System of Environmental-Economic Accounting

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The System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) – Central Framework, was adopted as an international standard by the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC) at its forty-third session in 2012. It is the first international statistical standard for environmental-economic accounting.

The SEEA Central Framework is a multipurpose conceptual framework for understanding the interactions between the economy and the environment, and for describing stocks and changes in stocks of environmental assets.

The SEEA brings statistics on the environment and its relationship to the economy into the core of official statistics. This version of the SEEA is an outcome of much path-breaking work on extending and refining concepts for the measurement of the interaction between the economy and the environment. Some important measurement challenges remain and are included in the research agenda in Annex 2.

Regular compilation of environmental-economic accounts in countries as part of a programmed of official statistics will foster international statistical comparability, provide policy relevant information at national, regional and international levels, improve the quality of the resulting statistics and understanding of the measurement concepts.

2. The SEEA Central Framework builds on previous editions of the SEEA namely the 1993 Handbook of National Accounting: Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA 1993) and the Handbook of National Accounting: Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting 2003 (SEEA2003).

The SEEA 1993 emerged as a result of ongoing discussions on assessing and measuring the concept of sustainable development. This topic received increased attention following the release of the report of the World Commission on the Environment and Development in 1987 and the release of Agenda 21, the outcome document from the first UN Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The SEEA 1993 was issued as work in progress, recognising that conceptual discussion as well as testing of methodologies needed to continue.

3. On the basis of the practical experience in implementation gained by countries and through other methodological advances, the revised SEEA 2003 made a considerable step towards harmonizing concepts and definitions.

However, in many cases the methodologies remained a compilation of options and best practices. Recognizing the increasing importance of integrated information on the relationship between the economy and the environment, and the continued technical advancements in the field, the UNSC agreed at its thirty-eighth session in 2007 to initiate a second revision process with the aim of elevating the SEEA Central Framework to an international statistical standard.

4. The SEEA Central Framework is based on agreed concepts, definitions, classifications, and accounting rules. As an accounting system it enables the organisation of information into tables and accounts in an integrated and conceptually coherent way. This information can be used to derive coherent indicators to inform decision-making and to provide accounts and aggregates for a wide range of purposes.

5. The SEEA provides information in relation to a broad spectrum of environmental and economic issues. Particular examples include the assessment of trends in the use and availability of natural resources, the extent of emissions and discharges to the environment resulting from economic activity, and the amount of economic activity undertaken for environmental purposes.

6. The SEEA Central Framework provides guidance on the valuation of renewable and non-renewable natural resources and land within the SNA asset boundary. It does not include guidance on valuation xi methods on these assets and related flows that go beyond values already included in the SNA. Full valuation of assets and flows related to natural resources and land beyond the valuation included in the SNA remains an outstanding issue. Addressing this issue in future revisions of the SEEA may provide further guidance in answering key questions such as the impact of environmental regulations on economic growth, productivity, inflation and jobs.

7. Given its multi-disciplinary scope, the SEEA Central Framework was designed to be coherent and complementary with other international standards, recommendations and classifications such as the System of National Accounts 2008, the Balance of Payments and International Investment Position (BPM6), the International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC), the Central Product Classification (CPC) and the Framework for the Development of Environment Statistics.

8. The SEEA Central Framework will be augmented by two other parts of the SEEA, namely the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounts and the SEEA Extensions and Applications. The SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounts will not be a statistical standard, but will provide a consistent and coherent summary of the state of the art of using a systems approach to the measurement of ecosystems within a broad framework that extends on the SEEA Central Framework. The SEEA Extensions and Applications will present various monitoring and analytical approaches that could be adopted using SEEA datasets and will describe ways in which SEEA can be used to inform policy analysis. It will not be a statistical standard.

9. It is also planned that the SEEA Central Framework is supported by related publications which further elaborate the conceptual framework of the SEEA for specific resources or specific sectors. These include for example the SEEA-Water and the SEEA-Energy. These specific publications may also be supported by international recommendations that provide guidance on the data items, data sources and methods to develop the basic statistics that, among other things, can be used for populating the accounting tables. These guidance documents include, for example, the International Recommendations for Water Statistics (IRWS) and the International Recommendations for Energy Statistics (IRES).

10. Like other international statistical standards, it is expected that SEEA Central Framework will be implemented incrementally taking into account national statistical office resources and requirements. To support this, the SEEA Central Framework accommodates a flexible and modular approach to implementation within national statistical systems which can be aligned with the particular policy context, data availability and statistical capacity of countries. At the same time, much benefit of the SEEA comes from the ability to compare and contrast relevant information from a range of countries. In this context the adoption of the SEEA Central Framework for specific modules is encouraged, particularly with regard to environmental issues that are multi-national or global in nature.

11. The SEEA Central Framework was prepared under the auspices of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting (UNCEEA), as mandated by the UNSC at its thirty-eighth session in 2007. The UNCEEA is an inter-governmental body consisting of senior representatives from national statistical offices and international organisations. It is chaired by a representative of one of the country members of the Committee.

The United Nations Statistics Division serves as the Secretariat for UNCEEA. The regular oversight of the project on the revision of the SEEA Central Framework was provided by the Bureau of the UNCEEA.

12. The development of the technical input to the revision process was led by members of the London Group on Environmental Accounting. The members of the London Group outlined the key issues for the revision (which were subsequently endorsed by UNCEEA), drafted and discussed issue papers, and prepared outcome papers on the key revision issues. The recommendations provided in the outcome papers were subject to global consultation and the final recommendations were presented to the forty-second meetings of the UNSC in 2011. xii

13. A SEEA Editorial Board was established in June 2010 to provide technical advice to the editor who drafted the text. Initial draft chapters of the SEEA Central Framework were the subject of global consultation through 2011 and a final global consultation on the whole document was conducted in late 2011. Draft versions of the chapters were also presented to the UNCEEA at it sixth meeting in June 2011.

The extensive consultation on issue and outcome papers, draft recommendations, draft chapters and the complete document ensured that there were sufficient opportunities for comment from a wide range of stakeholders and improved the overall quality of the document. 

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