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In 2012, the United Nations Statistical Commission, the annual meeting of the world’s official statisticians (including the Australian Bureau of Statistics), kicked a superb goal by elevating the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) Central Framework to the status of an international statistical standard. Thus, the concepts and definitions underpinning the measurement of many environmental stocks and flows were given the same recognition as the concepts and standards underpinning gross domestic product and the national accounts.

This step forward built on work from the 1980s to establish international agreement on accounting for natural capital, and by becoming a standard, it has driven forward implementation around the world with more than 80 countries now having SEEA programmes of work.

There was, however, a gap in the coverage of the SEEA Central Framework concerning standards to account for ecosystems and the services they supply to us all. This gap meant that while concepts of depletion of natural resources (such as timber and minerals) had been established, no standard for ecosystem degradation existed and thus the costs of losing the benefits from ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, air filtration, water regulation and the amenity of nature were not fully taken into account.

The process to fill this gap had started some time earlier but by 2012 the work was not complete. Nonetheless in 2013 the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting was released to provide a launching pad. By providing a common focal point for accounting for ecosystems, the SEEA EEA has proved wonderfully successful, with projects around the world testing, piloting and refining its proposals.

Based on this success, the UN Statistical Commission, in 2017 agreed to start a process to revise the SEEA EEA with the ambition of establishing a statistical standard for ecosystem accounting. That work has progressed over the past few years involving well over one hundred experts from geography, ecology, economics, accounting and statistics. Draft chapters of the revised SEEA EEA are beginning to circulate for global consultation, a process on which all are welcome to comment.

The first tranche of three chapters released in March 2020 focused on the measurement of ecosystem extent and condition. The second tranche of four chapters was released on 29 May with a focus on the topic of monetary valuation. Chapters on ecosystem services and a variety of associated topics will be released in the coming months. A complete draft taking on board all feedback will be released in October with the intention to finalise a version in early 2021 for submission to the United Nations Statistical Commission at their March 2021 meeting. We’re hoping to see another superb goal.

For more information on the SEEA EEA revision process, including information on how you can be involved in the consultation process go to the UN System of Environmental Economic Accounting

IDEEA Group Director, Carl Obst, is the lead author and editor of the SEEA EEA revision reprising his role in the development of the SEEA Central Framework and initial SEEA EEA