Environmental and Resource Economics

, Volume 64, Issue 1, pp 1–23 | Cite as

National Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Assets and Their Services

  • Carl ObstEmail author
  • Lars Hein
  • Bram Edens


There has long been interest in integrating the value of environmental stocks and flows into standard measures of economic activity and wealth, in particular through the development of adjusted measures of GDP and extended measures of national wealth. This paper examines how the valuation of ecosystem services and ecosystem assets can be undertaken in an integrated national accounting setting. We clarify the relevant valuation principles, most significantly the need to apply the concept of exchange values, and explain why the integration of ecosystem services necessitates an extension of the standard production boundary used in economic measurement. The main implications of an accounting approach are discussed including the need to distinguish benefits from services, the need for valuation methods that exclude consumer surplus, and the importance of aligning measures of income and degradation. Remaining challenges include the treatment of low or negative rents, accounting for ecosystem disservices, and the derivation of values for ecosystem assets. Meeting these challenges and advancing work in this area should be the joint focus of economists, ecologists and accountants.


Ecosystem accounting National accounts Ecosystem services Degradation Valuation Green accounting 



Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services


European Commission


Gross domestic product


Millennium Ecosystem Assessment


National Ecosystem Assessment


System of Environmental–Economic Accounting


System of Environmental–Economic Accounting 2012 Experimental Ecosystem Accounting


System of National Accounts


The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity


United Nations


United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland


World Commission on Environment and Development



This paper reflects and builds on the outcomes of technical discussions held in the context of the development of the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting. The three authors were members of the editorial board established by the United Nations Committee of Experts on Environmental–Economic Accounting to oversight that technical work and acknowledge the contributions of other technical experts involved. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Melbourne Sustainable Society InstituteUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Wageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Statistics NetherlandsDen HaagThe Netherlands

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