The Evolution of Accounting in the European Ecosystem

"Scientific research on methods and applications for integrating the accounts of ecosystem service flows into economic reporting systems has increased over the last decades. Alongside Natural Capital Accounting (NCA), Ecosystem Accounting (EA) is increasingly being considered and integrated into scientific research, policies, and decision-making processes. Following the separation of core and thematic accounts under the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting – Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA-EA), this study provides a brief overview of the progress of EA in European countries. Based on a review of scientific and gray literature, progress in ecosystem accounting was assessed in 29 European countries (27 EU members, the United Kingdom, and Norway). In general, the majority (over 50%) of completed accounts at the national level were registered for ecosystem extent. Additionally, the review showed that for accounts of monetary ecosystem services, a relatively large portion of accounts were developed only at the local level. Overall, progress in accounting varies across countries. The most intensive progress in ecosystem accounting was found in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Scientists also identified numerous overlapping accounting initiatives, expecting a significant increase in completed accounts in the future.


The ongoing destruction of biodiversity and natural capital necessitates the collection and provision of better information and data on ecosystems, as well as the development of corresponding environmental monitoring systems (United Nations (UN), 2021, IPBES, 2019, Maes et al., 2020). In this context, Ecosystem Accounting (EA) represents a statistical framework for reporting changes in biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as discovering the impact of these changes on society and the economy. In March 2021, the UN Statistical Commission adopted the revised Ecosystem Accounting framework (System of Environmental-Economic Accounting – Ecosystem Accounting, UN 2021). This new framework builds on a previously adopted experimental approach (SEEA-EEA, UN, 2012, UN, 2017) and serves as a basis for transforming national accounting and economic reports to better recognize our natural capital.

With the increasing prominence of EA in scientific research – defined as a 'comprehensive framework for integrating ecosystem measures and flows of ecosystem services with measures of economic and other human activities' (UN 2017, page 1) – EA is increasingly considered and integrated into policy and decision-making processes. In 2011, the European Union adopted the Biodiversity Strategy for 2020, titled 'Our insurance, our natural capital.' EA was considered in Action 5 of the Strategy, Objective 2, where it was defined that 'Member States, with the support of the Commission, will map and assess the state of ecosystems and their services in their territory by 2014, assess the economic value of such services, and promote the integration of these values into accounting and reporting systems at European and national levels by 2020' (European Commission 2011, p. 12). The implementation of Action 5 is supported by the EU's dedicated Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES) Working Group. Reports on natural capital are mentioned again in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, stating that 'the Commission will support the creation of an international initiative for natural capital accounting' (European Commission 2019, p. 19).

Given the goals of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2020 and the support provided for the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, this study provides a brief overview of the progress of EA in the European Union (EU27), the United Kingdom (UK), and Norway. The study is based on a literature review, integrating information from scientific and gray literature sources and aims to identify the number of accounting accounts for ecosystems, their spatial scale, and broader thematic focus. In the first stage, the overall progress of all considered countries was identified. In the second stage, the focus is on comparing the established progress in the accounting of individual countries.

Data Collection

Data collection and literature review included scientific sources as well as gray literature sources that thematically revolve around developed accounting accounts for ecosystems in the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Norway. For this analysis, only completed accounting accounts for ecosystems that were finalized were considered relevant. Therefore, all planned and/or current initiatives were ignored and not further examined in this material.

The scientific literature review was conducted using online literature databases such as Web of Science.

Progress in Ecosystem Accounting In 93% of the countries (27 out of 29 countries) that were part of this study, at least one completed EA was identified. For most countries (around 79%), it was even possible to identify at least one accounting account at the national level (Fig. 1a).

When differentiating between different types of accounts, we found that most countries had definitely completed at least one accounting account for monetary ecosystem services (almost 70% of the countries).

In summary, this study identified a large number of completed accounting accounts for ecosystems in the 29 examined countries. Overall, progress in accounting is distributed quite unevenly across different countries. The most intensive progress in ecosystem accounting was identified in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. This result is consistent with the findings of Hein et al. (2020). However, since at least"

Strengths and Weaknesses

It should be emphasized that the decision to combine both scientific and gray literature sources in this literature review must be noted as exceptionally important for this specific research topic. Only through this combined approach were we able to identify most of the accounting accounts. This observation does not come as a significant surprise to us. Naturally, there is an evident scientific basis for studying ecosystem accounting and generating these accounts. However, EA has developed almost simultaneously.

Conclusion and Perspectives

For future research, it would be interesting to assess the recorded efforts in accounting more thoroughly, for example, by identifying the specific ecosystems, as well as information on ecosystem services, indicators, and applied methodologies. Nevertheless, this material was developed as a brief communication, aiming to describe the overall overview and key trends in NCA in Europe.

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