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Jean-Louis Weber : Ecosystem services and the social value of Nature 2.

Cours du 1er juin 2015
Intervenant : Jean-Louis Weber, Associate researcher, IXXI at ENS de Lyon
Position held : Special Adviser on Economic Environmental Accounting of the European Environment Agency and Consultant ; member of several UN expert groups on environmental statistics and environmental accounting.
Presently : Member of the Scientific Committee of the European Environment Agency, International consultant
Honorary Professor, Economic Environmental Accounting, University of Nottingham

Jean-Louis Weber , Environmental accounting

Environmental accounting is essential for the sustainable development of human societies. It is a way to integrate nature in the economic processes and to make it an asset which produces goods and which needs to be maintained. The idea of environmental accounting is quite old (1970’s) but it is not yet in place. However, multiple approaches of environmental accounting were developed through two axis :
First axis :

  • Approach by statisticians (mostly national accountants), based on statistical observations.
  • Approach by welfare economists, based on models which aim to adjust the GDP, to attempt to take environmental externalities in account. Second axis :
  • Enlarging the scope of national account (economy should absorb the environment)
  • Recording multiple accounting systems that are interacting : social system, economic system, cultural system, ecosystem… In accounting, the matters are the benefits and the costs of an activity. These costs are the addition of actual current payments and the depreciation of the assets used. the System of National Accounts (SNA) only takes care of the natural assets which are owned and used in view of a profit. The issue is that all the natural assets are not considered by the same way. Some are not considered at all. Others are just considered as externalities or are not assigned to the right sector of activity. One of the principal objectives of environmental accounting is to find a way to standardize the natural assets. To behave regarding nature the same way as we behave regarding our infrastructures of production, we should work to maintain nature regularly and restore it when needed. This implies the use of a remediation cost when nature is degraded. The procedure follows generally accepted rules, e.g. in European nature conservation regulations :
  1. avoiding to make damages on nature
  2. repairing and restoring if damages are done
  3. compensating by making something equivalent somewhere else, if this is not possible.

One of the main difficulties is to give values to ecosystem and services. In monetary terms, ecosystem services are broadly incorporated into the market value of goods and services. However, as there is no systematic depreciation of ecosystem assets, the monetary value doesn’t reflect their degradation. The problem is therefore to find an equivalent of the market price to assess the ecological value of the ecosystems. Many equivalent-units are proposed and used (Ton of Oil Equivalent, Livestock Unit, Environmentally weighted ton, CO2-equivalent, Ecosystem Capability Unit (ECU) …). Here we took the ECU which represents one unit of accessible ecosystem resource.
Ecological value = Quantity x Price-equivalent (in ECU)
ECU calculation considers all types of ecosystem services as results of ecosystem functions resulting in biomass, fresh water and intangible services provided by ecosystem integrity and biodiversity. The physical quantities of these services cannot be added, but they can be converted into indexes. With these indexes it is possible to calculate a composite unit value reflecting intensity of use and more qualitative aspects of ecosystem health. This procedure enables to calculate the total ecosystem capability in ECU.

Par Gustave Fradin

Publié ou mis à jour le 6 février 2017