The 16th Meeting of the UNCEEA: Scaling up implementation, the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and more

The Sixteenth Meeting of the UN Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting (UNCEEA) took place virtually on 15-17 June, 2021. Nearly 70 members from national statistical offices from 28 countries and 11 international organizations took part in the annual meeting. The Committee, chaired by Bert Kroese, Deputy Director General of Statistics Netherlands, provides the overall vision, coordination, prioritization and direction in the field of environmental-economic accounting and supporting statistics. The meeting was opened by the Director of the UN Statistics Division (UNSD), Stefan Schweinfest, who congratulated the Committee on the recent adoption of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA) by the UN Statistical Commission and noted the importance taking advantage of the momentum to scale up implementation of the SEEA EA.

The Committee discussed activities for each of its work streams, including coordination and communication, methodology, data, capacity building and business accounting. In terms of methodology, the Committee discussed both the SEEA Central Framework (SEEA CF) and the SEEA EA. For the SEEA CF, the Committee considered that a full revision of the SEEA Central Framework may need to be considered against other priorities work of the Committee.  Nevertheless, the Committee considered how best to make progress on the research agenda and how these outputs should be presented in particular for those issues in the research agenda that are important for the update of the 2008 System of National Accounts. For presenting outputs, the Committee decided that since the SEEA CF is broadly up to date, all outputs should take the form of technical notes which are released through the SEEA website and the SEEA News & Notes as they are completed.

For the SEEA EA, the Committee’s focus has shifted towards implementation. The UNSD presented a draft implementation strategy for the SEEA EA which presents the overall objective of mainstreaming the uptake of the SEEA EA and its use in policy and covers capacity building, the development of guidelines and materials, strengthening collaboration, data and tools, and communication and advocacy. The strategy will be finalized based on feedback from the Committee and other stakeholders consultations and presented to the UN Statistical Commission in 2022. The Committee also discussed a draft interoperability strategy for SEEA EA data, which aims to ensure that SEEA EA data and models are made findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable by users.

In terms of coordination and communication, members stressed the importance of continuing to mainstream the SEEA in areas such as biodiversity, circular economy and climate change. Two relevant initiatives were presented to the Committee: the UNECE Task Force on Circular Economy and a potential new G20 Data Gaps Initiative III. In addition, the Committee also received an in-depth update on the monitoring framework of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). In October, the COP-15 will be held in Kunming, China, and an expert group is being proposed to oversee the development of metadata for indicators of the GBF monitoring framework with the participation of national statistical offices. The Committee noted the importance of UNCEEA members participating in this expert group, which will be composed also of parties to the Convention of Biodiversity and the scientific community to ensure that the SEEA is used to support the compilation of indicators for GBF reporting where applicable.

For data, the Committee discussed the progress made on the priority datasets of air emissions, energy, land, material flow and water and stressed the need to scale up the development of these data sets, their timeliness and coverage. They also discussed how the recently released ARIES for SEEA Explorer could be used to create global datasets for ecosystem extent. 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, advancing a dissemination platform for the global databases and beginning a pilot to compile global ecosystem extent accounts from the ARIES for SEEA.

During the discussion on capacity building, the Committee agreed to the proposal for a Global Assessment “light”. The current Global Assessment questionnaire is sent to countries every three years and asks about current and future implementation, technical assistance and policy priorities, among other topics. The Global Assessment “light” will be sent to countries every year in between the longer benchmark questionnaires to provide updates on current implementation in countries for reporting to SDG 15.9.1. The Committee also discussed the role of regional Communities of Practice in fostering collaboration and implementation of the SEEA.  

Finally, the Committee discussed the work stream on the SEEA and business accounting. Based on a recent exploratory workshop with participants from the UNCEEA Bureau and the private sector, the subgroup will focus on two main substantive areas of work—the alignment of the SEEA and private sector methodologies and standards as well as the communication and presentation of data.