At present, conventional tools for economic analysis do not enable the
decision makers using them to reliably ascertain whether the environmental
policies implemented are effective or what kind of impact economic policies
have on the environment.
2. With regard to environmental
costs in particular, the expenditure necessary in order to maintain the pool
of natural resources at the level corresponding to the start of the
reference period continues largely to be omitted from the economic analyses
based on conventional accounting instruments.
In 1992, the United Nations Conference on the Environment (Earth Summit in
Rio de Janeiro) marked a decisive turning-point by approving the action plan
Agenda 21 on sustainable development, which introduced the concept of
environmental accounting as a tool for implementing coherent policies in
Environmental accounting is a system that can be used to list, organise,
manage and supply data and information on the environment in physical and
On the same basis as all accounting systems, environmental accounting
presents an objective picture of the state of, and changes in, the natural
heritage, interactions between the economy and the environment, and
expenditure on preventive measures, environmental protection and the repair
of environmental damage.
Environmental accounting is therefore an essential tool for implementing the
concept of sustainable development, that is, a style of development that
does not jeopardise the planets resources needed for future generations
life and development on earth. Implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, for
example, as well as of Directive 2003/87/EC establishing a scheme for
greenhouse-gas-emission-allowance trading within the Community, requires
harmonised, reliable and tried-and-tested accounting systems.
Over the last ten years, the increased impact of human activities on the
environment at local and global level has shown that the environmental costs
of development are no longer easily discounted factors, particularly in
urban areas, and that it is necessary to use specific tools for measuring
and managing them.
Moreover, improved access to information has caused rising demand for
information on the environment on the part both of citizens and politicians,
making better environmental governance necessary.
The Parliamentary Assembly notes with satisfaction that, since the Rio Earth
Summit, the concept of environmental accounting has been widely recognised
as an essential tool that is advocated by organisations such as the United
Nations, the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD) and the European Union.
It is also very pleased that many Council of Europe member states (such as
France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) have studied
and experimented with environmental accounting systems, and that certain
towns and cities which are more directly accountable for the management
and quality of their environments have done the same, mainly using
environmental indicators and adapting the methods developed to date to the
The Assembly underlines the need for all levels of government to adopt
suitable environmental monitoring and information systems that can serve as
a basis for policy decisions, and strongly believes that environmental
accounting is an essential tool of governance.
The adoption of an environmental accounting system at all levels of
government would enable political decision makers to report to the
communities governed on the environmental outcomes of the policies
implemented on the basis of reliable data and constantly updated information
on the state of the environment. This would also allow the environment
variable to be incorporated into official decision-making processes at all
levels of government and make the environmental effects of government policy
Putting in place systems of this kind would permit greater accountability of
decision makers and interest groups committed to sustainable development
goals, regular environmental monitoring and proper use of environmental data
at decision-making level and vertical integration of instruments and
policies with regard to sustainable development.
The Assembly fully supports the efforts being made to develop environmental
accounting and, above all, to move on from the experimental stage to that of
its implementation. This would merely redirect current expenditure
(relating, among other things, to data collection, statistics, reporting,
auditing and environmental indicators), making better use of it but without
generating new costs. It emphasises the importance of carrying forward the
relevant activities at European level.
The Assembly believes that it is important for local and regional
authorities to play a key role in the process and urges the Congress of
Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe to take into account
these proposals and to make a corresponding contribution, notably by
disseminating the concept of environmental accounting among European local
and regional authorities.
The Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers:
prepare a recommendation to the member states on the introduction of
environmental accounting at national, regional and local level;
ii. elaborate a set of European standards incorporating the experience of
different European countries in the environmental accounting field;
iii. call forthwith on member states to systematically include in their
economic and social programmes satisfactory assessment of the
sustainability of development, drawing on available databases, statistics
and environmental indicators.
Text adopted by the Standing Committee acting on behalf of the Assembly
on 2 March 2004 (see
10071, report of the Committee on
the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs, rapporteur: Mr