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UNECE helps ensure statistics capture all aspects of economies in an ever-changing world

A series of UNECE webinars has fuelled the global research agenda to shape the 2025 update of the System of National Accounts, the internationally-agreed framework for producing and disseminating information about economic performance.

The System of National Accounts, or SNA, is a comprehensive conceptual and methodological framework jointly developed and maintained by the United Nations, IMF, OECD, the European Commission and the World Bank. The system allows countries to compile and disseminate economic indicators including the widely-used GDP (gross domestic product) as well as information on a range of other areas: such as interactions between the different sectors of an economy; accumulation of wealth; and financial stability.

More than 450 experts participated in UNECE’s series of five webinars, exploring the range of forces impacting the functioning of modern economies. Globalization and digitalization are making national economies ever-more interconnected. Rising inequalities, informal work, platform work and unpaid care work make it necessary to adapt measurement techniques to ensure no economic activity remains hidden from view.

The idea that well-being, health, the environment and sustainability should be integrated into our measures of economies’ performance is nothing new—in recent years such ideas have evolved from fringe to mainstream. Globalization, meanwhile, has been one UNECE’s key areas of statistical work for more than a decade. Three guides – The Impact of Globalization on National Accounts, The Guide to Measuring Global Production and the forthcoming 2020 Guide to Sharing Economic Data in Official Statistics – have been developed to help countries respond to the statistical challenges that globalization poses. Although the Covid pandemic may temporarily have slowed some of the trends towards globalization, it has also shone a spotlight on the interdependencies of countries in the global economy. As countries closed their borders at the start of the pandemic, international supply chains ground to a halt. The SNA therefore needs to be able to measure both the national and global economy correctly in an increasingly globalized world.

But while it is now widely recognized that economic statistics need to adapt, many questions remain about exactly how to do so. How can accurate, robust statistics be produced on these hard-to-define areas while ensuring that crucial economic statistics remain comparable over time and across countries, so that policymakers can make decisions based on real trends?

Experts from around 90 countries and 15 international organizations agreed that these changes in the way economies work necessitate updates to the SNA to ensure the right information is captured. The UNECE webinars showcased new guidance on how to complement traditional economic indicators with measures of well-being and sustainability. Many of the proposed changes draw directly on a range of UNECE methodological guides including Valuing Unpaid Household Service Work, Measuring Human Capital and Satellite Accounts on Education and Training.

A novelty in the agreed process for updating the SNA is that countries will test the proposed changes first, producing experimental statistics before the updated recommendations become final in 2025. This will ensure that the proposed changes are practical and feasible, and will allow countries to develop the data sources and tools they need in advance. UNECE stands ready to support this testing process across its member States over the next five years, helping to ensure that the SNA is applicable to all countries regardless of their level of economic development or the nature of their economy.