The 15th Meeting of the UNCEEA: the SEEA EEA revision, a green recovery, business accounting and more

The Fifteenth Meeting of the UN Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting (UNCEEA) took place virtually on 6, 8 and 9 July, 2020. A record number of participants attended, with over 70 members from national statistical offices and international organizations taking part. The Committee, chaired by Bert Kroese, Deputy Director General of Statistics Netherlands, was opened with a keynote speech from Assistant Secretary General Elliott Harris. In his remarks, Mr. Harris emphasized the importance of the SEEA for a green COVID-19 recovery, the SDGs, climate change and post-2020 global biodiversity framework. With regards to a green recovery, Mr. Harris expressed support and enthusiasm for the SEEA to provide the necessary measurement system for a green recovery, similar to how the SNA provided the measurement system for the economic recovery after World War II. The Director of the Statistics Division, Stefan Schweinfest also provided opening remarks focusing on the revision of the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (EEA) and commended the Committee for the progress they have made in advancing the methodology. He also stressed the importance of elevating the status of the revised SEEA EEA, to reflect the significant methodological progress that has been made. Finally, he noted the growing role of national statistical offices as data stewards and emphasized the importance of statistical standards in ensuring the production of high-quality, comparable data.

The Committee discussed activities for each of its work streams, including coordination and communication, methodology, data, and capacity building. A significant portion of the meeting was devoted exclusively to the revision of the SEEA EEA. The revision of the SEEA EEA will be completed at the end of the year, with the document being discussed at the 2021 UN Statistical Commission. A majority of the substantive chapters are currently out for global consultation, and the entire document will be distributed for global consultation again in the fall. The Committee agreed that excellent progress was made and decided that it would meet again in the fall to discuss the title of the document and its status.

In terms of coordination and communication, members stressed the importance of national statistical offices engaging in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, particularly with regards to the monitoring framework. The biodiversity community lacks awareness of the SEEA and how it can be used to monitor the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. However, during the meeting the Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) stressed the importance of involving the statistical community in this global policy initiative from the start, and encouraged Committee members to engage. In particular, the draft monitoring framework is currently out for global consultation, and Committee members were urged to provide input. In addition to setting biodiversity as a priority, the Committee also discussed the priorities of the SDGs, circular economy, climate change and green finance, among others.

In terms of data, the Committee discussed the progress made on the priority datasets of air emissions, energy, land, material flow and water. They also discussed how Earth observation could play a positive role in speeding up the development of global SEEA-compliant land use and land cover datasets. A critical activity in this workstream over the next year will be the development of data collection templates to start collecting official accounts from countries, as well as advancing a dissemination platform for the global databases.

During the discussion on capacity building, the Committee discussed the establishment of SEEA focal points in small breakout groups. The SEEA focal points will serve as a first point of contact for all SEEA-related matters, and be asked to address requests and questions from international organizations, distributing these requests to others as necessary. In addition, the Committee also supported the update of the 2020 Global Assessment which will be sent to national statistical offices later this year. National statistical offices will be asked to play a coordinating role in responding to the Global Assessment and to send the Assessment to other institutions involved in SEEA compilation.

Finally, the Committee initiated the creation of a work stream on the SEEA and business accounting. The Committee strongly supported the creation of this work stream, which was outlined in a roadmap  developed under the E.U.-funded Natural Capital Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services (NCAVES). A UNCEEA subgroup will soon be formed to carry out this programme of work. For more on the SEEA and business accounting, see here.

The minutes of the meeting can be found here.