Environmental and Economic Accounting

Growing pressures on the environment and increasing environmental awareness have generated the need for countries to accurately value and account for their environmental and natural resources as a means of developing appropriate economic, trade and sustainable development policies.

Existing systems of national accounts generally do not take account of the impacts of economic and trade activity on resource potentials. National accounts include physical capital as an asset that depreciates over time, but they largely fail to include the depletion of natural capital, which is treated not as a liability but as an income. Similarly, national accounts fail to reflect social factors such as income distribution and poverty reduction. To provide policy makers with more accurate information on progress towards sustainable development and poverty reduction, efforts are required to integrate the environment into national accounts.

The System of Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA) is a tool that can help track natural resource depletion and environmental degradation. Sine the early 1980s, UNEP has been promoting and facilitating the development of this tool in collaboration with the World Bank, the UN Statistical Division, and other organizations. Since the early 1990s, UNEP through ETB has also supported a number of country projects, sponsored a series of workshops, and worked with partners in preparing a practical handbook entitled “Operational Manual on Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting”. In 2004, UNEP ETB convened a meeting together with UNSD to identify gaps, needs and priorities for moving this work forward. This meeting led to the establishment of a UN Expert Committee on Environmental-Economic Accounting. Within this process, UNEP-ETB developed a Virtual Resource Center with a searchable database for various materials and internet links related to integrated environmental and economic accounting. In response to emerging priorities, UNEP ETB is currently exploring opportunities to work with partners on issues related to the measurement and accounting of carbon storage and other ecosystem services.