Environmental-economic accounting for the Mitchell River

It’s hard to track the impacts of development and conservation investments on interconnected environmental, socio-economic and cultural values. This is especially the case in relatively natural landscapes and in places of important cultural significance, since interlinkages between different values are often complex and unclear, clouding decision-making. Environmental-economic accounts (EEAs) help inform development and conservation investments by tracking the extent and condition of ecosystem assets, the ecosystem services produced by those assets, and the direct benefits delivered to individuals and society over time (Figure 1). These benefits can be valued in economic terms so that EEAs can help reveal the benefit delivered by specific land management activities. Research is needed on EEA approaches that can better account for interconnected ecosystem assets and their condition in ways that reflect regional ecological and socio-cultural contexts.

Mitchell River EEA diagram

This research is developing an EEA approach that is appropriate for northern Australia. The team is working in Queensland’s Mitchell River catchment to develop a set of EEAs that reflect interconnected assets and the regional socio-cultural context. As well as being useful for informing decisions in the Mitchell River catchment, these accounts are helping inform Australia’s evolving approach to EEA as one of several pilot accounts being considered through the national EEA Strategy and Action Plan. As part of this broader work, researchers are considering the extent to which a common national approach to EEA can represent the full suite of ecosystem-related values relevant to regional populations.

This project is:

  • working with land managers in the Mitchell River catchment to link interconnected environmental assets to ecosystem services and benefits
  • developing a set of environmental-economic accounts for the Mitchell River catchment
  • identifying headline indicators of ecosystem asset condition, ecosystem service flows, service flow value and asset value suitable for tracking management outcomes through time and informing decision-making in the region
  • helping progress Australia’s EEA Strategy and Action Plan
  • aligning with the scope of accounting under both the United Nations System of Environmental Economic Accounting – Central Framework (SEEA-CF) and the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting – Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA-EEA).

Project activities

  • Conduct field work with stakeholder groups in the Mitchell catchment to link ecosystem assets to services and benefits, and facilitate community workshops and user consultations to determine existing land and water management in the catchment
  • Apply existing SEEA-CF and SEEA-EEA frameworks to identify – subject to data availability – appropriate indicators for measuring ecosystem assets and ecosystem services, and exchange values for these services in the Mitchell River catchment
  • Develop physical ecosystem accounts and monetary ecosystem accounts for the Mitchell River catchment (e.g. SEEA-compliant accounts for the extent and condition of ecosystem assets, ecosystem service flows, and the accounting value of those assets and service flows)
  • Consider the degree to which SEEA-compliant ecosystem accounts can fully represent the values delivered by ecosystem assets and services in the Mitchell River catchment – which values are well represented in the accounts, and which are not?
  • Suggest how EEAs could be improved to better represent values that are currently not well-represented
  • Examine the potential for community-driven EEA processes to inform investments in land management.

Anticipated outputs

  • A review of existing environmental accounting frameworks and research in northern Australia
  • A set of environmental-economic accounts for the Mitchell River catchment and user guide
  • A report to support the national EEA strategy identifying processes, improvements and limitations
  • Recommendations for integrating EEA indicators into on-ground magement
  • Scientific papers, factsheets and datasets.

This project is led by Dr Jim Smart from Griffith University.

Dr Smart is being assisted by researchers from Griffith University and CSIRO as well as by land managers, rangers and others in the Mitchell River catchment.

This project is due for completion in June 2021.

Jim Smart, Griffith University
[email protected]

Griffith University logo     

  • The Mitchell River is the focus catchment for this investigation into environmental-economic accounting. Photo: Kerry Trapnell
  • The Mitchell River is the focus catchment for this investigation into environmental-economic accounting. Photo: Peter Negus
  • The Mitchell catchment will be assessed to help inform development and conservations investments. Photo: Michael Douglas.
  • Photo: Stephen Faggotter.