Ecosystems are dynamic communities of plants, animals and microorganisms and their physical environment, which interact and are interdependent. Healthy ecosystems provide a range of services that can improve our wellbeing and contribute to our economy.
Ecosystem accounts present environmental and economic data on the services that specific ecosystems are providing. Ecosystem services can be divided into four broad categories:
- Provisioning services (for example food, fibre, fuel, fresh water);
- Cultural services (for example spiritual values, recreation and aesthetic values, knowledge systems);
- Supporting services (for example primary production, habitat provision, nutrient cycling, oxygen production, soil formation and retention); and
- Regulating services (for example pollination, seed dispersal, climate regulation, pest and disease regulation, water purification).
Ecosystem accounts help us to describe changes in the environment and how this impacts on our wellbeing and the economy.
By bringing together environmental and economic information, ecosystem accounts enable us to bring key sustainability concepts into policy formation and investment decisions. For example, in the case of resilience, a healthy ecosystem may enable agricultural productivity to be more resilient during a drought or other climatic event.
The applications of ecosystem accounting are quite diverse, with potential uses in:
- environmental management and conservation activities;
- natural resource management and productivity improvements;
- environmental policy making and investment prioritisation;
- providing measurement frameworks for private sector investments;
- planning and development decisions; and
- business management and operations.
To inform the development of ecosystem accounts the department is undertaking pilot accounting projects to test various approaches to measuring ecosystems services. These pilots include projects in:
- Kakadu National Park – in partnership with Parks Australia; and
- Gunbower-Koondrook-Perricoota Forest Icon site – in partnership with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
These pilots are expected to be released in mid-late 2020. These pilots will inform the development of future ecosystem accounting projects as we progress towards a national Ecosystem Environmental-Economic Account.