DESA News Vol. 12, No. 06 June 2008

Trends and analysis

Environmental accounting gains ground

Statistical experts gather in New York starting 25 June on water, energy, pollution, climate change and other pressing data needs

Environmental and economic accounting is a branch of the System of National Accounts that helps policy analysts measure the contribution of the environment to economic activity and, conversely, of the impact of economic activity on the environment. An explicit connection between the two can help decision-makers to plan more sustainable modes of development.

The international environmental and economic accounting standard, commonly known as SEAA 2003, comprises four modules: flow accounts for pollution, energy and materials; environmental protection and resource management; natural resources assets; and valuation of non-market flow and environmentally adjusted macroeconomic aggregates. According to a 2007 assessment of SEAA take-up, seventy percent of countries currently compile such accounts at the national level or are planning to do so in the near future, with water statistics being the most significant area of concern for developed and developing regions alike.

At its third meeting, scheduled for 26 and 27 June in New York, the Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting will consider a proposed revision to its terms of reference to cover standards for environmental statistics in addition to the SEAA. The day before, on 25 June, a special session will be devoted to emerging work on measurement of climate change.

The Committee is a technical advisory body of ECOSOC’s Statistical Commission whose members are high-level experts from national governments and international organizations with a broad range of experience in statistics and in the uses of environmental-economic accounts.

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Converging on population estimates

UN system team, led by DESA, is reviewing methodological differences that can blur analysis

Reliable population estimates are vital to development research and are widely used by analysts in the UN system and around the world. Yet, varying sources of information and definitions have led to discrepancies among agencies producing population figures, thereby clouding understanding of policy options at the national and international levels. The problem is most pronounced in developing regions where many countries do not yet have the capacity to produce continuous and consistent time series of population estimates between official censuses.

To rectify the situation, DESA’s Population Division has been asked to engage in more extensive consultations with countries. The Population Division is leading a team of UN system experts: (a) to review and recommend ways to improve consultations with countries that are in the process of producing national estimates; (b) to indicate to agencies how to factor in changes in the population figures from one revision to the next; and (c) to discuss ways to address the concern that there are no internationally agreed standards for annual population statistics.

The task team, which operates under the aegis of the inter-agency Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities, met in New York on May 19 and 20. Aside from identifying problems and shortcoming of available population estimates, participants in the May session emphasized the importance of expanding collaboration between DESA and the UN regional commissions, the desire for national statistical offices to release basic census results quickly, and the need for the Population Division to keep partners informed of major changes in estimates and methodology.

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Information society and the role of legislators

Global Centre for ICT in Parliament brings legislators together to explore information access, security, standards, and rights

A parliamentary forum on the information was organized the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament – a joint initiative of DESA and the Inter-Parliamentary Union – in Geneva on 14 and 15 May. The forum brought together about ninety members of parliament responsible for information society issues from some forty countries. During the two-day event, participants shared country experiences in advancing the information society and engaged in debates about the role of parliaments in ensuring equitable access, data protection, open standards, and fundamental internet rights.

The event ended with broad consensus on the need to enhance information-sharing and on the importance of contributing a parliamentary dimension to implementation of the goals of the World Summit on the Information Society. The forum was organized as part of the cluster of WSIS-related events taking place in Geneva from 13 to 30 May.

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