Natural Capital Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services - South Africa

South Africa

Mainstreaming biodiversity and ecosystems into policy through natural capital accounts

NCAVES Implementation in South Africa

The Natural Capital and Valuation of Ecosystem Services project engaged South Africa in 2016. Internally, the project was co-led by Stats SA and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). NCAVES was funded by the European Union.

NCAVES aimed to:

  • compile national land, ecosystem, and species accounts in biophysical terms;
  • pilot the development of ecosystem services accounts (in biophysical and monetary terms);
  • scenario analysis at a provincial level, in KwaZulu-Natal;
  • contribute to the testing and development of the System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) Ecosystem Accounting guidelines and methodologies;
  • develop and test indicators for country reporting on the UN Sustainable Development Goals; and build awareness, knowledge sharing, and capacity building to support a community of practitioners

What's been accomplished

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

Compilation of ecosystem accounts.

  • Land and Terrestrial Ecosystem Accounts

South Africa’s landscape and habitats are constantly changing. Understanding these changes, over space, across time, and in combination with changes in the country’s terrestrial ecosystems, has provided insight that can inform planning and decision-making.  NCAVES supported South Africa’s first Land and Terrestrial Ecosystem Accounts, 1990 to 2014. This account provides insight into these changes. The Land and Terrestrial Ecosystem Accounts are presented as accounting tables accompanied by maps (Figure 1) and graphs, which draw out key indicators from the accounts. The first part of the account outlines changes in land cover patterns. The second part provides information about the condition of South Africa’s terrestrial ecosystems and how this has changed from their historical state (before people began modifying the landscape intensively).


Figure 1: Extent of biomes in 2014, including intensively modified biomes that have replaced portions of the natural and semi-natural biomes.



  • Accounts for Protected Areas

The publication "Natural Capital 2: Accounts for Protected Areas, 1900 -2020"  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.    Key findings on the publication and tables here.


  • Experimental Ecosystem Services Accounts at sub-national level.

Covering KwaZulu-Natal, a province in the southeastern part of South Africa, the report Towards a method for accounting for ecosystem services and asset value: Pilot accounts for KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, 2005-2011 provides a first set of physical and monetary ecosystem accounts for 11 different ecosystem services. Each service is modelled spatially using a range of ecosystem services models. The study also includes monetary ecosystem asset accounts for 2005 and 2011.



Scenario analysis of land degradation

The ecosystem service accounts were applied in a policy scenario analysis study called “Potential costs and benefits of addressing land degradation in the Thukela catchment, KwaZulu-Natal South Africa”. The study compares the benefits of ecosystem restoration – in terms of the monetary value of improved provision of selected ecosystem services against the costs of intervention. The study estimates how these services change by 2030 under a business-as usual scenario with low intervention levels and continued degradation; and then compares this to ecosystem service delivery under two possible intervention scenarios - (a) a land degradation neutrality scenario, and (b) a full restoration scenario - taking the costs of the interventions into account.

The results of the study demonstrate that halting and reversing ecosystem degradation has positive net economic benefits. Preventing degradation now is more cost effective than fixing it later. In summary, the benefits of restoring the Thukela basin would outweigh the costs.

Planned releases

  • Land Accounts for Metropolitan Areas
  • 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.

NCA National Strategy

A ten-year strategy for advancing Natural Capital Accounting in South Africa has been developed in consultation with stakeholders on the basis of an assessment of activities and initiatives related to environmental-economic accounting. The strategy will focus the efforts of Stats SA and SANBI 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.

Communities of practice

The NCAVES project helped to stimulate a vibrant national NCA Community of Practice through enabling three national level stakeholder events, which together have helped to grow the number of stakeholders involved. The Community of Practice remains an open invitation list, which includes both the private and public sectors.


Looking ahead: Taking NCA forward in South Africa

Looking ahead: Taking NCA forward in South Africa


Given South Africa’s strong foundations in ecosystem and biodiversity data, the country is well positioned to compile further categories of natural capital accounts and explore an integrated suite of accounts for specific policy-and decision-making purposes.

South Africa will use its leadership in being a:

  • signatory to the Gaborone Declaration on Sustainability in Africa,
  • current Chair of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), and
  • Steering Committee member of the Africa NCA Community of Practice

to drive the development and mainstreaming of NCA across Africa.

The NCA Strategy will support national coordination across government. Stats SA and SANBI will continue to coordinate and collaborate on NCA work and add value to resources already invested. The process will remain inclusive and aim to work with as wide-a-range of stakeholders as possible.

Through layering of donor investments, Stats SA and SANBI will continue to leverage internal and external resources to great effect, creating synergies and increasing returns on individual investments.

South Africa is seeking new resourcing partners to further develop time series data for important accounts and to develop an expanded suite of priority accounts identified in the National NCA Strategy, including accounts for: river and wetland ecosystems, carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture and food security, water, ecological infrastructure assets, priority ecosystem services and priority species of special concern.

South Africa will explore how NCA can help businesses better account for dependencies and impacts on nature. Further formal and informal learning opportunities also need support to supply a pipeline of expertise, as well as support for research and innovation to drive advancements in the technologies that support NCA

Project Background

South Africa has many years of experience with natural capital accounting (NCA). 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.

Between 2014 and 2016, through the Advancing Natural Capital Accounting (ANCA), from 2014 to 2016, the country has also piloted accounts for river ecosystems using the SEEA framework.

A key finding from these river accounts was that the ecological condition of South Africa’s rivers was declining. This information then helped inform the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, which highlights the importance of maintaining the integrity of freshwater ecosystems as part of the water value chain.

The river accounts also identified 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.

NCAVES Project

The NCAVES project was funded by the European Union via a Partnership Instrument and has been jointly implemented by the United Nations Statistics Division, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme and the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)