Looking forward to the UNSC

Looking Forward to the 50th UN Statistical Commission

From 5-8 March 2019, Chief Statisticians from around the world will gather at the UN Headquarters in New York City for the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC). This annual meeting presents an important opportunity to demonstrate the ongoing progress in environmental-economic accounting to the international statistical community and obtain endorsement on the global work programme.

Next year’s UNSC will be a milestone—its fiftieth session—and the fourteenth session where the UN Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting (UNCEEA) has reported to the Commission. The UNCEEA will cover the progress made over the past year in the areas of coordination, methodology, data, capacity building and communications. Below are a few key issues that will likely to draw attention in March.

 Integrating the SEEA into Key Policy Processes

The SEEA and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be high on the agenda. There is substantial interest on the part of the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) in understanding how the SEEA can contribute to the SDGs. In particular, the SEEA can be used to monitor SDGs in an integrated way, moving beyond the traditional siloed approach to indicators and measurement. This November in Stockholm, UNCEEA and IAEG-SDGs member Sven Kaumanns (Federal Statistical Office of Germany) gave a presentation to the IAEG-SDGs on how the SEEA can be applied to the SDGs. The effort to integrate the SEEA into the indicator framework is ongoing through the IAEG-SDG Working Group on Inter-linkages of SDG Statistics, and capitalizing on this momentum will be key as the 2020 SDG indicator revision draws closer.

Supporting biodiversity is another key policy process the SEEA can contribute to. UNCEEA members recently participated in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP in November 2018, at the side event NCA in support of the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework. The potential of the SEEA to contribute to the post-2020 Agenda is immense, given the role ecosystem accounts, species accounts and environmental activity accounts can play in measuring biodiversity and efforts to protect it.

Mainstreaming the SEEA in climate change efforts will also be addressed. The IPCC guidelines are currently being revised, and the UNCEEA has contributed to the revision by participating in expert reviews. Since the IPCC guidelines use the territory principle, the SEEA can complement the IPCC guidelines, as the it allows for analysis by economic sector through its use of the residence principle. Highlighting the value added the SEEA brings to the IPCC approach will be crucial in mainstreaming efforts.

Progress on the SEEA EEA and a Possible Revision of the SEEA CF

Tremendous progress has been made over the last year in terms of methodology, particularly for SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EEA). The SEEA EEA has many stakeholders—from statisticians to scientists to geospatial experts to environmental economists and beyond—and the UNSC will be an opportunity to inform the statistical community of the revision process and the results achieved and ensure its backing and support for the revised SEEA EEA, to be presented in 2021. At the same time, March will also be an opportunity to hear the statistical community’s opinion on a potential revision of the SEEA Central Framework (SEEA CF). The UNCEEA will discuss this issue at its meeting in June 2019 and will then put forth a recommendation at the 2020 UNSC, taking into consideration progress made in the methodology and implementation of the SEEA CF, as well as the eventual revision of the System of National Accounts.

Moving Forward with Global Databases

Global databases are vital to ensuring that the SEEA is mainstreamed in national statistical systems and is used to support global frameworks, including the SDGs. There has been good progress in moving forward with material flow, energy, air emissions and land cover databases, particularly in terms of the finalization of the SEEA Data Structure Definitions (DSDs) of the Statistical Data and Metadata eXchange (SDMX). But with 2030 only a little over a decade away, time is of the essence. What the UNCEEA can do in the short term, to making existing datasets more visible and to provide preliminary estimates for countries to improve on, will be a focus.

Expanding/Stepping up Implementation

There has been steady progress towards the 2020 implementation targets of 100 countries with SEEA CF programmes and 50 countries with SEEA EEA programmes. For example, India released its first ever SEEA CF accounts and progresses to its second year of the E.U.-funded NCA&VES project. In addition, more and more countries are delving into ecosystem accounting, with approximately 35 countries currently compiling SEEA EEA accounts. At the 13th Meeting of the UNCEEA in June 2018, Statistics South Africa presented an analysis of how the Committee might bridge the gap to reach the targets. The Commission will be a valuable opportunity to gather input from international organizations, regional commissions, NGOs, and of course, member states, on how to step up the implementation moving forward.

Communicating the SEEA

At the crux of the communications workstream of the UNCEEA is ensuring that the SEEA is seen as an input into decision making and policy. Two key developments in this workstream are the Third Forum on Natural Capital Accounting for Better Policy Decisions and the development of policy issues papers and e-learning modules. In particular, the outcomes of the Third Forum on Natural Capital Accounting for Better Policy Decisions, which focuses on biodiversity and climate change, will be made available to the Commission. In addition, the Commission will also be updated on the details of the plan for policy issues papers and e-learning modules, with funding from GIZ. The SEEA website, seea.un.org, and the newsletter will continue to be integral in reaching out to stakeholders to communicate upcoming events, achievements and opportunities, such as the upcoming SEEA side event to the COP or the latest achievements in the E.U.-funded NCA&VES project, to represent the SEEA in the policy space.

Please visit the website of the UNSC for background documents as they become available and see you at the Commission!