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Macroeconomics and the Environment

Essays on Green Accounting

Salah El Serafy

Though scientists and environmentalists have long expressed concern over the rapid deterioration of the global environment, economists have largely failed to recognize the issue’s relevance to their field. Salah El Serafy argues for an increased focus on the economic aspects of environmental degradation, calling for a fundamental shift in how economists measure and discuss national income.
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Chapter 2: Green accounting: history and prospects

Essays on Green Accounting

Salah El Serafy


This chapter covers some of the ground of Chapter 1 but from a different angle. In part it is a piece of personal history regarding my getting involved in green accounting. It also tries to assess the current status of green accounting and speculates on its likely future course. The personal history part will understandably differ from other people’s recollections, but this should be expected. A rival method to the user cost, the ‘net price method’, has triumphed, having been backed in influential circles. Without a determined effort to extricate green accounting from its present stagnation, it will almost certainly not survive as a convincing tool for achieving what green accounting was meant for. Despite all, there continues to be considerable interest in green accounting worldwide. The assessment of empirical results and even the purpose of greening the accounts remain blurred. Importantly, the impact of national accounting reform on macroeconomic policies does not seem to have attracted much interest. This raises the question as to the very purpose of greening the accounts. As I see it, a web of confusion and unhelpful contributions has shrouded this once promising tool, and this short chapter aims to trace its chequered course from its inception. It will briefly identify what I consider to be confusion and negative contributions advanced for and around it. With some overlap with the previous chapter, this chapter will speculate about future prospects of green accounting, while sketching an approach that might revive it and restore its past momentum. A sine qua non for such restoration would be a forceful and disinterested sponsorship by a leading institution with adequate resources and sustained determination. But until this occurs, the best that I can offer is to try to take stock of its current status and chart a tentative way ahead.

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