Moving together with time

The System of SEEA is celebrated as the international statistical standard for national capital accounting, empowering nations to transcend the conventional GDP metric

Making foray into the 21st Century and in tandem with the advanced economies in the world, Bhutan has also adapted the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) to ‘better understand about the causes and effects of environment on the national economy.’

SEEA is the international statistical standard for national capital accounting and provides a way for countries to go ‘beyond Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the recently launched National Implementation Plan for the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting in Bhutan.

The main objective of this plan is to develop strategies and a road-map for the compilation and use of the accounts, based on Bhutan’s sustainable development policy priorities. The plan starts from the policy questions and environmental data needs of Bhutan, both within an international and national context, which form the basis for the demand for SEEA accounts in Bhutan.

Karma Tshering, the secretary of Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MoENR) said that it is in harmony with this profound commitment that Bhutan, like many forward-thinking nations, has officially embraced the SEEA as the national accounting framework for the environment.

The secretary underlined that the SEEA, celebrated as the international statistical standard for national capital accounting, empowers nations to transcend the conventional GDP metric and embark on a deeper exploration of how the environment contributes to and shapes the economic destiny.

“This plan not only seeks to enhance the existing accounts but also aspires to encompass a broader array of sectors over the short, medium, and long-term horizons, coinciding with the 13th Five-Year Plan periods,” Karma Tshering said. “The implementation plan signifies a momentous stride in Bhutan’s ongoing journey towards sustainable development.”

He mentioned that the plan reiterates unwavering dedication to the advancement of environmental sustainability, the safeguarding of the precious natural heritage, and the promotion of the wellbeing of Bhutanese citizens.

The National Statistics Bureau (NSB), in collaboration with the United Nations Statistics Division worked over the past six months to craft the National Implementation Plan for the SEEA in Bhutan.

As part of the creation of this plan, NSB did a thorough assessment of existing environmental data that could feed into SEEA accounts. Through an analysis of the specific data needs of policy priorities and existing data supply, the plan makes a recommendation to pursue the SEEA accounts in a stepwise approach, namely, short, medium and long-term horizons.

The short-term horizon (2024-2025) which will be immediate in the next two years includes mineral accounts, energy accounts, timber and forest accounts, land cover accounts and air emission accounts, amongst others.

Similarly, medium-term horizon (2026-2028) for next two-five years includes water accounts and biological resource accounts. The long-term horizon (2029-2032) for next five-eight years includes solid waste accounts and soil accounts.

According to NSB, immediate attention should be directed towards energy resources, mineral resources, timber and forest resources, land resources, and air emissions in the short term as energy, mineral, and timber and forest resources already have information and are also being reported in the Annual Environmental Accounts Statistics (AEAS).

Similarly, air emissions and land resources have been prioritized given that the NSB can inform multilateral environmental agreements and because the source data are already available and would require fewer resources to compile. At the same time, all of these areas require not only data updates but also the establishment of robust data sharing mechanisms.

“For most themes where there are data available, it will be necessary to review the formats, update and integrate them through to enable seamless data sharing effectively and efficiently,” the NSB stated.

Meanwhile, the SEEA Ecosystem Accounting (EA) was adopted by the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC) in 2021 and comprises an integrated and comprehensive statistical framework for organizing data on the location and size of ecosystems, their health, and the services (both physical and monetary) they provide to humanity. The SEEA EA takes a spatial approach, allowing ecosystems and their services to be mapped.

In 2023, the NSB with the technical support of the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) embarked on the development of a plan for the implementation of the SEEA in collaboration with relevant stakeholders.

Sherab Dorji from Thimphu