Natural Capital Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services - South Africa

South Africa

Mainstreaming biodiversity and ecosystems into policy through natural capital accounts

Project overview

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) are co-leading the national implementation of the  European Union-funded project Natural Capital Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services (NCAVES) in South Africa, in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and other national and sub-national stakeholders to further develop ecosystem accounts for South Africa.

Project activities and results

The activities and related outputs of the project in South Africa include:

Compilation of ecosystem accounts.

The project will compile and explore linkages of these accounts to national economic and demographic data, to show how and where people most depend, and impact, on nature.:

  • National land cover change and terrestrial ecosystem extent 

 The purpose of the land and terrestrial ecosystem accounts for 1990 to 2014 is to provide detailed data and insights into changes in the extent of different land cover classes and terrestrial ecosystem types within South Africa over this period. The accounts provide detailed information that captures the changing dynamics of land cover and terrestrial ecosystems, to provide information for assessing how these changes may impact on people and the economy.

The publication "Natural Capital 1: Land and Terrestrial Ecosystem Accounts, 1990 -2014" , published  in December 2020 by Statistics South Africa,  in collaboration with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), provides the first systematic national-level view of how South African land cover classes have shifted over time, over space and across themes- and how this interplays with the country's terrestrial ecosystems.   Publication and tables here.

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  • Land Accounts for Metropolitan Municipalities

The purpose of the Land Accounts for Metropolitan Municipalities is to provide detailed data and insights into tracked changes in area under different types of land cover within South Africa’s metros over a defined time period, between 1990 and 2014, in response to economic and environmental drivers and can be used to inform the trajectory of development of various sectors in urban areas which are experiencing the greatest influx of people and the areas where the majority of economic activity is centered. The land accounts provide detailed critical information that captures the changing dynamics of land cover how these changes may impact on people, societies and economies

  • Accounting for protected areas

The publication "Natural Capital 2: Accounts for Protected Areas, 1900 -2020" , published  in October 2021 by Statistics South Africa,  in collaboration with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), offers standardized accounts to summarize historical changes in the protected area network of South Africa from 1900 to 2020.  The accounts for  protected areas  were compiled at the national, provincial and biome level, showing  the size and composition of the protected national areas   across seven different types of protected areas in South Africa over 120 years.   The period of analysis was divided into 11 accounting periods, with 20-year intervals from 1900 to 1960, ten-year intervals from 1960 to 2000, and five-year intervals from 2000 to 2020.  Key findings on the publication and tables here.

  • Species accounts for rhinoceros and cycads.

Species that are of conservation concern, charismatic, iconic or endemic may hold value to people around the world, beyond that which is captured in other accounts. Recognising this, species accounts may be particularly useful in informing policy makers of trends in these groups of species. In consultation with relevant stakeholders in South Africa, two groups were chosen to be used to trial species accounts in South Africa for fauna and flora, respectively: rhinoceroses and cycads. These were narrowed down on the basis of conservation importance and data availability.

Experimental Ecosystem Services Accounts at sub-national level.  

The compilation of a comprehensive suite of experimental ecosystem services accounts in physical and monetary terms for the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa has been published as a pilot study entitled  “Towards a method for accounting for ecosystem services and asset value: Pilot accounts for KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, 2005-2011”.  These accounts will be used to produce scenario analyses.



NCA National Strategy

In addition, a ten-year strategy for advancing Natural Capital Accounting in South Africa has being developed in consultation with stakeholders on the basis of an assessment of activities and initiatives related to environmental-economic accounting The purpose of the strategy is to respond to the need to focus the efforts of Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) and other institutions engaged in NCA on developing priority natural capital accounts and effective statistical systems and institutional mechanisms to inform South Africa’s sustainable development policy objectives.  The strategy can be found here.

The SEEA in South Africa

South Africa has years of experience with natural capital accounting.  Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) first developed environmental economic accounts for water in 2000 and subsequently have compiled additional accounts for energy, minerals, and fisheries.


Under the project Advancing Natural Capital Accounting (ANCA), from 2014 to 2016, South Africa has also piloted accounts for river ecosystems using the SEEA framework. A key finding from the river accounts is that the ecological condition of South Africa’s rivers declined by 10% from 1999 to 2011. This information has helped inform the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, developed by the Department of Water and Sanitation, which highlights the importance of maintaining the integrity of freshwater ecosystems as part of the water value chain. The accounts also have identified the areas where the decline in river health has been most pronounced so that solutions can be identified and targeted to better manage catchments and rivers to support economic and social development.


The NCAVES Project


Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa, are advancing the theory and practice of environmental and ecosystem accounting through this innovative  European Union-funded project. 

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