Natural capital accounting is growing, worldwide

22-05-2018 | News item

The natural capital accounting (NCA) community is growing, both in terms of the amount of emerging evidence and the number of people, countries and organisations involved, as is shown in a joint report by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, the World Bank and the United Nations. Natural capital accounts can help governments to develop better informed policies on sustainability, the environment and nature. Yet, the report also shows that continuous effort is required to mainstream how these accounts are used, in order to achieve effective policy-making.

The report presents lessons learned, following discussions and written contributions to the 2nd Policy Forum on Natural Capital Accounting for Better Decision Making, which was held in November 2017, organised by PBL, in collaboration with the World Bank WAVES Partnership, the UN Statistics Division and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The policy forum brought together a large number of people and organisations who wished to understand and use natural capital accounting in government and business decision-making.

The World Bank and United Nations are encouraging countries to set up natural capital accounts. These accounts connect national economic statistics to statistics on natural capital and serve as a basis for more informed policies on sustainability, the environment and nature. From the policy forum, it follows that NCA continues to pioneer in ways to tackle complex environmental and economic policy challenges. In particular, NCA is shown to strongly enable the integrated policy-making that is required to achieve the SDGs and inclusive green growth. The accounts prove to be useful — not only for monitoring individual SDG targets, but also for designing integrated SDG policies.

The experiences shared during the policy forum underline the importance of 10 more procedural principles that producers and users of natural capital accounts should consider. Continuous effort is needed to secure collaboration beyond departmental boundaries, ensure a demand-led approach, and embed account production and use in policy analysis and government procedures. The apparent complexity of the accounts and analysis may present a barrier for newcomers and impede mainstreaming.

The 10 principles for NCAs fit-for-policy purpose, grouped into four main areas


  1. Inclusive

Acknowledging the various stakeholders concerned with decisions that affect natural capital, responding to their informational demands, respecting various notions of value, and using appropriate means of engagement.

  1. Collaborative

Linking NCA producers, users of NCAs for policy analysis and policymakers who use NCAs results, and developing mutual understanding, trust, and the ability to collaborate.

  1. Holistic

Adopting a comprehensive, multi-/interdisciplinary approach to the economic and environmental dimensions of natural capital and to their complex links with policy and practice.


  1. Decision-centred

Providing relevant and timely information for indicator development and policy analysis to improve and implement decisions with implications for natural capital.

  1. Demand-led

Providing information demanded or needed by decision-makers at specific levels.


  1. Transparent and open

Enabling and encouraging public access to and use of NCAs, with clear communication on results and their interpretation, including limitations of data sources, methods, and/or coverage.

  1. Credible

Compiling, assessing, and streamlining data from all available sources, and deploying objective and consistent science and methodologies.


  1. Enduring

Adequate and predictable resourcing, over time; continual application and availability; and building increasingly rich time series of data.

  1. Continually improving

Learning-oriented, networked across practitioners and users, testing new approaches, and developing systems to better manage uncertainty, embrace innovation, and take advantage of emerging opportunities.

  1. Embedded

NCA production and use become part of the machinery of government and business, building capacity, improving institutional integration for sustainable development, and incorporating the use of NCAs in procedures and mechanisms that support decision-making.