Natural capital includes both mineral ores and oil and gas (non-renewables) and renewable resources derived from ecosystems. Ecosystems provide many different services to people: they supply us with food and materials, they regulate our water cycles and soils, and they provide us with opportunities for tourism, recreation and reflection. Whereas methods to account for non-renewable resources are well established, the development and application of accounting systems for ecosystems and the services they provide to people is more recent. These systems need to consider the many different types of benefits we derive from ecosystems, the dynamic nature of ecosystems, and their regenerative capacity.
In the last 10 years, an ecosystem accounting methodology has been developed, officially termed System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) - Ecosystem Accounting, coordinated by the United Nations Statistical Commission and involving a wide range of national accountants, ecologists, economists, spatial modellers and statisticians. Implementation of this system allows the systematic monitoring of ecosystems, and understanding the economic impacts of the still ongoing degradation of ecosystems and the benefits of ecosystem rehabilitation. The SEEA is connected to economic indicators as measured with the National Accounts (such as GDP), and allows for a better analysis of trade-offs and synergies between economic development and ecosystem conservation.
MAIA (Mapping and Assessment for Integrated ecosystem Accounting) aims to promote the mainstreaming of natural capital accounting in EU Member States and Norway. In MAIA, we use the United Nations System of Environmental Economic Accounting – Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA-EA) as the methodological basis for natural capital accounting (NCA). The project is being implemented in 11 countries, with 20 partners.
WP1 aims to ensure that the project adheres to the General Data Protection Regulation and the EU ethics for researchers’ guidelines. It establishes the technical and organisational measures that will be implemented to safeguard the rights and freedoms of the research participants, including informed consent procedures with regards to the processing of personal data.
In order for natural capital and ecosystem accounts to become a part of the regular national accounting systems in the EU, it is important that they are well connected to specific policy priorities in each country. MAIA is assessing these priorities in a total of 9 EU MS (Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and Spain), as well as in Norway. Continuous interactions with stakeholders developing or using accounts in the participating countries is achieved through a series of activities carried out in WP2, such as workshops, surveys, as well as collaborations with statistical agencies and users of accounts (including business partners).
The objective of WP3 is to ensure mainstreaming of NCA and alignment with the identified policy needs (from WP2) within the ten participating countries (nine in the EU and Norway). This will be done on the basis of concrete pilots, where available methods are tested, applied and evaluated jointly by a range of relevant partners in each participating EU MS. This WP is conducted in very close collaboration with statistical agencies and other government offices in charge of or working on natural capital and ecosystem accounts (ministries, state agencies, research organizations with access to data, etc.). Accounts are developed based on existing large-scale reference data as well as new, additional datasets to be created through data inter- and extrapolation, combining existing datasets and applying spatial and other models available in the consortium.
WP4 aims at developing new insights, in order to fill a number of key knowledge gaps in NCA. These activities build upon the knowledge base of the SEEA EA, KIP INCA and the working group of DG Environment on Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES). Specifically, the project will: (i) examine how water regulation including flood control services of ecosystems can be analysed at the scales and accuracy required for NCA; (ii) (ii) test how big data from internet applications (photo uploading tools, tools for recording hiking and cycling pathways and achievements) can be used to assess cultural ecosystem services; (iii) analyse how valuation approaches and methods can capture diverse values, including non-market values of ecosystem services, ecosystem assets and linkages to welfare values (as opposed to the accounting values based on exchange prices considered in the SEEA EA) ; (iv) analyse how biodiversity can be included in an accounting context; and (v) examine how marine accounts can be produced.
This WP involves the development of guidelines and best practice documents, as well as the creation of a website for exchanging information and providing user-friendly access to datasets and produced pilot accounts, exchanging experiences among countries and with other communities (businesses, ecological modelling, environmental economics) and other communication and dissemination actions.
WP6 is led by Wageningen University who coordinates activities including planning, monitoring, reporting and fund disbursement and communications between partners, supporting agencies and with the European Commission. This is completed in close collaboration with all other WP leaders (CSIC, EVINBO, NINA, SYKE, LUH, URJC, WCMC). The project’s management structure comprises an Executive Board (all WP leads), a General Assembly (representatives of all partners in the consortium) and an Advisory Board.
The SEEA EA is a system for NCA developed under auspices of the UN Statistical Commission, and provides a consistent framework for analysing and storing information on ecosystem assets and flows of ecosystem services. The SEEA is a satellite account of the System of National Accounts, used by statistical agencies worldwide for the production of economic and other statistics. MAIA follows a flexible approach, allowing for adoption of the SEEA EA framework with consideration of the conditions of the individual countries. Our work is based on the detailed, recent technical recommendations in support of Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA TR), published by UN et al. (2017) and informed by the ongoing revision of the SEEA.