1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2012  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/05/2012   
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Environmental economic accounting is a method of integrating environmental data with economic and social data. The ABS is evaluating the feasibility of developing a national land account in accordance with international statistical standards. This will provide government and the community with comprehensive, accurate and consistent information to inform debate and monitor environmental policy.


Land, as an asset, represents a major proportion of Australia’s national economic value. This value was $3,614.4 billion in June 2010 (Australian System of National Accounts – National Balance Sheet, 5204.0). The land assets in Australia are owned, leased or used by governments, businesses and individuals for a variety of purposes and activities.

Essentially all economic activities involve the use of some land (except for activities such as fishing) and there is a range of economic transactions related to land, either directly or indirectly (as an input to production or as a store of wealth). Administrative arrangements, such as zoning laws, constrain the availability of land for particular purposes.

In Australia, land value is driven by physical characteristics such as location, vegetation cover, accessibility, climate, biodiversity, soils and mineral resources, as well as other factors such as land zoning and man-made improvements applied to the land and surrounds (e.g. proximity to main roads). Use of land can also result in degradation or improvements to the asset over time; for example, mining operations commencing in forested areas may destabilise natural ecosystems even though the land is usually required to be returned to its former status once the mining operations have ceased.

Although there are many sources of data available to quantify the characteristics of land and how these characteristics change over time, the lack of integration of these data has meant that the information has not been fully utilised to support sound policy decisions. In response to this situation, the ABS developed and released Land Account: Great Barrier Reef Region, Experimental Estimates, 2011 (4609.0.55.001) in order to gain familiarity with the concepts and methods used to produce land accounts and review the quality and limitations of available data sources.

Internationally, the United Nations Statistical Division has produced a framework, the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA), which became an international standard in 2012. Australia already produces annual water and energy accounts consistent with the standard.


Land accounting measures the change in the land and its attributes resulting from the impact of human and natural activity. The value of a set of land accounts is the ability to measure these attributes by examining stocks at different points in time to support policy around sustainable economic and environmental management.

A land account integrates information already held by different levels of government in order to:

  • enable the relationships between the land and the economy to be identified, analysed and understood
  • present data using a framework that is consistent with broader economic data, such as the System of National Accounts (SNA)
  • examine the effectiveness or efficiency of private and public environmental protection and natural resource management expenditures
  • support more targeted policy development by showing how land is used by different parts of the economy and how different economic activities may deplete or degrade the productive capacity of land
  • show how land use and land cover affect the availability of water
  • provide a system into which monetary valuations of land assets and environmental-related flows can be incorporated with physical data
  • access the monetary implications of environmental actions
  • identify critical gaps and deficiencies in land data, and
  • identify which industries currently own or manage land that is of significance to carbon storage and exchange.


A land account is a powerful decision-making tool that can be used for planning by industry, government and the community. It can be used to inform debate on a wide range of issues as shown in the following examples.

Example 1

With Australia’s population projected to be between 31 and 43 million people by 2056 (Population Projections, Australia 2006 to 2101, 3222.0) and further impacts from climate change forecast, land use changes such as the loss of agricultural land to urban growth or the clearance of native forests for agriculture will become a key policy and planning issue. Land accounts will provide information for policy makers to make informed decisions about the economic and environmental impact of the location of new suburbs, towns and cities.

Example 2

Land accounts will present the ownership of land (in both dollars and hectares) broken down by industry and region and importantly, track changes over time. This information will allow the comparison between different regions across time to understand the impacts and effectiveness of government policies and investments as well as assessing the impact these have on environmental trends.

Example 3

Responding quickly and effectively to natural disasters is an important role of government, especially as these may become more frequent with the potential impact of climate change. Information from a land account will show a range of information for small regional levels by integrating ABS data with information from other government agencies. From a single source, information will be available on Australia’s society (e.g. household composition and demographics, income), economy (e.g. industry of businesses, land use, land value, number of people employed, agricultural output, business income) and environment (e.g. land cover, forest and vegetation cover).


A land account consists of a series of tables, maps and graphs that show the economic, social and environmental interactions with land measured in both hectares and in dollar terms.

To produce the base information for a land account, data from the Valuers-General and the ABS Register of Businesses are attributed to a land parcel. The resultant file is integrated with data from ABS collections and information from other agencies. For the Great Barrier Reef land account, information was sourced from the Bureau of Meteorology, Geoscience Australia, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences, the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Over time, it is expected that more data sources will be added to further enrich the output.

As well as tables, the Great Barrier Reef land account includes a Google Earth interface that presents a ‘flyover’ view of the Great Barrier Reef catchment regions, divided into small statistical areas, ranging from city blocks to sparse agricultural and remote communities. Data windows present more than 70 attributes for each of these land areas across the themes of:
  • boundary information, population and business counts
  • rateable value and land use, and dynamic land cover, and
  • fire, temperature and rainfall.

The release includes ESRI Geodatabase and Mapinfo versions that can be downloaded from the ABS website and used as a socio-economic layer in a GIS system.


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Statistics contained in the Year Book are the most recent available at the time of preparation. In many cases, the ABS website and the websites of other organisations provide access to more recent data. Each Year Book table or graph and the bibliography at the end of each chapter provides hyperlinks to the most up to date data release where available.