The 14th Meeting of the UNCEEA: the SEEA-EEA revision, SEEA case studies and more

Experts from 29 countries and 15 international organizations and academia met at UN Headquarters in New York last month to discuss coordination and prioritization in the field of environmental-economic accounting. In particular, the 14th meeting of the UN Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting (UNCEEA) dealt with a set of key issues on the SEEA agenda, covering wide-ranging topics from the ongoing revision of the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA-EEA), to how country case studies could help promote the mainstreaming of the accounts. A brief summary of some of the meeting highlights are provided below, and the full set of conclusions will be posted to the meeting page shortly, where all papers and presentations can be found.

SEEA-EEA revision and potential for a SEEA CF revision

The Committee received an update on the ongoing revision of the SEEA-EEA, which will be completed at the end of 2020 and presented to the UN Statistical Commission in 2021. In particular, the Committee welcomed the progress made on the SEEA EEA revision, particularly the comprehensiveness, transparency and broad engagement of the revision process, as well as the many hours put into the revision process by several National Statistical Offices and other geospatial, environmental and ecological experts.

The Committee also considered the potential for a revision of the SEEA CF. Given the importance of this decision and its implications for National Statistical Offices and the broader environmental-economic accounting community, the UNCEEA Bureau will further explore this topic in more depth.

Mainstreaming the SEEA for the SDGs and Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework

At the 50th Session of the United Nations Statistical Commission, the Commission voiced strong support for the use of the SEEA for the SDGs. At the UNCEEA meeting, Viveka Palm (Statistics Sweden), co-chair of the Inter-Agency Expert Group-Sustainable Development Goals (IAEG-SDGs), provided a brief update on the development of the SDG indicator set and the 2020 comprehensive indicator review. It was also noted that the IAEG-SDGs Working Group on Interlinkages is exploring how the SEEA, as an integrated framework and international statistical standard, can play a larger role in the SDGs. The Interlinkages Working Group, which has several members in common with the UNCEEA, is currently drafting a report on this topic, which will be circulated to the UNCEEA for comment and input in the upcoming months.

The Committee also discussed mainstreamining the accounts for biodiversity, particularly through the development of the post-2020 biodiversity framework. Markus Lehman of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity outlined key entry points for the Committee, including potential collaboration with the Informal Advisory Group established under COP-14, which has been tasked to develop the long-term strategic approach for mainstreaming biodiversity.

Sharing Lessons Learned

As part of an effort to promote the use of the accounts for policy, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the UN Statistics Division recently collected case studies from the UNCEEA on the use of the SEEA for policy. Amanda Clark (Australian Bureau of Statistics) presented a summary of the many case studies received. The case studies cover a range of accounts and demonstrate the wide scope of applications of the accounts. The Committee also welcomed presentations by representatives of the Green Growth Knowledge Platform on natural capital use case studies and a presentation by Sonu Jain (World Bank) on case studies and lessons learnt under the WAVES programme. The development of effective communication materials based on these case studies will be the next step for the Committee.

Global databases

To ensure that global SEEA databases for the five priority areas (air emissions, energy, land, material flow and water) are developed using a unified approach, the Committee discussed potential principles for the creation and maintenance of the global SEEA databases on the SEEA website. The principles will be finalized on the basis of the discussion and disseminated as a formal document. In addition, the Committee agreed that dissemination should take a step-by-step approach, starting with the dissemination of existing databases on the SEEA website. The Committee also discussed water accounts and was urged to jumpstart progress on a global database on water, particularly in light of the fact that several water-related SDG indicators can be derived using SEEA-Water accounts. Lastly, the Committee welcomed the finalization of SEEA DSDs for the five priority areas.

Business accounting

Business accounting and reporting on the environment was presented to the Committee as a potential area of work. This topic is currently being explored by the UN Statistics Division under the EU-funded project, Natural Capital Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services. While business accounts are already aligned with the System of National Accounts, the same steps could be taken in terms of business accounting and reporting on the environment and the SEEA. The Committee agreed to play a role in aligning business accounting and reporting with the SEEA, which would result in better quality data to feed into the accounts.

Reflection on UNCEEA membership

Lastly, the Committee took the meeting as an opportunity to reflect on its performance, working methods and membership. The Committee is placed with a difficult task—with the growing uptake of the SEEA and growing relevance of the SEEA-EEA, more and more organizations have requested to join the Committee. While the Committee acknowledged the importance of national statistical offices, they also recognized the need to bring in expertise from non-National Statistical Offices for meetings as necessary. To continue this reflection, the UNCEEA Bureau will come up with a proposal on membership and working methods.