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Australian guide to environmental accounting

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24 Jan 2014

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has published a guide on environmental accounting. The guide describes the purpose, design and implementation of environmental accounts, which are designed to provide a structured and standardised way to organise environmental information for policy and decision-making needs.

The Guide recommends that Australia adopt the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting as the framework for environmental accounting. The System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) is an international statistical standard developed by the United Nations Statistical Commission which contains the concepts, definitions, classifications, accounting rules and tables for producing internationally comparable statistics on the environment and its relationship with the economy. The SEEA seeks to record as completely as possible the stocks and flows relevant to the analysis of environmental and economic issues.

The guide defines 'environmental accounts' as follows:

Environmental accounts area strongly structured tables that provide organised information for a clearly defined decision-making purpose. They are systematic and comparable, and use standard definitions based on accepted measurement and accounting theory. Environmental accounts use physical measures (such as area, volume or weight), derived or composite measures (such as an index) or, where appropriate, monetary measures. Specific types of accounts can be developed depending on the perspective and requirements of the account user.

The guide considers the essential purpose of environmental accounts is "to track the transfer of value through time, between locations, and between owners (including households, businesses, and governments)". To this end, the guide notes that environmental accounts can be used for many purposes, including economic perspectives which measure natural inputs to the economy and how the economy impacts on the environment, such as through pollution and waste. The accounts can also be used from a social and environmental point of view.

In some respects, the concepts in the guide are similar to those in the International Integrated Reporting (<IR>) Framework recently released by the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), which includes the concepts of 'capitals' and changes in those capitals (the <IR> Framework notes it can also be applied by the public sector and not-for-profit organisations). The BOM guide however is focused on natural capital (including resources, land, air, water, ecosystems and living organisms) and is designed to provide information on a macro level for an area such as a country as a whole. It therefore also has a lot in common with the The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) which seeks to draw attention to the economic benefits of biodiversity, and which is also referenced in the report.

The guide can be accessed on the Australian Bureau of Meteorology website.

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