In a major move slated to reshape decision and policy making towards sustainable development, the United Nations adopted a new framework- the System of Environmental Economic Accounting-Ecosystem Accounting )- that goes beyond the commonly used statistic of GDP that has dominated economic reporting since the end of World War II.
This ensures that forests, wetlands and other ecosystems are recognised in economic reporting. GDP only shows the value of goods and services exchanged in markets. However, it does not reflect the dependency of the economy on nature. It also does not show its impacts on nature like deterioration of water quality or loss of a forest.
Welcoming the move, UN Secretary General António Guterres called it as a historic step. “We will no longer be heedlessly allowing environmental destruction and degradation to be considered economic progress,” he said. The new framework also underpin decision making at two crucial conferences later this year-COP15 on Biodiversity in Kunming and the Glasgow Climate Conference, COP 26.
Meanwhile, UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen termed the new framework as a game changer in decision-making. “By highlighting the contribution of nature, we now have a tool that allows us to properly view and value nature. It can help us bring about a rapid and lasting shift toward sustainability for both people and the environment,” she said.
The United Nations adopted the new framework at a time when climate change continues its relentless march and the world is on Track to reach new heights of warming by 2100. Despite loss of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, increase of pollution and climate change, countries continue to take adverse decisions on the economy without consideration to environmental impacts. The UNEP said that the Governments were still directing more than 5 trillion dollars in annual subsidies to fossil fuels, mining, non-renewable energy, non-sustainable agriculture and fishing, and Transportation.
The new framework recognizes that ecosystems deliver important services that generate benefits for people. It states that ecosystems are assets to be maintained, similar to economic assets. For example, forests play a role in providing communities with clean water, serving as natural water filters with trees, plants and other characteristics, such as soil depth, that help absorb nutrient pollution like nitrogen and phosphorous before it can flow into streams, rivers, and lakes.
Information on the new framework can be found at https://seea.un.org/ecosystem-accounting