SANBI is working in partnership with Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) on the development of Natural Capital Accounting (NCA) in South Africa, with a focus on ecosystem accounting. Here we provide information on what NCA is, and SANBI’s involvement in NCA projects including accounts produced to date- including the recently released Land and Terrestrial Ecosystem Accounts, 1990-2014. If you would like to be added to the national NCA stakeholder mailing list, please email Robert Parry at Stats SA (RobertP@statssa.gov.za).
NCA is a way of understanding our world and the choices we make as a society. NCA refers to the use of an accounting framework to provide a systematic, reliable and comparable way to measure and report on the stocks and flows of natural capital. The stocks and flows are of individual environmental assets or resources (such as water, minerals, energy, timber, fish), as well as ecosystem assets and ecosystem services in the terrestrial, freshwater and marine realms. For more information on NCA, have a look at the NCA Factsheet.
Stats SA has published a ten-year strategy for advancing NCA in South Africa, which was co-developed with SANBI through a highly consultative process and with guidance from the NCA Strategic Advisory Group. The purpose of the strategy is to focus the efforts of Stats SA, relevant Departments and other institutions on developing priority natural capital accounts to inform South Africa’s sustainable development policy objectives. The strategy aims to aims to ensure that NCA is widely used to provide credible evidence for integrated planning and decision-making in support of the development needs of the country. The vision is supported by five strategic goals.
NCA uses an internationally agreed accounting system, the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA), which is a global standard developed by the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) to measure a country’s natural assets and resources, and track their state over time. This gives decision-makers a clearer picture of the extent and condition of a country’s natural assets and the benefits that flow from them, providing evidence of the many links between the economy, people and the environment. South Africa’s work in NCA has fed directly into the development of the newest element of the SEEA, called SEEA Ecosystem Accounting, which was adopted by the United Nations Statistical Commission in March 2021. The SEEA Ecosystem Accounting constitutes an integrated and comprehensive statistical framework for organising data about habitats and landscapes, measuring the ecosystem services, tracking changes in ecosystem assets, and linking this information to economic and other human activity.
Using accounts to quantify natural capital and its benefits is always done in biophysical terms, such as the extent of an ecosystem remaining in natural condition, amount of water produced by a catchment, volume of fish harvested from the marine environment, or number of people visiting protected areas. Where it is useful and appropriate, this may be translated into monetary values, but often that is not necessary. There are many examples of things that are important to society that are measured in non-monetary terms, like literacy rates, unemployment levels or life expectancy. The same is true for ecosystems – their importance and value to society can be captured in a range of statistics and indicators, many of which are non-monetary.
SANBI has a long history in supporting the development of natural capital accounting in South Africa. This began with piloting the application of ecosystem accounts in a project co-lead with Statistics South Africa (Stats SA). Since 2014, SANBI has partnered with Stats SA to pilot the application of ecosystem accounting- a subset of NCA. Together, the work conducted by SANBI and Stats SA, together with partners, has contributed to the development of global guidance on NCA. Initially, this was done through the Advancing Natural Capital Accounting (ANCA) Project (2014-2015), in which two natural capital accounts were developed:
1. The National River Ecosystem Accounts developed with the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)
2. The Land and Ecosystem Accounting in KwaZulu-Natal (in collaboration with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife).
The ANCA Project was led globally by the UNSD in partnership with UN Environment and the Convention on Biodiversity, with funding from the Government of Norway.
This was followed by the Natural Capital Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services (NCAVES) Project (2017-2021),in which SANBI and Stats SA, together with Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and other partners, have developed further accounts that include the:
3. Accounts for Species: Rhinos, 1970 to 2017
4. Accounts for Species: Cycads, 1970 to 2010
5. Land Accounts for Metropolitan Municipalities, 1990 to 2014
The NCAVES project was led globally by the UNSD and UN Environment Programme (UNEP), with funding from the European Union. South Africa was one of five pilot countries that participated in the project along with Brazil, India, China, Mexico. A synthesis report of South Africa’s work in the NCAVES project is available and is intended both an overview of the accounts compiled and to provide information for other countries embarking on ecosystem accounting. A six-page summary of how NCA in South Africa was strengthened through the NCAVES project is also available.
The most recent project involving NCA is the Ecological Infrastructure for Water Security (EI4WS) Project. SANBI, in partnership with Stats SA, the DWS, DFFE, and other stakeholders will be developing the following accounts:
1. Accounts for Strategic Water Source Areas
2. Accounts for ecological infrastructure assets for the two demonstration catchments of the EI4WS Project (Berg-Breede and the Greater uMngeni)
3. Water resource accounts at a catchment level of two demonstration catchments (Berg-Breede and the Greater uMngeni)
This project is funded by the Global Environment Facility, co-financed by project partners and implemented by the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA).
SANBI is also supporting the development of ecosystem accounts in other realms. CSIR has developed Experimental Ecosystem Accounts for South Africa’s Estuaries: extent, condition and ecosystem services accounts and SANBI’s Marine Programme is developing accounts for marine ecosystems.
For further information about other natural capital accounts produced in South Africa by Stats SA, including water, minerals, energy and fisheries accounts, please visit Statistics South Africa (Stats SA).
For more information: