Accounting for ecosystem services and asset value: pilot accounts for KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Peer Reviewed
4 December 2022

Jane Turpie, Gwyneth Letley, Joshua Weiss, Kevin Schmidt

Pilot monetary ecosystem accounts were compiled for KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, in order to highlight any data, methodological or process issues in their compilation and to contribute towards charting a strategy for ecosystem accounting. The Province is highly diverse, with eight biomes, large proportions under communal, private and state tenure, globally important biodiversity, variable landscape condition and encompassing catchment areas of nine river systems. We accounted for the supply and use of wild biomass, reared animal production, cultivation (including silviculture), nature-based tourism, property value, carbon storage and sequestration, pollination, flow regulation (maintenance of base flows), sediment retention, water quality amelioration and flood attenuation. For each ecosystem service, we devised conceptually valid methods that were suitable for the existing data to produce values consistent with the System of National Accounts. These were then summed to estimate total annual flows from each 100 x 100 m spatial unit and its asset value. Challenges encountered included lack of data on small-scale and subsistence production, mismatches in the classification of landcover and government production statistics, unreliable measures of ecosystem condition, the large scale of hydrological modelling and lack of centralised data organisation relating to hydrological services. There was heavy reliance on past empirical research and on global datasets. The combined value of the annual flow of the ecosystem services valued was R52.5 billion in 2011, equivalent to 12% of the provincial GDP. However, the values of many of the services have decreased over the accounting period, due to a combination of changes in demand and ecosystem condition. Asset value was undermined to some extent by unsustainable use of provisioning services. Some areas will require careful messaging, particularly in regard to the contentious issue of valuing carbon retention and the use of exchange values rather than welfare values that are used in economic analysis.

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Publication reference
Turpie, J., Letley, G., Weiss, J., & Schmidt, K. (2022). Accounting for ecosystem services and asset value: pilot accounts for KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. One Ecosystem, 7.
Publication | 12 December 2023