Protected areas, and the ecosystems and biodiversity within, provide many benefits for people. This includes protecting biodiversity’s intrinsic values, but also safeguarding the benefits people gain from them, such as the provision and regulation of water sources, and the climate benefits of stored carbon. Consequently, protected areas are now acknowledged as an important component of sustainable development. It is imperative to track and monitor networks of protected areas and their surroundings to ensure sustainable management of landscapes and seascapes. Environmental-Economic Accounting is emerging as a particularly important avenue towards this goal.
The System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA) is based on internationally agreed standard concepts, definitions, and accounting rules and provides internationally comparable statistics on the environment and its relationship with the economy. The SEEA is currently composed of three parts: the SEEA Central Framework, SEEA Experimental Ecosystems Accounts, and the SEEA Extensions and Applications. The Central Framework addresses physical flow accounts (e.g., energy, water, materials), environmental expenditure (e.g., environmental protection) and asset stock accounts (e.g., mineral and energy resources, land, soil, timber, aquatic, other biological and water resources).
Recognizing that ecosystems and biodiversity are key assets of a country, SEEA encourages the measurement of statistics on them against land use, including protected areas, which can indicate how these form a key component of managing these assets. One promising component of SEEA is Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (EEA). The EEA requires the measurement of the flows of benefits from assets to different economic sectors and communities from spatially explicit sources in the landscape. This enables the development of statistics of land and seascape benefits of protected areas.
The multiple types of values that protected areas (and potential future protected areas) safeguard are not often well known, and these should be defined and recognized if decision makers are to incorporate these values into economic and social decision-making. An accounting approach provides a framework to address this gap. Firstly, accounting requires a structured, systematic way of organizing data into information for clearly defined decision-making purposes. Current efforts in accounting are designed to incorporate various types of ecological, social, cultural, and economic values that protected areas and their biodiversity and ecosystems within provide. The conceptual model of the EEA is based on the tracking of assets (including biodiversity and ecosystems) as well as flows of benefits into the economy over a set period of time.
The alignment with the System of National Accounts and other economic statistics ensures that the multiple values of protected areas are well known; environmental and economic data are integrated; various values are explicitly tracked over time; and information on links between the environment and economy are able to be mainstreamed into decision-making.
The SEEA has developed a standardized approach for integrating information on the environment and the economy. It includes developing statistics on biodiversity, ecosystems, ecosystem services and their beneficiaries, and land/sea management including protected areas.
The SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting approach is particularly suited to monitoring protected areas over time. While the SEEA Central Framework is a statistical standard the Experimental Ecosystem Accounts are still in pilot testing phase and do not yet have a standard. Many countries around the world are currently piloting these and taking a somewhat different approach. A key lesson so far is ensuring communication between countries to learn from each other, and progressing the accounting approach to move us towards a unified statistical standard in the future.
Conservation International is currently piloting Biodiversity and Ecosystem Accounts within a sub region of Peru (San Martin) in partnership with the national and state governments. One of the key impacts of developing environmental-economic accounts is the close collaboration and coordination needed between various government departments for developing and integrating environmental and economic data. The lead development of the accounts is the environmental department (MINAM) and national statistics office (INEI), in close collaboration with the state environmental department. A working group has been formed that includes various departments at both the national and state levels encouraging the sharing of information and data, and has quickly revealed key gaps in data and priorities for future data collection.