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Natural capital accounting for better policy

Abstract

A growing number of countries is setting up natural capital accounts (NCA) based on the system of environmental-economic accounting (SEEA); however, actually using them for better policy making turns out to be complex. This paper synthesises lessons on the institutional mainstreaming of the SEEA and its use in improving policy decisions affecting natural capital. It draws on discussions held at two Policy Forums organised by the World Bank Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services program and the United Nations Statistical Division. Practical examples of how the SEEA helps to improve policy making are explored. Emerging from the Forums were ten principles for making NCA fit for policy. These principles promote a comprehensive NCA organisation, a purposeful use of accounts, trustworthy methods and institutionalisation of NCA mechanisms in government. To put these principles into practice, six strategies are outlined: (1) assure credibility of the accounts; (2) align supply and demand for NCA; (3) assure high level support for NCA; (4) encourage cooperation between institutions so NCA and policy are mutually constructive; (5) provide evidence that natural capital is economically important and; (6) assure policy-relevant communication of NCA results.

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Fig. 1

Source Bass et al. (2017)

Fig. 2

Source Adapted from Vardon et al. (2016a)

Notes

  1. Throughout the text, by NCA we refer to natural capital accounts that are set up according to the SEEA CF, and linked to the System of National Accounts. This contrasts with other natural capital information systems that may also be used for including natural capital considerations in public or private decision-making.

  2. See https://www.wavespartnership.org/en/forum-natural-capital-accounting-better-policy.

  3. See Vardon et al. (2017a), Ruijs and Vardon (2018), and https://www.wavespartnership.org/en/forum-natural-capital-accounting-better-policy.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank all the participants of the 1st and 2nd WAVES Policy Forum on Natural Capital Accounting for Better Policy, Nov 22–23 2016 and Nov 22–23 2017, The Hague.

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Correspondence to Arjan Ruijs.

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Ruijs, A., Vardon, M., Bass, S. et al. Natural capital accounting for better policy. Ambio 48, 714–725 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-018-1107-y

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Keywords

  • Biodiversity
  • Ecosystem services
  • Environmental policy
  • Environment mainstreaming
  • Natural capital accounting
  • Natural capital
  • SDGs
  • SEEA