The 13th Meeting of the UNCEEA: The Growing Role of SEEA in Meeting Critical Policy Challenges

Experts from over 25 countries and 14 international organizations met in New York last month to chart a path for continued mainstreaming of the SEEA, including tighter integration with ongoing policy efforts like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and international climate change commitments. The 13th meeting of the UN Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting (UNCEEA) also dealt with a set of key issues on the SEEA agenda, such as assessing whether an update of the SEEA Central Framework may be needed, the progress made on developing global statistical databases, the status of experimental ecosystem accounts and lessons learned from different countries’ experiences developing and implementing the accounts.

Election of the Chair

Bert Kroese, Deputy Director General, Statistics Netherlands, was unanimously reelected to another three-year term as UNCEEA’s chair.

The SEEA and the SDGs

A new initiative to further strengthen the connections between the SEEA and SDGs points to the importance of environmental-economic accounts. A group within the Inter-Agency Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goals (IAEG-SDG) Working Group on Interlinkages was established to identify how the SEEA, as an integrated framework, can help measure progress towards the SDGs.

The SEEA and Climate Change

The SEEA is a useful framework for informing climate change policy and mainstreaming the incrorporation of climate considerations into economic decisonmaking. While reporting on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is based on IPCC guidelines (which follow the territory principle and look at where emissions occur), there is growing recognition that the statistical community offers frameworks such as the SEEA, which can complement IPCC reporting. The SEEA’s use of the residence principle, in which emissions are attributed to resident economic units, offers a way to easily integrate data on emissions with economic data. Recognizing this benefit, the UNECE Task Force on a Set of Core Climate Change-Related Statistics developed a set of core statistics and indicators based on the SEEA and other statistical frameworks. The Committee welcomed this proposed set of indicators and plans to further engage with the Task Force to help countries compile these indicators.

Linking with the Broader Policy Process

Climate change policy, along with biodiversity, will be a major theme of this year’s Natural Capital Accounting Policy Forum from 26-27 November in Paris. The aim of the forum, which inaugurated in 2016, is to increase understanding of how environmental-economic accounting can be effectively applied to policymaking.

These growing connections between the SEEA and the broader policy process are evident in a new event calendar, available on the SEEA website, that provides information on SEEA events, as well as those events where environmental-economic accounting is relevant.

The Central Framework and Progress on Global Databases

The Committee also assessed the advances on the research agenda of the SEEA Central Framework (SEEA CF). It commissioned Statistics Netherlands and UNSD to draft an issue paper for the 2019 UNCEEA meeting to examine if there is a need to update the SEEA CF in light of ongoing research and developments in the System of National Accounts. The committee also endorsed the progress to date linking the SEEA with the existing framework for tourism satellite accounts.

Progress has been made in the development of global databases for air emissions, energy, land cover, material flow.  The Committee encouraged to prioritize work on a global database on water in view of the possible review of the water statistics questionnaire.  Developments in earth observation technologies have greatly aided and will aid the development of these data, and the Committee noted the importance of transparency and engagement with member states as the datasets are developed and disseminated.

Experimental Ecosystem Accounts

The committee received an update on the expert forum on ecosystem accounting held in Glen Cove just prior to the meeting and welcomed the progress to date.  There was a strong consensus on the need to keep a broad array of stakeholders engaged as the revision process moves ahead. Valuation issues emerged, particularly the choice of exchange vs welfare measures and their appropriateness in different contexts.  Further outreach on this topic to the national accounts community is planned.

Sharing Lessons Learned

The annual meeting provided a welcome opportunity for different countries to share their experiences implementing the SEEA, and a panel discussion involving representatives from Bhutan, Brazil, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, South Africa and Uganda provided insight into lessons learned and opportunities moving forward.