Towards National Land Account 2021

The National Land Account provides statistics to measure changes in land attributes over time, both from an economic and an environmental perspective.

Released
22/06/2021

Introduction

The first edition of the National Land Account is a view on what will be possible for future publications. This edition publishes data on land cover, land use, land tenure and monetary land assets. While each of these datasets are a preliminary and broad estimate, they are an insight into what is feasible at most levels of geography.

The National Land Account is produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and released under the Common national approach to environmental-economic accounting in Australia. These experimental estimates have been developed in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) and Geoscience Australia (GA), including their respective internal research areas: Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) and Digital Earth Australia (DEA).

This paper

This discussion article highlights what was learnt through the development of the current publication. This article calls for comments on the functionality and use of the accounts in this format, as well as seeking comments on whether there is a need for more geographically detailed and repeatable accounts. This discussion paper is split into two components for comment. The first part covers the broad process for developing a land account, the concept of land accounts and the future of the National Land Account. The second part covers the more technical aspects of the National Land Account. Readers are encouraged to comment on the parts individually.

Part 1 – National Land Account present and future

The National Land Account is part of a collaborative effort between the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). These accounts are a part of the National Approach to Environment-Economic Accounting. The National Land Account was brought together through the steps outlined below.

Selection process

The National Land Account was selected for development based on the relative merits and coherence with the broad economic accounting framework, the System of National Accounts (SNA) 2008. The selection was done in consultation with national and state stakeholders, with the key measure of success being the relevance between national and local interests.

Input datasets were selected after a ‘fitness-for-purpose’ assessment was undertaken on existing and developing ‘authoritative’ land use, cover, tenure and value datasets. The assessment criteria considered the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting Central Framework (SEEA CF), associated land account technical guidance, prior ABS state level land accounts and the Australian context for application. The eight criteria were:

  • national spatial extent
  • spatial resolution
  • temporal availability (past, current, future)
  • time series interval
  • time series compilation flexibility
  • associated land classification
  • capability for change detection
  • attribution of stock and flow changes.

Consultation process

Advice was sought, as part of the selection process, from the National Committee for Land Use and Management Information (NCLUMI). This is the national coordinating committee responsible for collaborative development of land use, land cover and land management practices, geospatial data, information products and standards, analysis and assessments. It is a multi-jurisdictional committee that includes representatives of relevant policy and technical agencies. Members of the committee represent land use, land cover and land management practitioners, geospatial data providers and analysts.

Based on the assessment and advice provided, the following input datasets were selected for use in the National Land Account:

  • DEA land cover
  • ABARES land use
  • ABARES land tenure
  • ABS unimproved land value.

Concepts of National Land Accounts

Land accounts are a component of the SEEA CF, which is a system that identifies the physical and monetary transactions and stock levels of environmental goods that are used for the economy and society. Land accounts are a physical and monetary asset account, which have a close relationship with the national balance sheet.

Land accounts

Land is a unique asset that delineates the space in which human activities and environmental processes take place, and within which environmental assets and economic assets are located. Land is central to economic and environmental accounting. Beyond an assessment of the ownership and use of land as part of economic production, some of the issues that can be considered in the context of land accounts include the impacts of urbanisation, the sustainability of agriculture and forestry, the use of inland freshwater resources, and biodiversity conservation (SEEA Technical Note: Land Accounting, page 1). 

The National Land Account is a measure of the aspects of land in Australia. The account covers a balanced and complete set of information including which covers are on top of the land, the type of uses for each parcel of land and land value in economic terms. In Australia, land tenure or ownership is also included as an account.

Land cover

Land cover refers to the observed physical and biological cover of the Earth’s surface and includes natural vegetation and abiotic (non-living) surfaces. (SEEA CF para 5.257).

Land use

Land use reflects both the activities undertaken and the institutional arrangements put in place; for a given area for the purposes of economic production, or the maintenance and restoration of environmental functions. (SEEA CF para 5.246).

Land tenure

Land tenure is the manner in which a party holds or occupies an area of land. It is a way of identifying who has the right to use and occupy land in accordance with the different types of ownership.

Land use vs land tenure

There is one main difference between land use and land tenure. Land use focuses in on the activities that are on the land, these can be economic or non-economic. Land tenure is based on legal ownership, in other words, the entity that has the rights to the land.

Monetary asset account

Land also constitutes an important component in the assessment of national and institutional sector wealth. Land is bought and sold in combination with physical characteristics (buildings, soil, trees) and the composite value will incorporate a value for the space itself (location) as well as a value for the physical characteristics. (SEEA CF,s5.6.5)

However, determining the value of the land itself is a complex task. Generally, the market value of land encompasses the value of the location, the value of the physical attributes of the land and the produced assets that may be located on the land (e.g., buildings). Separating the value of these different components may be difficult. Further, although there is a market in land, a relatively small proportion of land is transacted in any year and thus observed prices may not be representative of the full volume of land in any particular area. Therefore, a comprehensive set of prices to cover all land types in all locations is seldom, if ever, available. Finally, some land will never be exchanged on the market. This may include designated public areas, land under traditional patterns of common ownership, and remote and inhospitable areas. (SEEA CF, p185)

Monetary asset account values are based on national balance sheets. These values represent a calculation based on the unimproved value of land parcels by broad industry group, as determined by state-based Valuer Generals.

Future of land accounts

An experimental National Land Account was released in June 2021. This contained historical data on land cover, land use, land tenure and land value (monetary asset account). Over time, greater detail is expected to be released. Areas under consideration are:

  • adding data to finer geographical levels
  • converting land cover data to a financial year basis, to match the other data series
  • providing an annual time series for land cover and land use 
  • reviewing the definition and modelling for land value

Examples on how to analyse the National Land Account will be made available as a part of future releases. For example, investigating the relationship between changes in land tenure and land cover or “does the change in ownership of land influence the cover on that land?”.

Request for comment

Preliminary data are presented in the National Land Account, Experimental Estimates, 2016. The accounts are both a proof of concept and a view to the recommended approach by the ABS on tabular land accounts. During the second half of 2021, the ABS will be preparing final tables (including raster versions of land cover, land use and land tenure) and more detailed regional and data visualisation platforms. The ABS is also committing to examining land values to improve the quality and detail behind the monetary asset accounts.

If you would like to comment on the National Land Account methods, tables or improvement plans, please respond to environment@abs.gov.au by 31 August 2021.

Part 2 – technical discussion

Conceptual framework

The System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) Central Framework (SEEA CF) is based on agreed concepts, definitions, classifications and accounting rules. As an accounting system, it enables the organisation of information into tables and accounts in an integrated and conceptually coherent manner. This information can be used to create coherent indicators to be used to inform decision-making and to generate accounts and aggregates for a wide range of purposes.

The SEEA provides information related to a broad spectrum of environmental and economic issues including the assessment of trends in the use and availability of natural resources, the  extent of emissions and discharges to the environment resulting from economic activity, and the amount of economic activity undertaken for environmental purposes.

Land plays a pivotal role in the way we manage the economy. Economic units focus on proximity to natural and fixed resources to maximise their productive nature. Environmental assets also rely on land as a means of ecological function and access to natural resources as a means of survival. These competing interests are traded off as populations expand or as economic growth becomes a policy imperative.

For example, on a national scale, land accounts inform on the general nature of land and its characteristics. Following the development of a longer time series, historical trends will emerge from the data such as the impact on land use and cover of weather patterns, broad land management policy and trends in agriculture. These trends can be matched with other data such as the changing nature of the uses of those landscapes to see if there is any influence on historical patterns or if the change of legal ownership influences change. Finally, the valuation and subsequent return on investment of land over time can be used to determine if the value for transferring use from one type to another is worth the trade-off in land cover.

Data

The choice of data sources for land cover, use and tenure was negotiated through key data providers as well as what was deemed to be sufficient quality for use in land accounting. The main data sources were:

  • DEA (Geoscience Australia) – land cover estimates
  • National Scale Land Use data (ABARES) – land use, land tenure
  • National Balance Sheets (ABS) – monetary asset account

DEA land cover and associated land cover change

Geoscience Australia (GA) is Australia’s trusted public sector geoscience organisation and home to Digital Earth Australia (DEA). The DEA platform uses spatial data and images recorded by satellites orbiting our planet to detect physical changes across Australia.

The DEA land cover project is currently developing a new land cover classification and spatial mapping for Australia. The classification is based on the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Land Cover Classification System (LCCS, version 2), a globally accepted land cover classification standard, with spatial mapping utilising the Landsat time series from 1987 to 2020. The spatial mapping will provide annual land cover classes across Australia, as well as identifying areas of land cover change. When released, the spatial products will be in raster format with a 30m resolution and be available in calendar and financial year variations for 1987 to 2020.

To support the National Land Account, the focus of the DEA land cover project has been to produce annual classification and change (version 1) spatial products for the calendar years 2010 and 2015. The spatial products have been resampled to a 250m resolution to be consistent with the chosen Basic Spatial Unit (BSU) raster format as required in the National Land Account data standards and statistical geography.

ABARES land use and associated land use change

The ABARES is the research arm of DAWE. ABARES works in partnership through the Australian Collaborative Land Use and Management Program (ACLUMP) to develop nationally consistent land use information for Australia. This work is overseen by the National Committee for Land Use and Management Information (NCLUMI).

ABARES is leading the development of a revised methodology for mapping national land use, that allows for change detection analyses, with improved spatial resolution. The spatial mapping utilise the nationally standardised Australian Land Use and Management (ALUM) Classification (version 8), jurisdictional land use spatial products and agricultural commodity modelling based on the ABS Agricultural Census. The spatial mapping will provide 5-year interval land use classes across Australia, as well as identifying areas of land use change. When released, the spatial products are in raster format with a 250m resolution and be available in financial year variations for 2010-11, 2015-16 and 2020-21.

To support the National Land Account, the focus of the ABARES land use project has been to produce annual classification and change (version 1) spatial products for the financial years 2010-11 and 2015-16. The spatial products are consistent with the BSU raster format as required in the National Land Account data standards and statistical geography.

ABARES land tenure and associated land tenure change

ABARES is also leading the development of a new methodology for mapping national land tenure, following the discontinuation of the Public Sector Mapping Authority (PSMA) national land tenure spatial products (now Geoscape). The new methodology and national classification are based on the ABARES Tenure of Australia’s Forests spatial products and classification, modified to reflect additional jurisdictional tenure legislative instruments. The spatial mapping will provide 5-year interval land tenure classes across Australia, as well as identifying areas of land tenure change. When released, the spatial products will be in raster format with a 250m resolution and be available in financial year variations for 2010-11, 2015-16 and 2020-21.

ABS Monetary asset accounts (land value)

The ABS has previously developed state-based land accounts using valuation data directly obtained from individual state Valuer Generals. For the National Land Account, data from the Australian System of National Accounts for the value of land has been used. These data have been produced using modelling and input data from a range of sources including ABS public finance data, ABS value of residential dwelling stock data and state and territory Valuer Generals data.

National Accounts land value data is available at the state and national level for residential, commercial, rural and other land use categories. The “other” category has been classified as “government” as the data pertains to publicly owned land. Data is available annually at 30 June. Data as at 30 June 2011 and 30 June 2016 have been used for opening and closing stock amounts. Data on the reasons for change (such as revaluations, reclassifications and acquisitions/disposals) are not available at this time and it is hoped this can be sourced as part of the future development of the account.

Other data

Land is a fundamental feature of the economic, social and environmental fabric. Without land there is no sense of country, belonging nor as a base for economic operations. Accordingly, land accounts should be a foundational dataset when considering geographical versions of economic statistics, societal behaviour and the environment we all live in.

Land accounts can be associated with a wide range of socio-economic and environmental data.

Geography

In this first iteration of the National Land Account, the ASGS National, State and Territory boundaries were used to generate the tables (see figure 1). The grid used (Basic Spatial Unit, BSU) is a 250m x 250m representation of Australia. One of the considerations for the future of the National Land Account is the trade-off between lower levels of geography and what is efficient to produce each year. The June 2021 release is a national and state representation of the land accounts. The next publication, due in late 2021, aims to produce a Statistical Area 2 version of these data. While lower levels of geography are possible, the SA2 level is the lowest level of geography for socio-economic data produced by the ABS.

    Figure 1 – Linking Basic Spatial Units to Australian Statistical Geography Standard

    Diagram showing the spatial relationships between the account ready dataset 250m resolution raster grids (referred to as a Basic Spatial Unit or BSU), the National Land Account reporting boundary (the Australian coastline) and the boundaries of the states and territories which are also used for sub-national reporting. The diagram also shows that further sub-state/territory boundaries are to be incorporated for future National Land Account releases, possibly the Statistical Area level 2 boundaries.

    Figure 1 – Linking Basic Spatial Units to Australian Statistical Geography Standard

    Diagram showing the spatial relationships between the account ready dataset 250m resolution raster grids (referred to as a Basic Spatial Unit or BSU), the National Land Account reporting boundary (the Australian coastline) and the boundaries of the states and territories which are also used for sub-national reporting. The diagram also shows that further sub-state/territory boundaries are to be incorporated for future National Land Account releases, possibly the Statistical Area level 2 boundaries.

    Request for comment

    If you would like to comment on the land accounts methods, data sources, choice of geography or frequency of publication please respond to environment@abs.gov.au by 31 August 2021.