Ecosystem Accounts are tools that we can use to describe systematically how the quantity and quality of ecosystems, and the ecological structures and processes that underpin them, change over time. Ultimately they can help us understand the costs of such change to people, either in monetary terms or in terms of risks to their health or livelihood. The goal is to supply scientific support with proper tools to policy-makers.
Since 2002, ETC-LUSI, together with EEA, is working on an accounting methodology for land use and ecosystem, the LEAC method (Weber, 2007). The accounts aim to reflect on critical stock and flows of natural capital (ecosystem functions). EEA/ETC-LUSI views an ecosystem as a “life-support system”, visually shaped by land-cover and strongly conditioned by land-use. Land in spatial terms is viewed as multifunctional unit providing space and supporting a range of benefits to humans and biodiversity. Four ecosystem subjects are considered: Land-use, water-use, primary productivity and biodiversity.
Land cover accounts (1990-2000-2006) are derived from CORINE Land Cover (remote sensing product classification aided by expert image interpretation). The EEA (No 11/2006) report ¨Land accounts for Europe 1990-2000¨ presents the first application of the LEAC method, demonstrating detailed characterisation (including quantitative estimations) of major land-use patterns and changes in EU – the urban, agricultural, forest and semi-natural land-cover classes.
ETC-LUSI has developed different tools to query land cover data and land cover changes information among other datasets in two different years (1990 and 2000; 2000 and 2006). These tools work with an on line Analytical Processing (OLAP) database, accessible through the Internet. The database is structured in accordance to a multi-dimensional approach for retrieving land cover using different analytical reporting units (LARU), however the system it is not closed for other kind of data (population, nature protection, transportation, water assets,…).
It allows an efficient processing and retrieval of data on continental scale and to perform spatial-based queries without Geographical Information Systems (GIS) tools. At this stage LEAC includes Land cover data types, but with theoretically unlimited possibility to include other subjects as areas of different rates of primary productivity and areas with different degree of habitat richness among others.