18 October 2022

A significant step toward recognising the contribution of ecosystems to our economy and well-being has been made with the recent adoption by the United Nations of the statistical framework for the System of Environmental Economic Accounting - Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA-EA) (United Nations, 2021). Ecosystem extent, condition, service flows, monetary ecosystem assets, and thematic ecosystem accounting are all integrated by SEEA-EA. These accounts are viewed as a tool with great potential for supporting policy in many nations. Currently being evaluated in numerous pilot exercises, this approach will soon be integrated into national ecological accounting systems. Therefore, every potential operational problem of SEEA-EA needs to be studied and thoroughly handled during the testing phase in order to ensure that ecosystem accounts as a policy instrument live up to expectations.

Against this background, between 10-14th October 2022, the Ecosystem Services Partnership (ESP) hosted for a fourth year in a row ESP Europe Regional conference. Amongst the participants were MAIA’s project coordinator Lars Hein and members Benjamin Burkhard, Soile Oinonen, Bruno Smets, Stoyan Nedkov and others. This time the conference was organised in Heraklion, Greece, and its goal was to highlight pathways for involving diverse societal groups in ecosystem services science, policy and practice.

The MAIA team hosted three thematic working group sessions, namely Ecosystem condition accounting: overcoming operational challenges, Moving forward in ecosystem services accounting: From the monetary valuation barrier to the mainstreaming into policy making and Biophysical models for ecosystem accounting. 

Throughout the sessions, MAIA’s experts touched upon a number of important topics for the ecosystem accounting and more specifically they emphasised on contributions from empirical research that show how well financial valuation techniques perform when evaluating certain ecological services. Even though the ecosystem accounting context was outside the purview of the study objective, the study findings were presented in the context of terrestrial and/or marine ecosystem accounting. The lesson's objective was to demonstrate how actual monetary valuation operates. 

Contributions addressing case studies of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystem accounting applications were sought during the dedicated to policy-making session. 

The discussions aimed to demonstrate the usefulness of natural capital accounts remains a weakness of the whole system and seems to be one of the main reasons why many potential practitioners do not actively engage. 

Moreover, a focus was paid on the SEEA-EA ecosystem condition accounts. Specifically, the MAIA team held discussions about operational challenges and associated issues faced in all ecosystem types. Ecosystem condition accounts give a simple, yet realistic overview of the “state” of ecosystem assets using few carefully selected key variables. Ecosystem condition and its reference levels are strongly rooted in the concepts of ecosystem integrity, stability, and resilience.

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