Ecosystem services are essential to human wellbeing. These services include food and fuel resources provided by nature, as well as hydrological cycle regulation, soil erosion control, or pollination by wild animals, among others. Yet, the contribution of ecosystem services is not currently included in national accounts of wealth such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or in related landscape planning. To address this knowledge gap, global initiatives to integrate ecosystem services into the National Accounts are currently taking place. One such effort is the development of The Natural Capital (NatCap) collaborative.
The Natural Capital (NatCap) collaborative was founded in 2021 and expanded from its initial focus on ecosystem services valuation under the collaborative Ecosystem Services Accounting for Development (ESAforD) project which ran from 2015 to 2020. During 2021 the NatCap collaborative found its natural base at EfD South Africa, the Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU), hosted by the University of Cape Town. EPRU has been instrumental in providing impactful environmental economic research that influences policy not just in South Africa but throughout the Global South.
Going forward, NatCap will continue to attract new and established researchers who are as dedicated and passionate about the field of environmental economics and are focused on effecting change. This will have been done through committed research on water systems, ecosystem services & biodiversity, and sustainable agriculture, in collaboration with researchers throughout the global EfD network. Though NatCap’s research targets are challenges in the environmental sector, NatCap’s overarching social ambitions are to aid in the reduction of poverty and gender equality.
It is our objective to build upon the existing knowledge and empirical evidence (i.e. empirical data) on the valuation of biodiversity and ecosystem services, water systems, and sustainable agriculture in order to account for these services throughout the Global South, with a specific focus on policy development and implementation, capacity building and advocacy.
NatCap’s Overarching Goals
NatCap's overarching goal is to stimulate policy action across the Global South to implement research based sustainable practices for ecosystem services and biodiversity, water systems, and sustainable agriculture. As well as, promote collaborative interlinked research within EfD centers and with researchers outside of the EfD network as well as between entry-level and experienced researchers.
The NatCap collaborative aims to achieve these goals under three distinct initiatives or themes:
Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity
1) To promote the management of natural resources through nature based solutions based on the principles of natural accounting practices.
2) Stimulate the increased development of ecological infrastructure.
3) Popularize the use of payment for ecosystem services throughout the Global South.
1) Investigate and advocate for equitable burden sharing arrangements concerning water scarcity through behavioral economics principles and tariff structures.
2) Develop novel strategies that strengthen urban and rural water systems' resilience to climate change and human activity.
3) Stimulate sustainable approaches for the development and protection of natural and artificial water infrastructure.
1) Conduct and disseminate rigorous research on the inter-linkages between sustainable agriculture and food systems.
2) Boost novel agricultural risk mitigation policies for climate variability to improve access to safe and nutritious food and reduce poverty.
3) The successful implementation of innovative soil conservation methods that develop agricultural adaptation for enhanced resilience to climate change.
NatCap provides open, equal, opportunities for researchers to take an active part in the goal of investigating the gaps and opportunities for environmental policy improvement within the Global South. This is done by the use of the Collaborative to encourage a global group of researchers to connect on shared passions to address vital issues. Further enabling the effective dissemination of research results.
The focus of NatCap must be to fill the gaps within the environmental economic literature with policy impacting research for the Global South. Virtually every country within the Global South suffers from at least one, if not all, of research areas that NatCap aims to explore and reduce. The need for inclusive holistic research that takes into account the nature of communities, countries, and regions is critical in affecting substantial, meaningful change. To do this, NatCap will use and expand its network connections with EfD centers, universities, policymakers, and other research centers, across the Global South alongside collaboration with these same players in the Global North.
NatCaps policy engagement objectives are to: i) promote engagement between researchers and policymakers on an ongoing basis; ii) generate interconnectedness between policymakers from different countries; iii) foster connections between public and private sectors.
NatCap was founded with the primary objective of engaging with policymakers about green accounting and ecosystem services. This is still the case, however, NatCap is also expanding its scope to include the research and policy engagement of topics to do with water systems and sustainable agriculture.
NatCap recognizes that policymakers from different countries need to interact with one another in a climate-focused space to facilitate the implementation of effective policies across borders and regions. In addition, the fostering of relationships between policymakers and stakeholders from different regions is also vital for the generation of new potential policies that are formed around the gaps and opportunities made clear by a local perspective.
Our aim is to allow a diverse representation of the NatCap stakeholders:
Director - Prof Martine Visser, South Africa
Global Hub Representative (currently available position) (Associate Prof Gunnar Köhlin)
Thought Leader - Dr Glenn-Marie Lange
Ecosystem services and biodiversity
Theme Leader - Dr Jane Turpie, South Africa
Theme Leader - Dr Róger Madrigal, Central America
Theme Leader - Dr Mintewab Bezabih, Ethiopia
Ecosystem Services Accounting for Development (ESAforD) project (2015 - 2020)
Valuing pollination, water quality and urban green spaces
The ESAfD project conducts empirical valuation studies regarding water purification services provided by forests, pollination services for crops, and urban green spaces. The project identifies the value of ecosystem services by linking biophysical and socioeconomic data. You can watch the videos for each area by clicking on the links above.
The methods are consistent with SEEA methodology, to help feed the future development of the international standards for ecosystem accounting. The project mostly uses secondary datasets that are already gathered by national agencies. This helps not only to carry a cost-effective study, but also to make it feasible for national authorities to adopt the methods for developing ecosystem services accounting.
Activities and publications
The ESAfD project has already produced four discussion papers and peer – reviewed publications. Currently, there are more than 30 manuscripts under preparation, and four papers already submitted for consideration in peer-reviewed journals. Members of the working group have presented more than 20 papers in international conferences, like the annual conferences of the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economics Conference (EAERE), and the annual meetings of the EfD Initiative.
In an effort to feed the development of the SEEA technical recommendations and international standard representatives of the project took part of several events organized by The World Bank and the United Nations Statistical Division (UNSD). During the 2017 we participated at the London Group Meeting held in Costa Rica, that is the most important global meeting of environmental accounts, where guidelines for the UN handbooks are identified.
We strengthened relationships with the representatives of UNSD, and during 2018 we co-organized a policy session during the 6th World Congress of Environmental and Resource Economists, to help bridge the communities on national accounting and environmental economics. The session was chaired by Juha Siikamäki, Chief Economist of IUCN.
Bram Edens, Senior statistician at UNSD, presented the ecosystem services accounting framework. Matías Piaggio, Senior research fellow at EfD, presented empirical work on ecosystem services accounting for valuation from the ESAfD project. Then, a round table took place, with the participation of practitioners and researchers working closer with the implementation of the accounts. Jane Turpie, Senior research fellow at EfD South Africa, presented on the valuation of ecosystem services for accounting in South Africa. Irene Alvarado, Chief of Environmental Statistics at the Central Bank of Costa Rica presented the implementation of the SEEA-EEA in Costa Rica. Alessandra La Notte, Researcher at the Joint Research Center of the European Commission, talked about the construction of ecosystems accounts and policy application in Europe.
The session was attended by more than 40 researchers and practitioners worldwide. The presentations and the round table gave place to a rich open discussion on collaboration across disciplines and paths to follow. This has been an important stage looking for future collaboration and involvement of environmental economists on ecosystem services valuation for accounting
In addition, the work by Dr. Byela Tibesigwa on the relationship between the gender of the head of the household and the dependency of the household on crop pollination services in Tanzania was awarded with the Prize for the Best Poster exhibited at the World Congress on Environmental and Resource Economics 2018. he poster. The best poster was selected by a small committee from different continents (Europe, Asia, America, Africa), by the time that the participants in the congress were also able to vote.
Currently there are three ESAforD work group members taking part in the global review on ecosystem services accounting helping to construct an international standard, coordinated by UNSD. Dr. Juha Siikamäki is currently leading Work Group 5: ‘Valuation of ecosystem services for accounting’. Dr. Jane Turpie and Dr. Matías Piaggio are also part of the same group. Last June 2019 they participated in the Technical Expert Meeting on the Revision of the SEEA EEA.
List of researchers
Juha Siikamäki, IUCN, Principal Investigator
Matías Piaggio, EfD Central America, Executive coordinator and researcher at Costa Rica
Lisa Björk, Swedish EPA, Executive coordinator
Jessica Alvsiver, Swedish EPA, Executive coordinator (former)
Dawit Woubshiet, EfD Ethiopia, researcher
Jane Turpie, EfD South Africa, researcher
Dambala Gelo, EfD South Africa, researcher (former)
Byela Tibesigwa, EfD Tanzania, researcher
Michael Ndwiga, EfD Kenya, researcher
Richard Mulwa, EfD Kenya, researcher
Zhaoyang Liu, EfD China, researcher
Per Strömberg, Swedish EPA, researcher