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1992 Feature Article - Environment Statistics: Frameworks and Developments
A major step in the first activity has been achieved with the recent release of a compendium of Australian environmental statistics "Australia’s Environment: Issues and Facts (cat. no. 4140.0)". The remainder of this article describes the basic framework used in the compendium publication to present the statistics and explores possible future developments.
The compilation used the Framework for the Development of Environment Statistics published by the UNSO in 1984. In undertaking the compilation, the ABS made a number of departures from this framework. These are described in the publication, together with the reasons for the modifications.
The UNSO Framework
The UNSO framework helps to define the scope, boundaries and dimensions of the field referred to loosely as “environment statistics”. In deriving it, consideration was given to four possible approaches to the organisation of the elements of environment statistics. These are described briefly in the following paragraphs.
The media approach organises data on air, water, land/soil and the human environment to depict the state of the natural environment. In this way, there is an analysis of the environment at defined points rather than a focus on continuous assessment of environmental change. This approach tends to de-emphasise "human-natural environment” interactions.
The stress-response approach was instigated by Statistics Canada as a means of developing a framework related to processes of environmental change. It focuses on the stresses placed on the environment as a result of human activity and the reactions of the environment to these as depicted in a series of indicators. With this approach, statistics are organised under the categories: stressors, stresses, collective and individual responses, and stocks.
The resource accounting approach traces the flow of natural resources from their extraction (harvest) from the environment, through successive stages of processing and final use, to their return to the environment as waste or to the economic sector for recycling.
The ecological approach looks at a variety of relationships between plants and animals and their environment. Within this, it deals with such aspects as ecological diversity, dynamics, biomass production, and the productivity of ecosystems.
The UNSO framework has combined the media approach with stresses and responses from the stress-response model. With such a combination, there is the ability to analyse and disseminate data from a wide range of topics and to relate these to changes in the environment.
Figure 1 shows the structure of the framework. Whilst the components of the environment (the rows) indicate the scope of the statistics, and the information categories (the columns) classify the interactions between sectors of the environment, the information within the table itself is not rigid. The framework has the flexibility to be expanded and modified as agencies see fit and can be used to incorporate new information as it comes to hand. Information may be placed in several different categories depending on the focus of the information collected.
FIGURE 1. STRUCTURE OF THE FRAMEWORK
The natural environment includes the media of air, water and land/soil, as well as the biota found in each. The man-made environment is represented by human settlements which consist of physically created elements, namely, shelter, infrastructure and services.
The information categories of the framework were developed to “reflect a sequence of action, impact and reaction”. Relevant information refers to social and economic activities and natural events, their impacts on the environment, and the responses to these impacts by governments, non-governmental organisations, businesses and individuals. The categories may suggest cause and effect relationships. While there may be an obvious degree of causal association, one-to-one relationships are not established and should not be inferred, as environmental impacts and responses may be caused by a number of activities.
Social and economic activities and natural events are those activities which create impacts on the environment. They include such factors as agricultural activities, chemical emissions, mining activities, floods and droughts. Relevant activities can be described in a variety of ways and at various levels of detail.
Impacts are indicated under environmental impacts of activities and events and are usually shown associated with the component affected. Within the Australian context these impacts can result in species of flora and fauna becoming endangered, salinity and soil degradation, air and water quality problems, and the like.
Responses to environmental impacts include activities by governments, businesses and interest groups to prevent, control, counter or avoid negative impacts and to generate, promote or reinforce positive ones. Some examples are the development of national, State and regional parks and conservation areas, reafforestation, air and water quality standards and regional planning.
The category inventories, stocks and background conditions, contains topics intended to bring into perspective information in the other three categories. It covers the stocks of natural resources as well as economic, demographic or geographical background conditions. A direct link “between the stock data presented in this information category and the interaction or impact data of the other information categories can be established by means of balance sheets or resource accounting. For other topics, namely, production and consumption patterns, price/cost structures, and changes and trends in urbanisation and industrialisation, these links are not so obvious. These topics shed light on the settings within which specific activities and their impacts take place.” (UNSO,1984)
Several activities are not adequately covered by the UNSO framework. For example, it does not address the important issue of presenting changes made by people in response to environmental changes. Thus, it does not address changes in agriculture due to the encroachment of salt onto farmland. Nor does it provide the means to analyse or discuss the association between economics and the population of an area - two factors vital to the study of environmental impacts.
Current and Possible Future Developments
Since the UNSO framework was developed in 1984, there has been greater interest at the international level in linking the environment and the economy so that decision-makers can be provided with information that incorporates environmental impacts into economic decision processes.
The System of National Accounts (SNA) is a well-known means for integrating economic stocks and flows. This system is founded on a widely accepted theoretical model, and all parts and variables are connected through accounting identities. Money is the common unit of measure and the concepts, definitions and classifications of the system are generally accepted.
Since the publication of the UNSO framework, considerable attention has been given to the possibility of revising the SNA to account for environmental degradation and use of natural resources. The involvement of the ABS in this and the support of the ABS for additional satellite accounts has been outlined at the beginning of this article. The emphasis on the economy-environment linkage is being further explored in a number of countries by expanding their natural resource accounts, national balance sheets and various models to describe environmental impacts.
In the field of environment statistics, there is no generally accepted theoretical base or common unit of measure. The UNSO framework does not contain descriptions of statistical concepts, definitions, classifications and tabulations, as does the SNA. This deficiency has been addressed in part by two UNSO technical reports on specific issues which contain descriptions of variables and classifications.
The ABS will continue to investigate other statistical frameworks for presenting environment statistics. Several overseas developments are of interest in this regard. The OECD has produced a set of environmental indicators as a way of assessing the relationship between human activity and the environment. Some of these indicators are presented in Table 1. In Statistics Canada, a new approach called the Population Environment Process model has been used as the basis for their most recent statistical compendium. This systems-based model relates stocks (such as natural assets and population) with various processes such as socio-economic processes, and shows flows between these, such as the flow of goods and services from a socio-economic process to the population.
TABLE 1. OECD ENVIRONMENTAL INDICATORS, 1991
This feature article was contributed by Jeannette Heycox, ABS.
UNSO (1984) United Nations Statistical Office, Statistical Papers M78, A Framework for the Development of Environment Statistics.
OECD (1991) Environmental Indicators 1991
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