Lion's Head, Photo by Taryn Elliott, Pexels
Lion's Head, Photo by Taryn Elliott, Pexels

EfD South Africa addresses the knowledge gap in ecosystem service valuation

Ecosystems are vital to human wellbeing yet the value of the services they provide is often ill-understood in the context of national accounts and policy analysis. EfD researcher, Jane Turpie, recently presented a short course to participants from 11 African countries highlighting the importance of measuring and valuing ecosystem services, specifically in the context of natural capital accounting (NCA).

Ecosystems provide essential services to humans and significantly contribute to human wellbeing through various benefits such as provisioning food and water, flood and disease control or spiritual and recreational benefits, to name a few. However, incorporating the importance of ecosystem services in national accounts (such as Gross Domestic Product, GDP) or in landscape planning is often overlooked despite the integral role these essential services play in making good quality of life possible for humans. Natural capital accounting (NCA) aims to address this knowledge gap and help measure and value natural resources within an ecosystem.

Recently EfD senior researcher, Jane Turpie, (from the Natural Capital Collaborative) presented a two-week short course (in November and December) aimed at familiarizing government professionals with the idea of ecosystem service valuation and how this can be applied to policy and national accounts. The course was broken into five modules that gave the 31 participants from 11 African countries the opportunity to recognize and describe methods of valuation, interpret results from valuation studies, and how this knowledge can be incorporated into natural capital accounts.

“Nature is the center point for addressing many global issues, but despite their importance, it is difficult to put a value on ecosystem services and ecosystem service valuation is a neglected field. However this course will hopefully open up the discussion and help policymakers, and agencies in charge of environmental sectors to be able to better manage ecosystem services,” states Peter Katanisa (Coordinator at Africa NCA Community of Practice), one of the course organizers working alongside EfD researcher Jane Turpie.

“This course not only allowed us to listen to the needs of the policymakers but helped impart practical knowledge to address those needs,” says Peter Katanisa.

Demand for natural capital accounting

Ecosystem services, while vital to human wellbeing, have typically been difficult to value in established markets and many knowledge gaps still remain when trying to put a value on non-market goods. Natural Capital accounting is a tool used to measure changes in natural resources at various scales using an internationally established accounting framework, the UN System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA). This helps determine a reliable and more importantly comparable way to value ecosystem services within a country’s national accounts.

While NCA is a valuable tool for helping achieve sustainable development goals, the system is still relatively new and the need for practical knowledge sharing among policymakers (those typically engaging with national accounts) is evident.

Impacts of the short course

The course centered around five modules that explored various aspects of ecosystem service valuation including exploring the rationale and key concepts behind ecosystem service valuation, valuation of ecosystems, valuing provisioning and cultural services, valuing regulating services and policy applications.

“The course was most helpful and exposed me to enormous knowledge about the science and practice of natural resources valuation” explained one of the attendees. Another attendee stated, “It was a great experience and quality knowledge acquisition.”

Most importantly the course provided a wide range of examples of how consistent estimates of ecosystem value can usefully inform policy especially in the context of achieving sustainable development goals. This aspect of the course ensures that the concepts of ecosystem service valuation and Natural Capital Accounting could be applied in the real world rather than remaining a theoretical discussion.

“We had lots of positive feedback from the participants, but from the organisers, it was really important to see that this course addressed the need for multidisciplinary work in this field. 60% of the attendees were civil servants from different environmental sectors which meant this course empowered these practitioners to practically contribute to the sustainability agenda of their country and begin mainstreaming NCA in national accounts,” states Peter Katanisa.


Click here to read more about the EfD Natural Capital Collaborative


By: Dr Michelle Blanckenberg

News | 21 January 2022