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New research co-authored by University of Melbourne fellow and IDEEA Group director Carl Obst, shows that an increasing number of countries are publishing ecosystem accounts, helping to embed nature in economic and financial decisions.

The United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) has been designed to provide the integration between environmental data and standard economic and financial data, such that decision makers are able to expand their evidence base in an integrated and systematic way. SEEA recognises the limitations of the system of accounting used to measure the economy – the System of National Accounts – and describes internationally agreed ways of incorporating data about our natural capital; its changes over time; and our uses of it.

This integration makes it possible for the environment to be considered on a regular basis in everyday decisions, not just when natural disasters strike. Further, the regular compilation and publication of natural capital accounts provides a means for all stakeholders, including the wider community, to assess progress towards environmental sustainability using agreed measures and hence collectively shift ourselves ‘beyond GDP’.

The most recent development for the SEEA is ecosystem accounting which extends natural capital accounting to encompass ecosystems and the services they provide. It has been a truly multi-disciplinary undertaking.

While progress in countries with advanced statistical systems such as Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom might be considered unsurprising, it is exciting and intriguing to see the developments underway in countries such as Guatemala, Liberia and Rwanda. The range of policy applications from peat land management to reporting on Sustainable Development Goals is also promising.

Development and adaptation of measurement techniques and data sources is required but the core framework is well placed to support the required integration of the environment in decision making.

“SEEA’s ecosystem accounting is underpinning the development of comprehensive data on our relationship with nature. More fundamentally, ecosystem accounting embodies the collective shift in thinking that is needed to see one system in which environmental, social and economic aspects are considered in unison”, says Carl.

Listen to Carl Obst  discuss this further in a recent radio interview

Read more from the University of Melbourne