Natural Capital Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services - South Africa

South Africa

Mainstreaming biodiversity and ecosystems into policy through natural capital accounts

Project overview

South Africa is taking part in an innovative multi-year project to advance the theory and practice of ecosystem accounting.  It joins four other countries -Brazil, China, India and Mexico - as part of the Natural Capital Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services (NCAVES) project, funded by the European Union through an innovative Partnership Instrument (PI), and implemented by the United Nations Statistics Division, in collaboration with UN Environment TEEB office and the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

South Africa's natural capital

South Africa is Africa’s largest economy. While the country has made remarkable progress in raising living standards in recent years, it still features high economic inequality and the need for inclusive economic growth. Historically, its industrial structure has been heavily weighted toward the extraction of mineral resources, and mining remains a key pillar of the economy, representing almost 60% of its export revenue. Mining, energy and heavy manufacturing have put considerable pressure on South Africa’s natural resources, particularly its water resources.  


South Africa is rich in natural assets and ecosystems that deliver important services to its population. It is the third-most biologically diverse nation in the world and is home to a variety of ecosystems that support a range of important economic sectors, including a thriving tourism industry that employs more people than the mining sector. Natural habitat degradation and the loss of species remain a threat in key terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments and the spectre of climate change means these challenges are likely to increase without concerted policy responses.

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.


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 is helping inform the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, currently being 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.


Project goals and activities

In 2014 South Africa joined Bhutan, Chile, Indonesia, Vietnam, Mauritius and Mexico, in the advancing Natural Capital Accounting (ANCA) project launched by UNSD, the UN-Environment-TEEB and the Secretariat of the CBD, with funds from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.
South Africa’s participation in the European Union-funded NCA&VES project builds on this experience to advance the theory and practice of ecosystem accounting. Stats SA and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) are co-leading the project nationally and in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and other national and sub-national stakeholders to further develop ecosystem accounts for South Africa.
The project is working to build accounts for:

  • National land cover change and terrestrial ecosystem extent
  • City-regions
  • Protected areas
  • Marine ecosystems
  • Selected species or groups of species of special concern

The project will also explore linkages of these accounts to national economic and demographic data, to show how and where people most depend, and impact, on nature. The project also includes some more experimental accounts in one province, KwaZulu-Natal, which will explore comprehensive ecosystem services accounts in physical and monetary terms. These accounts will be used to produce scenario analyses.

Related project

South Africa has a second project underway that is also aimed at taking forward Natural Capital Accounting, in order to support better-informed policy and decision-making. The Ecological Infrastructure for Water Security (EI4WS) project, which is being executed by the SANBI, implemented by the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), and funded by the Global Environmental Facility, will focus on catchment-level water resource accounts and accounts for ecological infrastructure at the national and catchment level.


At the national level, the project will develop accounts for Strategic Water Source Areas, the 10% of South Africa’s land that delivers 50% of the nation's water, supporting half the economy and two-thirds of the population. At the catchment level, the project will focus on two demonstration catchments, namely the Greater uMngeni demonstration catchment and the Berg-Breede demonstration catchment, to develop accounts for a suite of ecological assets that play an important role in water security.



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. 

Main project page