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Environmental accounts show how the economy affects the environment and natural resources

How is the Swedish economy structured and how are climate, chemical usage and biodiversity affected by production and consumption? This article describes the statistical framework for the environmental accounts and how the related statistics can be used.

The System of Environmental-Economic Accounting helps to provide answers to common questions about the relationship between the environment and the economy by producing statistics that show the use of resources and emissions by various operators in the economy, such as industries, public authorities and households. This is referred to as a statistical framework.

The frame consists of the country’s economy (production and consumption) and the contents comprise statistics that can be linked to production and consumption activities. The direction of the economic statistics is provided by the System of National Accounts, which measures the country’s economic activity. This makes it possible to analyse possible links between, for example, economic growth and environmental impact.

A picture is formed, based on statistics on industrial production and household consumption, highlighting how different players affect both the economy and the environment. If the production perspective answers the question, “Who emits?” then the consumption perspective answers the question, “For whom are the emissions made?”

Both producers and consumers affect emissions

Since both producers and consumers have the possibility to reduce or increase emissions and natural resource usage, albeit in different ways, it is interesting to show each perspective. Industries that lie early in the value added chain, such as mining, agriculture, fishing, refineries and heavy industry, generally have greater energy use than those that lie further up the value added chain. At the same time, different economic operators are dependent on each other for deliveries of input goods and exchanges, innovations and much more.

Amount and type of energy play a role

Throughout the whole system, a number of different fossil fuel-powered transports are used. One of the key aspects is how much energy is used. Different types of energy have different environmental impacts and various fuels and their emissions are followed in the environmental accounts.

Connections between environment and society

The environmental accounts briefly cover three parts:

  • How much natural resources are used in a country, per industry and per year, and what type of natural resource is it?
  • What are the emissions of substances that affect the environment? How much emissions occur and who contributes to them?
  • How does the economy look for environmental issues? How much money is spent on production, investments, subsidies or environmental taxes? How many work in companies that have the environmental issue as central to their products?

How do the environmental accounts contribute?

The International Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the European Environment Agency have developed a model that explains how the statistics in the environmental accounts can be used. The model is called DPSIR - driving forces, pressures, states, impacts and responses.

DPSIR model


Climate impacts can be described using the DPSIR model

Climate impacts can be described with the DPSIR model, using the environmental accounts.

The driving forces of climate impact include the use of transport, the business sector’s production of goods and services, and population growth. The figure below shows how average population levels in Sweden increased slowly during the years 2008-2018. In the same time period, Sweden’s GDP increased by nearly 10 percent. The employment rate also increased, but at a slower pace than GDP.

Pressures refer to damage to the environment or the public due to emissions of hazardous substances. These are often described in a research context.

States can be described by concentrations of different substances in certain habitats. This requires nature-related measurements and research, some of which are carried out within the framework of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental oversight.

The impact from greenhouse gases decreased over the years 2008–2018, but have remained unchanged in recent years, which is also see in the figure below. Greenhouse gas emissions are strongly associated with the combustion of fossil fuels. Emissions are dependent on the energy system in a country. An energy system includes everything related to energy – from production, distribution and use, to which different energy sources are used.

Responses are measured in the form of environmental taxes. The figure below shows that revenues from environmental taxation in Sweden increased over the time period 2008–2018. Environmental taxes are an example of policy instruments. The aim of these taxes is to guide society’s use of resources and consumption in a more environmentally-friendly direction. The development of environmental tax revenues depends on several factors, e.g. changes in a tax base and the use of that tax base, such as the use of gasoline.

Development of the environment, the economy and the population

Chart Development of the environment, the economy and the population

Note: GDP in constant prices, * GDP, average number of employed and environmental taxes preliminary for the years 2017, 2018; greenhouse gases preliminary for the year 2018
Source: SCB, National and environmental accounts

How these statistics are used in Sweden and the world

In Sweden and globally, the environmental accounts are used for environmental economic analyses, research and to follow-up the 2030 Agenda. Within the EU, the environmental accounts are used in the work on the EU's natural resource strategy and in the circular economy. In addition, the business community uses the statistics for environmental profiling against others in the industry. Increasingly comparable statistics are produced about the connection between the environment and the economy. These statistics can serve as the basis for climate policy decisions, which require facts and supporting documents that show which economic instruments work well. These decisions can then have an effect on greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the negative impact on the environment.

Comparisons with other countries

Since the environmental accounts are compiled by the European Statistical Office, Eurostat, subject to regulation, the data is comparable across the EU. Eurostat compiles data on areas such as emissions to air, environmental taxes, material flows and statistics on the environmental sector.

Sweden has succeeded in reducing its climate emissions more efficiently than the rest of the EU. The figure below shows that Sweden’s emission intensity, that is, the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per earned euro, is lower than the EU average. This applies both with regard to the entire country’s economy and within certain specific industries, such as the manufacturing and transport industries. The transport industry is defined here as hauliers, air transport and shipping. Household emissions from transport are included in another statistical group that is not shown here.

In addition, emission intensity has decreased between 2008 and 2017, both in the EU as a whole and in Sweden. This means that emissions per GDP have decreased. However, it is important that the actual amount of emissions are reduced, and not just in relation to the size of the economy.

Emission intensity – kilos of greenhouse gas emissions per euro, 2008 and 2017. EU aggregate and Sweden

Chart Emission intensity – kilos of greenhouse gas emissions per euro, 2008 and 2017. EU aggregate and Sweden

Note: Manufacturing refers to the equivalent of the Swedish Industrial Classification of SNI C Manufacturing. Transportation refers to SNI H Transport, where hauliers, shipping and aviation are included.
Source: Eurostat, table [env_ac_aeint_r2]

Facts: The DPSIR model

The DPSIR model can show how the connections between one or more environmental areas are affected by society or the economy.

This model is also used for adopting a holistic approach to environmental problems, from identifying a problem to addressing it which creates an opportunity to evaluate the effects of the measures in the long term.

Facts: How the environmental accounts were created

In 1993, Statistics Sweden was commissioned by the Swedish government to create a system for describing the connections between the economy, the environment and natural resources. At the same time, the United Nations revised its handbook describing the national accounts, and a special handbook for the environmental accounts was published in response to the revision. Subsequently, a number of handbooks and manuals were published, aimed to support countries in their efforts to introduce environmental protection costs, air accounts and material flows. Nowadays, environmental accounts adhere to a statistical standard: the System of Environmental Economic Accounting Central Framework (SEEA CF 2012).

Data is reported annually to Eurostat, and ultimately, also to the OECD, underpinned by the Regulation on European environmental economic accounts. This regulation currently includes the areas: emissions to air, energy, material flows, environmental companies, environmental protection and environmental taxes.

Statistics Sweden regularly publishes official statistics in the following areas. These statistics are available as open data on

  • Emissions to air per industry – yearly, quarterly. Annual regional (county and municipal) statistics are also available
  • Consumption-based emissions to air, per product – yearly
  • Energy usage per industry – yearly
  • Environmental taxes per industry – yearly
  • Environmentally-motivated subsidies – yearly
  • The scope of the environmental sector – yearly and also regionally (at county and municipality level)
  • Chemical usage per industry – yearly
  • Material flows per material category – yearly
  • Land ownership per industry – intermittent