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Compiling and Refining Environmental and Economic Accounts (CREAA)

CREEA is a FP7 project on compiling and refining environmental and economic accounts. The project runs from April 2011 to March 2014.

2011 - 2014
Reinout Heijungs


In 1993, under the leadership of the UN a revised of System of National Accounts was published (UN, 1993). This SNA provides guidance to national statistical institutes (NSIs)of different countries of how to organise their system of national accounts. It goes without saying that this SNA plays a pivotal role in ensuring that key economic parameters such as GNP, labor productivity, etc. are constructed and measured in a harmonized manner. Without the SNA, economic performance of different countries most probably cannot be compared easily.

In 2003, a system of satellite accounts for environmental accounting was proposed, known under the name of System of Environmental and Economic Accounting – in short: SEEA 2003 (UN, 2003). This accounting system gives guidelines for setting up environmental accounts which are compatible with the system of national accounts. Examples include e.g. emission inventories of greenhouse gases that are linked to the standard ISIC industry classifications. Such a standard is pivotal for doing integrated economic and environmental assessments. Such a standard e.g. supports analysis of topics such as the extent that industry sectors and society as a whole succeed in decoupling economic growth from emissions and resource extraction, which sectors form ‘hot spots’ with regard to environmental pressure, etc. From the practice of research and environmental assessment agencies it appears that in many cases the availability of harmonized data sets is still impeding effective monitoring, assessment and priority setting in the field of economic and environment. It concerns here both harmonization of economic accounts with data on environmental topics, as well as harmonization of data available from different countries. The practical implication is that many assessments that overarch single countries still have to be done via dedicated projects that have to spent significant time on data transformation, rather than that they can use harmonized data directly in analyses (see e.g. box 1). On top of this, various issues in environmental accounting are methodologically still amorphous. Methodological and practical complexities and preferences imply that no clear accounting approach could yet have been selected.

One of the answers to these problems is further work on standardisation. A revised and extended SEEA is planned to be published in 2012 (in short: SEEA 2012). The UNCEEA (UN Commission of Experts on Environmental and Economic Accounting) is responsible for this work, with most of the operational work being executed in the so-called ‘London Group’ (LG), a group of operational experts from statistical offices globally. The London Group has been the main platform for discussing issues to be included in the new SEEA 2012, and most of its work has been finalised by now. This implies that in broad lines guidance is given on important issues around economic and environmental accounting, and that the remaining task is mainly consolidating these findings in a draft SEEA text.

Harmonization and standardization is just one part of the issue, though. As amongst others indicated in a discussion paper of the German Statistical Office to the London Group, and confirmed in contact between the London Group chair and this consortium, it is at least as important that the added value of using SEEA 2012 and gathering practical data is obvious (Schroer, 2007). The information that NSIs in principle could gather is almost limitless; they hence have to set always priorities. The capacity of NSIs has its limits, and also the companies and other societal actors have limited capacity to deliver information via surveys and the like. This implies two things: 
• Data gathering must be organised as efficiently as possible, implying that there is a limit to the complexity of methodologies that can be suggested in SEEA 2012; 
• The data gathering must be focused on topics of the highest political relevance, and it must be made clear that the data can find easy and practical application in policy making.

More information

See the  CREAA website for more information.

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