SEEA Implementation Guide: Introduction


0. Introduction

The System of Environmental-Economic Accounting 2012 – Central Framework (SEEA Central Framework) was adopted as an international standard by the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC) at its forty-third session in 2012. It is the first international statistical standard for environmental-economic accounting. In March 2021, at its fifty-second session the UNSC adopted the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting – Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA Ecosystem Accounting), chapters 1-7 describing the accounting framework and the physical accounts as an international statistical standard, chapters 8-11 describing the monetary valuation and integrated accounting for ecosystem services and assets as internationally recognized statistical principles and recommendations for the valuation of ecosystem services and assets, and chapters 12-14 as applications and extensions to the SEEA Ecosystem Accounting. 

The SEEA adopts an accounting approach to organize environmental information and it is coherent with economic information which is organized according to the System of National Accounts (SNA). This allows for the evaluation of the impacts and dependencies of economic activities on the environment, the contribution of the environment and ecosystems to the economy and wellbeing, and the action taken by the economy to reduce such impacts. The accounting approach facilitates mainstreaming the environment into economic decision making by providing a common language between economists, scientists and statisticians in support of integrated decision making.

Using an accounting approach to derive the indicators allows harmonization of environmental data from multiple sources and brings coherence and consistency across disparate statistics. It also establishes a centralized system for organizing information on the environment and the economy, thereby reducing the possibilities for data being collected more than once across different government agencies and streamlining reporting across multiple national commitments. In addition, it ensures that information can be compared with confidence across time. Further, by organizing information from different agencies and sectors in a consistent manner, the SEEA opens up dialogue across these agencies and sectors and enables trade-offs and synergies related to environmental management decisions to be more readily revealed. 

Over the past decade, global efforts on implementation have focused on the SEEA Central Framework and piloting (experimental implementation) of Ecosystem Accounting. Since the adoption of both standards, attention has turned to the implementation of both, with a focus on using a flexible and modular approach across countries, including the use of global datasets and tools as appropriate. This Guide gives equal importance to implementation of both parts of the SEEA as complementary systems. 

The purpose of the Implementation Guide “Towards the Institutionalization of the SEEA” is to give broad direction and support to implementation at a national level across all countries. While there may be differences between countries in the choice of accounts to implement and the institutional frameworks within which accounting is undertaken, there remain many areas of relevance to all implementation efforts. In particular, this guide aims to synthesize the lessons from the many countries and international agencies that have been involved in the implementation and compilation of environmental-economic accounts over the past 20 to 30 years.

The intention is therefore, that the Implementation Guide serves as an introductory and overview document as well as a reference document that provides sufficient awareness of the various steps that should be considered in the implementation as well as links to relevant material and guidance. The Implementation Guide is not a step-by-step guide on how to compile the accounts, but rather gives a high-level overview and information to countries on how to set-up the compilation process. It is also not a technical guide dealing with any particular compilation issues; those are dealt with in the numerous technical notes, guidelines and tools that are published on the SEEA website. 

The primary audience for the Implementation Guide is the managers form national statistical offices, or other agencies involved in the compilation of accounts, who are directly involved in the production and compilation of SEEA accounts. It is important that these managers are aware of the full scope of implementation requirements beyond purely technical and data considerations. The outline of the guide can be found on the right hand side panel; please feel free to browse the sections as relevant.