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UNECE helps countries move to an updated global system of economic measurement 

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This week the Conference of European Statisticians (CES) meets in Geneva for its 72nd Plenary Session. On the agenda: an in-depth look at how countries can move towards a holistic way of measuring economic activity, sustainability and wellbeing. 

A high-level seminar on 20 June will give CES delegates – the most senior national statisticians from across and beyond the UNECE region – a chance to discuss and debate the challenges entailed in shifting our global system of economic measurement to a revised system, ready for adoption in 2025. The seminar on implementing the new System of National Accounts, or SNA, will focus on aspects such as capacity and budget implications, training and retaining staff, data sources and administrative burden, and how to mobilize support from the international statistical community. The seminar will consider illustrative examples from Australia, Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom.  

The SNA is the core macroeconomic statistical standard providing the basis for measuring Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and many other economic indicators such as national income, investment, savings, household consumption and income, government deficit, and debt. These indicators are crucial for policymaking and economic analysis.  

But the global economy is changing dramatically. With globalization and digitalization come new measurement challenges such as complex global value chains, digital platforms, the sharing economy, crypto assets, and the increased role of Intellectual Property Products. And there is a growing demand for new ways to link measurements of economic development with data on environmental sustainability and wellbeing, reflecting the intricate links between people, planet and prosperity. Macroeconomic standards must evolve to reflect these changes and better meet users' needs. 

Recognizing the need to address these changes, the SNA is being revised to better match today’s realities. The ‘Beyond GDP’ initiative, spearheaded by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres as part of his commitment to Our Common Agenda, emphasizes that GDP alone does not paint the full picture of the state of an economy. There are many possible candidates for measures that go beyond GDP. A key advantage of the new approach in the revised SNA is that there is a connection among and consistency between measures that are all based on the same comprehensive, internationally-agreed framework. 

This revision process, led by the United Nations, IMF, World Bank, OECD, European Commission and other regional bodies, has involved extensive and inclusive consultations with experts and officials from all 193 UN Member States, as well as international organizations and users, who have reviewed close to 100 methodological documents.  

The updated SNA will better reflect modern economies and will also include links to new measures for wellbeing, for example on the distribution of household income, consumption and wealth, the informal economy, unpaid household service work, human capital, education and health care, as well as environmental sustainability, such as depletion of natural resources.  

As the new SNA is prepared for adoption in 2025, preparations for putting it into practice are starting now. This transition will be challenging for national statistical offices, requiring significant resource mobilization from countries and a joint effort by international organizations. 

Examples from countries such as Australia highlight the scale of this effort. Australia estimates that implementing the new changes will cost at least 35 million Australian dollars.  

The seminar is part of the annual plenary session of CES, which meets to discuss emerging issues, agree on priorities, and adopt new statistical standards and guidelines. This year’s session on 20-21 June includes two high-level seminars, a joint session with the UN global geospatial community, and a spotlight on data ethics, among many other topics. 

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