Accounts: National to sub-national biodiversity reporting

Assessing human impacts on biodiversity for environmental accounting

The challenge

Understanding the current status of biodiversity and how it changes over time is critical to avoid declines in the natural capital upon which our economies and wellbeing depend. There are important challenges in accurately and regularly tracking changes in biodiversity status for this purpose. These challenges include the huge diversity of species, and limitations in our knowledge of species and where they occur. Organisations and governments need reliable tools to develop environmental accounts, reporting change in measures of biodiversity, to help track the sustainability of development and to assess the impact of exploitation of our natural resources.

Our response

To overcome these challenges, CSIRO develops and applies biodiversity measures based on macroecological modelling. These models incorporate best available biological data for vertebrate, invertebrate and plant species globally, combined with spatially complete mapping of climate, terrain and soils. They are applicable even in regions where local biological data are sparse or field surveys limited. These advances in biodiversity modelling and spatial analyses harness high-performance computing and facilitate the fine-scale (1 km grid) assessment of biodiversity globally through the modelling system BILBI1.

To deliver biodiversity accounts aligned with the United Nations System of Environmental Economic Accounts – Experimental Ecosystem Accounting framework (SEEA-EEA), the project team combines BILBI’s global biodiversity models with information on how the condition of habitat (its ability to support biodiversity) has changed over time. An account is produced that estimates the proportion of species expected to persist given observed changes in habitat condition. The application of BILBI to SEEA-EEA accounting provides information of local relevance within a global context and can be applied readily to reporting biodiversity change at any scale, in any part of the world.

Case study: Environmental accounting for San Martin region, Peru

In a trial application of SEEA-EEA, CSIRO and Conservation International (CI) worked with district authorities in the San Martín region in northern Peru to build a biodiversity account. This collaborative project applied the BILBI system for environmental accounting to measure the consequences for biodiversity of land use changes in the region. The analysis identified lowland forest types as those expected to have suffered the greatest reductions in species. This analysis was highlighted as a demonstration case of biodiversity accounting by the United Nations Environment Programme – World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Figure 1.  Changes in the percentage of biodiversity retained in the San Martín province, Peru (Table from: UNEP-WCMC 2016)