Statistics: unify ecosystems valuation

Your Editorial decries as “unfortunate” the United Nations Statistical Commission’s decision to omit the valuation component from its international statistical standard for measuring ecosystems’ services and assets (Nature 591, 178; 2021). It calls out the United States and several European countries for objecting and delaying natural-capital accounting. We stand by the commission’s decision.

In our view, statisticians and national accountants worldwide should first agree on how to treat monetary values connected to ecosystem services.

International experience in valuing ecosystems at a national scale is sparse, and best practices have yet to emerge. The ecosystem component of the UN’s System of Environmental Economic Accounting needs broader consensus on a more rigorous statistical approach to valuation concepts and methods. Some are currently incompatible with the national accounts framework, limiting comparability with statistics such as gross domestic product.

We support further experimentation in ecosystems valuation that is grounded in the comparability and standardization required for robust statistical measurement. However, premature adoption of underdeveloped standards could damage progress in joint national and environmental economic accounting.

Nature 593, 341 (2021)

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