time, as opposed to the latest or best data points for a specific place or time. Fourth, on the demand side, policy agencies are often not familiar with how to use the information generated from the accounts. Close collaboration among experts with specific knowledge in different institutions is often required to overcome these compilation challenges.
At the initial stages, countries might wish to utilize global data in combination with national data and global models to develop initial estimates for the accounts, which can serve as a starting point for bringing together different data producers and generate the demand for more accurate and granular data. However, at the same time caution with using global data needs to be exercised to ensure confidence of users and the use of data that are fit for purpose.
In Costa Rica, the entity in charge of compiling the National Accounts is the Central Bank of Costa Rica (BCCR). For this reason, the environmental accounts are developed by the BCCR.
The BCCR started the implementation of environmental accounts in 2014 with support from WAVES (Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services), which is a World Bank-led global partnership. As part of the success of this project, the BCCR decided to institutionalize the accounts, by the creation of a specific unit to work on developing new accounts and to update the ones already published.
Alongside the work of the BCCR, during 2018, Costa Rica established the National Council Environmental Accounts (CNCA). It was created as a mean to incorporate the accounting of natural resources in the formulation of public policies and to support decision making processes. It also supports the environmental accounting process by making sure that public entities provide the information required for the development of environmental accounts.
During 2014 work started with a team of two people to develop water and forest accounts. A few months later, an additional member was added to the staff, to work on energy accounts. Currently, the department is composed by four members, and the accounts that have been published include: water, forest, energy, environmental protection expenditure, and material flow accounts.
Data sources vary depending on the accounts, but some of them include the following: monetary information from National Accounts such as supply and use table and production accounts; wholesale and retail trade data; environmental expenditure survey for the private sector; national energy balance; water use permits; water balance; hydrological data from the meteorological institute; fuel sales reports; national forest inventory; wastewater operational reports; data for domestic material extraction, among others.
The accounts have been constructed following the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA). When there are data gaps, we have used estimations given expert criteria, and we are open to data improvement once we receive feedback from the users of the information.
All of the accounts are published on the website of the Central Bank. Water and energy accounts are published on an annual basis. Given the methodological recommendations and the information available, the forest accounts have been published once, with hopes of an update by the end of 2023. Work is in progress to update the environmental protection expenditure account and the material flow account.
For some years the accounts have been raising more interest and there are more applications., some of which include the following:
- Using them for general equilibrium models (IEEM-CR developed together with the IDB).
- Inclusion of environmental economic indicators derived from the environmental accounts in the National Development and Public Investment Plan.
- Input for the compilation of specific Sustainable Development Goals, as requested by INEC (national statistics office in Costa Rica)
- The CO2 emissions account, which is an application of the energy accounts was used as input of the cost-benefit analyses of the National Decarbonization Plan.
For more information see BCCR website here.
In 2016, Statistics Netherlands and Wageningen University started the implementation of SEEA Ecosystem Accounting for the Netherlands, on behalf of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment (Remme et al., 2018; Hein et al., 2020; Statistics Netherlands and WUR, 2021). The project’s aim is to test and implement SEEA EEA ecosystem accounting for the Netherlands. The choice was made to develop the core accounts and include carbon and biodiversity as thematic accounts. The focus is primarily on terrestrial ecosystems (land and inland waters) and not on marine ecosystems (sea and ocean). Since then, the accounts have been further developed and are now compiled and published on an annual basis.
Ecosystem typology and extent
Because existing maps of the Netherlands focus on the biophysical land cover (the topographic maps) or land use (the Statistics Netherlands land use maps) or only include specific regions (nature management or agriculture) a new map and ecosystem typology were constructed with a focus on ecology and ecosystem services, and maximal compliance with the SEEA EA guidelines and the IUCN global ecosystem typology. This national ecosystem typology distinguishes 49 ecosystem types, covering both (semi)natural, agricultural and more urban ecosystem types. Data sources used include topographical maps, Cadastre maps, geographical registries, geographical land use data. A key challenge is to cope with changing data source formats throughout time, for example from a line to a surface.
The condition account shows the quality of an ecosystem asset and its potential to supply ecosystem services. Challenge with the condition account is to find recurring data sources to update these accounts on a regular basis. In addition the choice and application of reference levels for the different ecosystem variables is a key issue. Data sources used are among other the Living Planet Index, Atlas Natural Capital, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and EU Water Framework Directive.
Supply and use of ecosystem services – physical
Supply and use tables were developed for the following ecosystem services: crop provisioning services, fodder and grazed biomass provisioning services, wood provisioning services, water purification services, carbon sequestration, pollination, air filtration, coastal protection, protection against flooding due to heavy rainfall, local climate regulation, nature recreation, nature tourism, and amenity services. Data availability and reliability, and the relevance for the Netherlands are factors when deciding on which services to focus. Data sources include national and provincial statistics, geographical registries, look-up tables from scientific research. For some specific ecosystem services, like air filtration and pollination, specific models were developed. The detail and resolution differ a lot per ecosystem service model.
Supply and use of ecosystem services – monetary & monetary asset account
Most of the ecosystems services described above were also valued in monetary terms. For each ecosystem service we have selected valuation methods that are conceptually valid and that produce values that are consistent with the SNA. In this regard it is important to distinguish between exchange values already included in GDP or not. Many different data sources were used in compiling the monetary assets and supply and use of ecosystem services, including SNA production and income accounts, agriculture accounts, Tourism Satellite Account, Authority for Consumers and Markets, statistical publications of VEWIN (water), Netherlands Enterprise Agency and scientific research. Subsequently, the values for the ecosystem services were used to calculate monetary values for the ecosystem assets, using the NPV method. Important challenges remain, particularly with regard to refinement of the assumptions made in applying the different valuation methods, the allocation of the values to ecosystem types, enhancing the scope of the ecosystem services, and communication of the results.
The biodiversity account comprises ecosystems and species. The genetic diversity aspect of biodiversity was left out due to lack of quality data. Many national figures can be derived, but this account is difficult to make spatially explicit with the currently available data sources. These data sources are mainly Living Planet Index, Red List indicators and occupancy modeling of distribution maps of several species.
The carbon account for the Netherlands was compiled which shows the stock and flows of all types of carbon, namely biocarbon, geocarbon, carbon in the atmosphere and carbon in the economy. Data sources used are SNA Energy Accounts, Material Flow Accounts, Air Emissions Accounts, Water Emission Accounts and the National Emission Inventory, Waste Accounts, and scientific research.
Marine - North Sea
The initial focus of the ecosystem accounts in the Netherlands was on terrestrial ecosystems. To explore the potential of ecosystem accounting on coastal and marine ecosystems, the extension to the North Sea has been made. Data sources used are different reports and statistical information.
For more information see Statistics Netherlands website on natural capital.