Still young, the history of National Accounts (NA) as a worldwide applied system has achieved overwhelming progress, by extending the scope and increasing the detail as well as by intensifying the reporting frequency. At the same time old issues of theoretical controversy have been successively clarified and, if not solved, often settled by compromise. It has proved most productive with regard to the presentation of economic agents in terms of transactors and their activities in terms of transactions, whereas developments in functional terms and cross section presentations beyond the borders drawn by the economic paradigma are still somewhat lagging. All this is particularly true with a view to a subject like the environment, with widespread but often less obvious reference points in the system itself, and often complicated interrelations with contexts not covered by traditional economic statistics at all. While since about 20 years the environment has been increasingly addressed as a concern of NA, this development did not keep pace with the accelerating deterioration on the part of the environment itself nor with an increasing demand of the political actors for more purposeful overall information of this kind. Many different reasons on the part of scientific and statistical management as well as on the part of involved socio-economic interests have resulted into a variety of response which can not be fully pursued here. However, one particular reason for a new decisive initiative can easily be quoted. The revision of the UN’s System of National Accounts (SNA 1968) and the concomitant intention to support the revised system by additional “Manuals”, preferably in fields with urgent needs for statistical standardization and progress of concept like the environment, the Statistical Division of the United Nations (UNSTAT) itself had commissioned the work on a Draft Manual on a System for Integrated Environmental & Economic Accounting (SEEA). Most distinguished in the field of scientific evaluation of concepts of NA and its vicinities the IARIW, at the same time, recognized that it should play a particular role in this development. With broad support by the various international organizations interested as well as its immediate membership at the 21st General Conference, Lahnstein (Germany), 20 – 25 August 1991, the decision was taken that a Special Conference should be arranged to discuss the whole field of environmental accounting, thus supporting the drafting of the before-mentioned Manual.
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