Kristina Taboulchanas, Specialist, Environmental Statistics, United Nation's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

Kristina Taboulchanas, Specialist, Environmental Statistics, United Nation's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

Kristina Taboulchanas is a statistician in the department of Environmental Statistics and Accounts within the United Nation’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), headquartered in Santiago, Chile. ECLAC is one of the five regional commissions of the United Nations Secretariat and contributes to the economic development of Latin America and the Caribbean and reinforces economic ties among countries both within and outside the region.

Taboulchanas is responsible for designing and implementing projects that build the capacities of national officials in generating basic environmental statistics, indicators and accounts. Her recent efforts have focused on water accounting and environmental expenditure statistics. Prior to joining ECLAC, Taboulchanas worked in Canada’s International Development Research Centre on applied research projects related to the environment and natural resources management.

The WAVES Team spoke with her about the importance and challenges of conducting natural capital accounting, or environmental-economic accounting (the term more commonly used in the United Nations), in the region and how ECLAC and WAVES can join forces. 


Why is natural capital accounting (NCA) important for LAC countries?

Our region is very rich in natural diversity. The economies of the majority of the countries in the region largely depend on the use of their natural resources such as minerals, timber and agriculture and rely on the export of these primary goods. With the commodities boom in recent years, the exploitation of natural resources in Latin America has intensified. This region is also one of the richest in terms of biodiversity. 

Given the importance of natural capital to LAC societies, it is essential for policymakers to have detailed statistics that can help them make critical decisions about the management of these assets.

Natural capital accounting can also be a powerful instrument for countries that are committed to sustainable development. How do we manage our natural assets today to meet the current generation’s needs without compromising the needs of future generations? This is a great challenge, and natural capital accounting can help make more explicit the costs for future generations if we continue current patterns of production and consumption.

These challenges are increasingly being recognized by governments around the world as was reflected in the Rio +20 summit and in the development of the post-2015 agenda.

LAC Countries Meet to Strengthen Environmental Accounting

High-level officials from statistics offices in nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean met in Panama City June 27-28, 2013 to promote the importance of strengthening environmental statistics and natural capital accounting (NCA) in the region and using the data to influence policy and sustainable development. Read more

ECLAC did a project on water accounts in several countries. Can you please tell us more about it?

ECLAC, in collaboration with the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the United Nation’s Statistics Division (UNSD), carried out a project on water statistics and accounts in two countries that were selected through a competitive process: Colombia and Ecuador. Some activities were also carried out in Peru. This was a relatively small project over two years with limited resources and was led by the Ministry of Water in Ecuador and the National Statistical Office in Colombia (DANE). The project aimed to strengthen the technical capacities of local multi-stakeholder teams that were set up in each country and to address one of the main challenges to water accounting: the lack of basic statistics to carry out the accounts.

The main output of the project was water statistics collection strategies based on the International Recommendations for Water Statistics (IRWS) and the SEEA-Water with the idea that countries begin to use the accounting framework and IRWS to collect and organize basic water statistics that then can be used to do the accounts. In the case of Colombia, they advanced more rapidly and were able to do a pilot water account at the national level. Also, the project supported the environmental authority of the city of Bogota that was carrying out a pilot account for the Bogota River—thanks to the efforts of a city councilwoman who wanted better information concerning the city’s water problems.

What are the challenges of doing NCA in LAC countries?

In our region we have different clusters of countries with different institutional makeups. Some countries’ national accounts are in Central Banks and others are in statistics offices while in other countries Environmental Ministries are mandated to do environmental accounts such as Chile, Dominican Republic and Panama. The process seems to work better if national and environmental accounts are in the same institutions, such as in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.

The challenge is getting institutions to coordinate and collaborate and decide who will be the owner of the process (i.e the organization that will champion and use the results), and who will be the manager of the process (i.e the organization that actually compiles the accounts). Until recently, we have not done a very good job engaging policymakers from the get go. By inviting them to own the process we can improve the chances that the information being produced is relevant and that the accounts will be used for policy making. We have been reviewing the statistical and environmental laws and institutional frameworks in 18 countries to better understand which policies fall under which ministries and how the national statistical system is set up.

What are ECLAC's plans for promoting NCA in Latin America?

Environmental Accounting is a main area of work in the Statistical Division in ECLAC’s Economic and Environmental Statistics unit. At the moment we are elaborating a regional strategy for the implementation of the United Nation’s System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA), which was elevated to a global statistical standard in 2012 in Latin American countries. Apart from examining how countries can implement the standard we also are reflecting on how we can strengthen the topic within ECLAC so we are better positioned to assist countries in the implementation of the accounts. 

How would ECLAC like to work with WAVES in the future?

ECLAC is interested in being a strategic partner in the WAVES initiative.

We are interested in sharing experiences and creating synergies between WAVES and other work we are involved in. For example, we are the technical secretariat of a regional working group of the Statistical Conference of the Americas that just recently launched a Regional Public Goods project financed by the IDB that aims to strengthen environmental statistics in the region. We would also like to explore the possibility to set up a mechanism to provide technical assistance to countries that have started compiling accounts or that may be interested in doing so.

We are particularly interested in collaborating to get methodological material translated in Spanish, including manuals, guidelines and training material to build technical capacities in environmental accounting. 

We are all working toward the same thing: to get countries to use these instruments for better policymaking.