New York, March 2 (IANS): In a ground-breaking development that could fundamentally reorient economic and policy planning toward sustainable development, countries will begin consideration of a new system to measure economic prosperity and human well-being that includes the contributions of nature at the UN Statistical Commission.
The measure could move toward the process of adoption on Friday.
The adoption of the new accounting framework -- the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting: Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA) -- would mark a major step forward to incorporating sustainable development in economic planning and policy decision-making and could have a significant impact on the efforts to address critical environmental emergencies, including climate change and biodiversity loss.
With two crucial conferences later this year -- COP15 on Biodiversity in Kunming and the Glasgow Climate Conference, COP 26 -- countries could benefit from using the much-needed framework to underpin their decisions with hard data.
The new framework would go beyond the commonly used statistic of gross domestic product (GDP) and would ensure that natural capital -- the contributions of forests, oceans and other ecosystems -- are recognised in economic reporting.
The Commission will discuss the new framework and will move to adopt the measure, provided there are no objections within a 72-hour period starting on March 5.
UN Secretary-General AntAnio Guterres said the global economy has grown nearly fivefold in the past five decades, but at massive cost to the global environment.
He emphasised that valuing nature and putting a price on carbon was essential, saying: "Nature's resources still do not figure in countries' calculations of wealth. The current system is weighted towards destruction, not preservation."
"The bottom line is that we need to transform how we view and value nature. We must reflect nature's true value in all our policies, plans and economic systems. With a new consciousness, we can direct investment into policies and activities that protect and restore nature and the rewards will be immense," he said.
Experts further emphasise that while a statistic such as GDP does a good job of showing the value of goods and services exchanged in markets, it does not reflect the dependency of the economy on nature, nor its impacts on nature, such as the deterioration of air quality or the loss of a forest.
"In the past, we have always measured our progress in the form of goods and services that we produce and consume, and value in the marketplace," said Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and UN Chief Economist, Elliott Harris.
"But we have never done that for nature. We've treated nature as if it were free and as if it were limitless. So, we have been degrading nature and using it up without really being aware of what we were doing and how much we were losing in the process," he added.
The new framework, he said, "will allow us to see how our economic activities may affect our ecosystems, how the presence of nature affects us, and how our activities could be changed to achieve prosperity without damaging or destroying nature in the process."
More than half of global GDP depends on nature, but globally, it is estimated that natural capital has declined 40 per cent in just over two decades.
It is estimated that human activity has severely altered 75 per cent of the planet's terrestrial -- and 66 per cent of its marine environment -- leading to an average decrease in ecosystem extent and condition of 47 per cent against their natural baselines.