SEEA Developments in Asia and the Pacific

SEEA developments in Asia and the Pacific

Michael Bordt, Sanjesh Naidu, Teerapong Praphotjanaporn, ESCAP


Several countries in Asia and the Pacific had been active in producing SEEA accounts before 2015. Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines have been engaged in environmental-economic accounting from the beginning; China and Vietnam had been producing prototype accounts. With the advent of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the need for coherent, policy-relevant environmental information has taken on a new momentum. By late 2017, 20 countries in the region were producing SEEA accounts (Central Framework and Ecosystem Accounts) and another 15 were in the process of piloting accounts.

Much of this momentum is being driven by the realization that official statistics on the environment are essential to monitoring progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. However, many National Statistical Offices (NSOs) in member States do not yet have environment statistics programs, let alone the technical capacity and human resources to compile the required indicators.

This challenge of matching the supply with the demand for environment statistics has been addressed by many member States by establishing inter-departmental working groups that collaborate on compiling priority SEEA accounts. ESCAP and its partners have supported these developments in four ways:

Sub-regional workshops

ESCAP has convened workshops in all five sub-regions. The Pacific workshop was convened in collaboration with UNSD and the one in North and Central Asia with UN-ECE. A follow-up training programme is planned for the Pacific sub-region in September 2018.

In preparation for the sub-regional workshops, NSOs and their key policy partners (environment, natural resource or planning departments), prepare an initial self-assessment based on the SEEA Diagnostic Tool. The Diagnostic Tool facilitates an inter-departmental discussion of the national sustainability vision, policy priorities, stakeholders, data availability, constraints and opportunities. As a result of these workshops, 40 countries in the region have produced self-assessments on priorities for strengthening their environment statistics.

Given agreement among national partners on priority concerns to be addressed, many countries have developed collaborative work plans to implement specific accounts. These work plans address national priorities by engaging key stakeholders, taking advantage of available data, filling key data gaps, overcoming constraints and taking advantage opportunities.

The most common priority accounts in the region are: land (relevant for SDG 15), water (relevant for SDG 6), energy (relevant for SDG 7 and 13) and solid wastes (relevant for SDG 12), reflecting national development priorities. The most common constraints to producing these accounts were reported as: the lack of data or the existence of fragmented data from multiple sources; the lack of technical capacity (especially spatial analytical capacity) in NSOs; and the lack of professional collaboration among stakeholders (including national and international agencies) and data sharing arrangements between relevant national agencies.

Targeted technical assistance

Once the national working groups have the basic understanding of how to compile accounts, they may require further advice on implementation. In support of implementation, ESCAP and partners have conducted focussed technical assistance missions in twelve countries: Afghanistan (with UN Environment), Bangladesh (with the UNDP/UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative), Bhutan, China (with UNSD and UN Environment), Fiji (with UNSD), Indonesia (with UNSD), Kyrgyzstan (with UN-ECE and UN Environment), Malaysia (with UNSD), the Maldives, Myanmar (with the World Wildlife Fund), Nepal and Vanuatu. ESCAP Pacific Office has also supported SEEA implementation in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Palau and Samoa. Although all countries are making progress, pilot accounts have already been produced in Fiji (Water, Energy, Waste), FSM (Energy), Nepal (Land and Forest), Palau (Energy and Water) and Samoa (Water). Several countries have started accounts, which remains in progress, particularly in the areas of land and energy accounts in the Pacific sub-region. Countries are encouraged to publish their pilot accounts as “experimental” to solicit feedback and further collaboration.

National working groups have overcome some of the constraints identified in sub-regional workshops. Collaborating on a common objective (e.g., a water account) provides motivation for sharing data and expertise. When data users, such as finance and planning agencies, participate, they (a) can focus the work on developing data that they need to make decisions and (b) have a better understanding of the advantages and limitations of the data that are produced.

Many countries have found that these technical working groups are more effective when supported by a senior steering mechanism. For example, a minister-level sustainable development committee can both support the work and apply the results in making integrated decisions.

Specialized workshops

Land accounting

Land accounting has emerged as a foundational element of addressing national sustainable development priorities. The establishment of land accounts encourages standardization of national spatial data. This requires agreement on standards (boundaries, projections, data sources, quality assessment methods, classifications) so that spatial data from multiple sources can be validated and combined.

In support of this, ESCAP convened a Regional Expert Workshop on Land Accounting for SDG Monitoring and Reporting (25-27 September 2017). The overall aim of the workshop was to address member States’ stated requirements for technical guidance on how to begin or improve their land accounts.

The 3-day workshop brought together NSOs and natural resource departments with regional and international experts. The workshop consisted of four main components:

  • Case studies by member States’ activities in land, forest and ecosystem accounting, including presentation of objectives, approaches, results and remaining challenges;
  • Focussed training on aspects identified by participants (including links to SDGs, NSDI, forest accounting, ecosystems and oceans);
  • Guided technical assistance and problem-solving labs with regional experts, and
  • Reports on related initiatives and support by international organizations.

Water Accounting

According to the ESCAP’s region-wide assessment on environment statistics, water accounts are the most commonly planned and piloted in Asia and the Pacific, reflecting shared environmental concerns related to water availability, supply and use in the region.

To assist member States in initiating and further improving water accounts, ESCAP organised a technical assistance workshop on water accounting in Manila (April 10-12, 2018). The workshop was hosted by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) with the aim to provide training on the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) focusing on topics related to water, and to compile test accounts.

Participants included 28 officials from eight key national and local stakeholders in the Philippines, a representative from the Asian Partnership for the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas, as well as experts from National Statistical Offices of Fiji, Malaysia and Samoa.

Ocean Accounting

In response to requests from member States and international experts, ESCAP convened the first Asia and the Pacific Expert Workshop on Ocean Accounts (August 1-3, 2018). This was the inaugural activity for the Ocean Accounts Partnership, a collective effort to strengthen evidence and governance to achieve SDG14. The activities of the workshop are summarized here[PN1] .

Capacity building through the Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP)

SIAP provides capacity building for official statistics in many forms: management seminars, residential courses, online training and short-term country, sub-regional, regional workshops. As part of their ongoing 4-month Group Training Programme on Improving Capability in Producing Official Statistics for Monitoring the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, SIAP provides a one-week module on environment statistics.

In 2017, this was conducted as a one-week Regional Training Course on Climate Change-Related Statistics (27 November to 1 December 2017). This workshop provided an opportunity to combine training modules on SEEA (Land, Forests, Energy, Air Emissions, Water, Activity Accounts and Ecosystems) and FDES (Extreme Events and Disasters) with the requirements for a standard set of climate change-related statistics. The starting point was UN-ECE’s recommended indicators, which were tested by participants in their national contexts. A similar workshop is planned for the Pacific region on September 17-21, 2018.

Influencing emerging policy issues

Integrated data are a necessary, but not sufficient condition for integrated policy. The SEEA has proven an essential tool for integrating data on linkages between the environment and the economy. The SDGs provide a platform for integrated decisions. NSOs can support integrated national decision making not only by providing integrated data, but also by taking a role in advising their governments on statistics required to support the monitoring and evaluation of policies.

To facilitate this data/policy dialogue, ESCAP has developed and tested the EPIC[1] (Every Policy is Connected) Tool. EPIC is a step-by-step process for assessing policy documents in terms of agreed principles, issues that require policy action and indicators that need monitoring including data disaggregation on beneficiary target groups.

ESCAP has prototyped a conceptual framework (the Data/Priority Matrix[2]), which helps place tools, such as EPIC and the Diagnostic Tool in the context of data availability and agreement on priorities. For example, the Diagnostic Tool does not require data to use, but does develop a statistical development plan to address current policy priorities. The EPIC tool can apply existing data to identify areas of lack of progress, policy gaps and data gaps.

The SEEA planning and assessment processes initiated in the sub-regional workshops provide useful starting points for strengthening statistical evidence. The pilot account production process is successful in engaging senior managers and decision makers. It leads to detailed discussions on how accounts could be used in policy and how account production could be integrated into the ongoing work of NSOs.

A key feature of the work in the Pacific has been to link accounting work to integrated policy and analysis. This is reflected in the SEEA assessment process, in the accounts produced, and the nature of the release documents (see Further Information, below). Government resources are smaller in Pacific Island countries and often, there is limited capacity outside of the statistical offices to interpret and analyse the accounts. Therefore, the release documents, in addition to the accounting tables, have provided interpretive and analytical text that is developed collaboratively by with working group. The release documents describe the policy priority that is to be addressed, the need for integrated data to address these priorities and how the accounts can illuminate these priorities. The limitations and future of the work are also discussed. These releases go beyond traditional statistical releases in that they present the work as more than a statistical exercise. Policy analysts can read the interpretation rather then having to interpret the tables themselves.

While SEEA release documents developed in the Pacific (refer to FSM and Palau SEEA releases in particular) illustrates examples of policy applications, it underscores the point that statisticians and NSOs alone cannot fully anticipate and understand the policy perspective. To improve the use of the accounts to strengthen policy requires the involvement of planners, key sector and budget policy makers in the early planning, production and post-production analysis phases. This builds ownership, and raises understanding of key policy applications. In fact, leveraging existing national policy and planning coordination mechanisms (e.g., through Ministries/Departments of Finance/Planning and Office of the Prime Minister) has proven to broaden ownership and drive the use of SEEA findings. This two-level institutional approach (national coordination mechanism and inter-departmental working group) creates the necessary policy demand for sustaining SEEA efforts, facilitates capacity building and allocation of resources for environment statistics, and informs more sustainable development policy and planning outcomes.

It is evident that specific SEEA policy applications are still being developed globally, with little expertise amongst statisticians alone to fully integrate data for policy purposes. Economists, planners and sector policy experts can complement and facilitate analysis using SEEA account findings for policy application. In the Pacific region, policy applications could include:

  • budgeting and fiscal policy issues, such as taxation to create incentives that determine management and use of natural resources;
  • specific sector/resource policy and planning, for example measuring sustainable tourism (as discussed in Fiji’s case study), and oceans management;
  • infrastructure investment and maintenance planning; and
  • regulatory measures that determine production and use of natural resources.

Conclusions and future directions

All countries with which ESCAP has participated have benefited from establishing inter-departmental working groups and their initial discussions on policy priorities. In most countries, these working groups have produced pilot accounts and plan to build on their collaboration and expertise to develop further accounts. In our experience, when these groups work under the direction of a senior coordinating mechanism, there is a greater likelihood that the results of the accounts will be applied to policy.

One important selling point for inter-departmental SEEA implementation with senior steering support is that, over the long term, it simplifies and harmonizes data collection, integration and analysis: agreement on which data to use will avoid duplication, the accounts define “the whole” and therefore help identify data gaps, having the best information available to all departments avoids conflicting interpretations.

In 2018, ESCAP will support ongoing SEEA implementation efforts in the region and will initiate new ones in countries such as Lao PDR, Mongolia, Pakistan, Thailand. An inter-regional expert workshop on energy accounting is also planned in collaboration with the International Energy Agency and UN-ECE for early 2019. The climate change-related and SEEA training will be offered at the sub-regional level.

As opportunities arise, further effort will be made to connect account production to use and policy concerns. Use of SEEA information for monitoring progress of national and global development concerns remains another capacity building and awareness opportunity.

Further information

ESCAP Resource Platform on Environment Statistics:

ESCAP Voluntary Commitment on Strengthening data partnerships for Oceans in Asia and the Pacific:

SEEA Diagnostic Tool (ESCAP version):

ESCAP sub-regional and expert workshops (including country self-assessments):

FSM SEEA release:

Palau SEEA release:;

Fiji SEEA release:

Fiji Measuring Sustainable Tourism:

Implementation of System of Environmental-Economic Accounting in the Pacific: Achievements and Lessons:

SIAP Regional Training Course on Climate Change-Related Statistics: