It is increasingly clear that the existing economic accounting framework - the national income accounts - fails to provide policy and decision-makers or the general public with essential information for steering economic progress into a sustainable path. Particularly, the national accounting system fails to value natural resources as productive economic assets. Thus, it makes no distinction between activities that make use of the sustainable yield of a nation's natural assets and those that deplete or degrade them.
This situation is changing. In recent years, a fundamental change has taken place in the way national governments and the international community measure and think about countries' economic performance. Leading economists now agree that national income accounting should treat natural resources as it does other tangible economic assets. Standard-setting agencies, such as the United Nations Statistical Office, have formulated new methodological guidelines. More and more industrialized and developing countries are constructing revised resource and environmental accounts in order to make them more relevant to sound environmental management and sustainable development. In our own hemisphere, while Canada and the United States have taken the lead in this initiative, other countries are also taking steps to initiate the process of revision. Those countries that have completed pilot accounting projects - including Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uruguay - have gained significant new insights into environment-development interactions and a more accurate basis for policymaking.
In serving as host of the seminar reported on in this document, the OAS is pleased to have provided, through a joint effort with the World Resources Institute, a pioneering hemispheric forum for discussion of the issues arising from its member countries' new and incipient accounting experiences. I am sure that the seminar's results will benefit all the institutions of the region working on environmental and accounting matters, and the wider development community as well.
Fernando González Guyer
Chairman, Committee on the Environment
Organization of American States