4632.0.55.001 - Discussion Paper: From Nature to the Table: Environmental-Economic Accounting for Agriculture, 2015-16 Quality Declaration 
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 29/11/2017  First Issue
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CONTEXT

INTRODUCTION

This discussion paper represents the first experimental step by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and its data partners to implement the international SEEA for Australia’s agriculture, forestry and fishing industries. The aim of this initial release is to raise the profile of the framework and to support further collaborative development with government, industry, the private sector and the broader community.


POLICY DRIVERS

Agriculture, forestry and fisheries are important industries in their own right as they are critical to our capacity to feed, clothe and house growing national and global human populations. They also have a particular significance for the natural environment through the management of natural capital, for example: land management practices; impacts on carbon stocks and emissions; and impacts on the availability of key natural resources (including levels of fish stocks and extent of native forests). Increasingly, for agriculture, forestry and fishing activities, long-term business sustainability is understood to be underpinned by its environmental sustainability.

Policy development and implementation in the areas of agriculture, forestry and fisheries involves governments at national, state/territory and local levels, as well as private organisations, and covers a wide range of concerns. In Australia, these policy goals encompass the economic, social and environmental dimensions of agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries and address matters such as economic competitiveness, community health, resilience of businesses and the sustainable use of natural capital.

In seeking to inform progress against these goals, the ABS is cognisant of the multi-disciplinary nature of issues facing Australian agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Ideally, policy makers from across all relevant disciplines should be able to speak to the same information, thus allowing the data to support dialogue between economists, scientists, agronomists, water managers, farmers, social scientists, and business owners among others. The capacity to deliver information to support decision making across a range of policy areas is a key motivation behind the ABS decision to explore the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (SEEA AFF) as a framework.

A range of data exists within Australia related to the activities of agricultural, forestry and fisheries businesses. These data are collected across a number of organisations - from within both public and private sectors - and are typically focussed on informing the economic performance of these industries. Similarly, a variety of environmental information relevant to agriculture, forestry and fishing is collected by a wide range of organisations in Australia. These data sources are a rich set of information that can be combined for creating extensive and important environmental accounts for the nation.

The ABS has an official corporate responsibility to lead national statistical coordination and over many years has developed considerable expertise in this area. For example, the ABS has been a world leader in the development of integrated environmental-economic accounts since the early 1990s, when it first included the value of various natural resource assets on the national balance sheet. A key objective of environmental-economic accounts is to support decision-making that considers both environmental and socio-economic factors. In doing so, these type of accounts aim to draw together disparate information into a framework that allows trade-offs between socio-economic and environmental factors to be identified and measured - thus opening dialogue between all parties and helping to avoid the isolation of this decision-making within specific subject matter specialties.


SEEA AFF DEVELOPMENT

The System of Environmental-Economic Accounting Central Framework (SEEA CF) is the overarching international statistical standard that governs work in this area. The SEEA CF was adopted as an international statistical standard by the United Nations Statistical Commission in 2012 and is widely used throughout the world. It is fully consistent with the System of National Accounts (SNA), the international statistical standard governing economic statistics. The SEEA operates a number of modules for subject-specific areas of interest (including for water, energy, land and ecosystems).

The UN Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting endorsed the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) led plan to develop a SEEA for agriculture, forestry and fisheries in June 2012. Following extensive input from the international statistical community, including an expert group meeting in October 2014 (which Australia attended) and wider global consultation, the FAO released a final draft module in March 2016. This acknowledged the importance of agriculture, forestry and fisheries to all countries and that a specific framework was required to complement the SEEA CF. The ABS has been involved with the development of the SEEA AFF framework since its inception, including as a volunteer pilot country.

In November 2016 Australia's Environment Ministers agreed to work towards a common national approach to environmental-economic accounting. This discussion paper is a reflection of ABS commitment to this agreement and a concrete example of how this approach can operate in practice (including the proposed period for collaboration following this initial release).


CONTENT

The estimates contained in this ABS release embody the principles and guidance of SEEA AFF and reflect the significant international collaboration that has occurred around the framework's development. This discussion paper looks to build on international work in this area and contribute to further expansion of the SEEA AFF both overseas and in Australia.

This paper represents an experimental prototype of a national set of accounts based on the framework. Only selected indicators within each account have been compiled at this stage. An additional period of stakeholder engagement and collaboration will be held to further identify stakeholder policy needs, and gather views on additional data sources and priorities (see Approach Taken and Future Steps section).

SEEA AFF covers a broad range of data outputs, expressed in both monetary and biophysical terms. Data relate to the following ten primary data domains:

  • Agricultural products and related environmental assets
  • Forestry products and related environmental assets
  • Fisheries products and related environmental assets
  • Water resources
  • Energy
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Fertilisers, nutrient flows and pesticides
  • Land
  • Soil Resources
  • Other economic data.

The importance of this discussion paper is not just in relation to the narrative but in the over one hundred tables of data available in the Downloads tab. This offers a rich source of initial accounts data. Tables contained in this release are populated with previously released national data for the time series 2010-11 to 2015-16. Where possible a single year of state level data (usually 2015-16) is also provided.

Given that the focus of this discussion paper was to identify and draw on available data that most readily align with SEEA AFF standards, concepts and methods, a number of tables contain no data, or are only partly populated with information. For these tables, relevant cells are identified as "not available". It is proposed that any future data releases will address these data gaps through additional data collection or modelling.

Feature articles are presented on two Natural Resource Management (NRM) regions, Burnett Mary and the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin. These articles provide additional information around the profiles of these regions (e.g. employment), as well as land cover maps. They highlight the potential of the SEEA AFF to inform issues related to smaller geographies. A feature article on Biodiversity presents further extension and application of SEEA frameworks.

In practice, this discussion paper has focussed on the integration of selected existing information, rather than offering a complete description of all data from each of the different areas. Since the underpinning framework used with SEEA AFF is derived from the accounting approach embodied in the SNA, more focus is placed here on integrating biophysical information into monetary frameworks, rather than on describing how the monetary framework reports for agriculture, forestry and fisheries activities.

The SEEA AFF is designed using a tiered approach, so that a phased implementation can be adopted. Data may be presented in the base accounts which cover the ten primary data domains. Subsequently data from these base accounts can be combined to form presentations (called combined presentations) which extend traditional accounting approaches to allow a focus on introducing relevant data for specific issues, for example on biodiversity. In addition, indicators can be derived to articulate linkages between agricultural activities and the natural environment.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND FEEDBACK

ABS acknowledges the substantial international support and partnership around SEEA AFF development by a number of countries and international organisations. This discussion paper contributes and builds on an international body of work testing the SEEA AFF Framework. In particular, the December 2016 report released by Statistics Netherlands titled "Testing the Compilation of the SEEA AFF for the Netherlands" has assisted in the development of this discussion paper (please see Bibliography for details). Individuals such as Carl Obst should be acknowledged for their dedication to support development of the SEEA AFF framework and related accounts.

This release has been possible only through the cooperation received by ABS from the many Australian data providers and stakeholders engaged in the areas of agriculture, forestry and fishing statistics and environmental information (e.g. Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Department of Environment and Energy, farming communities). This engagement and commitment continues the strong relationships formed during the National Agricultural Statistics Review and in the development of various ABS environmental accounts.

The ABS seeks feedback on this paper from interested stakeholders on policy and research priorities, technical and conceptual issues and identification of appropriate data sources of the proposed accounts. For submissions and feedback please email environment@abs.gov.au by 30 June 2018.

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