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Natural Capital Accounting

Measuring What Matters: Acknowledging Nature’s Role in the Global Economy

Russ Mittermeier's picture
Also available in: Español
Countries Go Beyond GDP to Make Natural Capital Count for Development

“Accounting” may not be a word that gets many pulses racing. But what if I told you that a new kind of accounting — called natural capital accounting — could revolutionize the way the world’s nations assess and value their economies?
 
Currently, gross domestic product (GDP) is the most widely used indicator of a country’s economic status. But while this number places a value on all the goods and services produced by that economy, it doesn’t account for its “natural capital” — the ecosystems and the services they provide, from carbon sequestration to freshwater regulation to pollination.

A Wave of Commitments for Ocean Health

Valerie Hickey's picture


The Global Oceans Action Summit closed not with a call for action as is so typical of conferences these days, but with a series of very real and resourced commitments to shared and urgent action.Hosted by the Government of the Netherlands, this summit convened around the consensus goal of healthy oceans, and brought the public and private sectors, civil society actors, local communities and even local Dutch fisherfolk to the table. Diverse groups came together to talk, listen and make commitments.

An Accounting System Worthy of Earth Day: Natural Capital Accounting

Rachel Kyte's picture
When presidents, prime ministers, and government ministers of more than 60 nations put their countries’ names behind natural capital accounting last year at Rio+20, something shifted. Countries wanted a better way of measuring progress that went beyond GDP and factored in nature and its services.

Clearly that was no flash in the pan. Last week, I chaired a high-level ministerial dialogue on the margins of the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings where government ministers and senior representatives of more than 40 countries came together to compare notes on how natural capital accounting is working for them.

Country after country – represented by finance, development, or environment ministers – talked about how natural capital accounting fit their countries’ priorities and how it could be a tool to address some of their key policy challenges. With each statement from the floor, it was clear that natural capital accounting is no longer an academic concept. It is alive and well and being utilized across the world in developing, middle, and high-income countries.

How a Week in Rio Leads to an Active Monday Morning

Rachel Kyte's picture

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What will you do Monday morning to start making a difference? UN Photo/Maria Elisa Franco

We came to Rio+20 determined that one outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development must be a plan for what ministers of finance, development and environment and ourselves need to do differently Monday morning, June 25th  – if we are to achieve sustainable development for all. 

We have our plan.

We came to Rio+20 knowing that inclusive green growth is the pathway to sustainable development, and the evidence here is that this international community agrees. 

The analysis behind the World Bank’s report Inclusive Green Growth: The Pathway to Sustainable Development framed many of the conference debates and helped facilitate a new focus on natural capital accounting – a fundamental component of inclusive green growth.

According to the 59 countries, 86 companies, and 17 civil society organizations that supported the World Bank Group-facilitated 50:50 campaign – as well as many others – natural capital accounting is an idea whose time has come.   

In fact, natural capital accounting events filled the Rio Convention Center, and government and civil society groups alike highlighted the importance of moving beyond GDP.

This new energy and emphasis around this issue may be the most important outcome of Rio+ 20. 

Rio's Buzzing About Natural Capital Accounting

Rachel Kyte's picture

Only a very short time ago, we were drawing blank looks when we mentioned "natural capital accounting." This week at Rio, everyone is talking about it. Walls are plastered with flyers about it.  And our event on it yesterday drew such a crowd it was standing-room only.

With three presidents, two prime ministers, one deputy prime minister, a host of ministers, top corporate leaders and civil society groups in the room, we announced that the 50:50 campaign to get at least 50 countries and 50 companies to commit to acting on natural capital accounting was a success. The latest tally: 59 countries, 88 private companies, 1 region, and 16 civil society groups signing on to the Gaborone Declaration, recommitting to other natural capital initiatives, or agreeing to join forces with this movement.

Rio+20, une scène internationale

Rachel Kyte's picture

Cette semaine, la ville de Rio de Janeiro va se transformer en scène internationale pour accueillir des dizaines de milliers de participants à la Conférence des Nations unies sur le développement durable.

Cette grande scène mondiale qu’est la conférence Rio+ 20 va permettre à ceux qui souhaitent agir — acteurs publics, du secteur privé et de la société civile — de montrer comment il est possible d’accélérer les progrès à condition de changer nos modes de croissance.

Rio +20: A Global Stage

Rachel Kyte's picture

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Earth Summit 1992. UN Photo/Michos Tzovaras
Photo: The scene at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where the conference adopted the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the Agenda 21 programme of action, among other actions. UN Photo/Michos Tzovaras.


This week, the city of Rio de Janeiro will become a global stage, home to tens of thousands of people attending the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

Rio+ 20 is an important global stage upon which those committed to action from government, the private sector, and society can show how they plan to demonstrate that we can accelerate progress, if we change the way we grow.

We need a different kind of growth, a greener and more inclusive growth. We think it is affordable with help to those for whom upfront costs may be prohibitive. We think we should be able to value natural resources differently within our economic model. We think that with the right data and evidence we can avoid the irreversible costs of making wrong decisions now. And we can have economic systems that are much more efficient.

Following Up on Our Rio +20 Live Chat

Rachel Kyte's picture

Rachel Kyte on the Live Chat

I enjoyed talking with everyone who signed into the live chat this week. If you missed it, you can catch up with the conversation at World Bank Live.

We talked a lot about the importance of moving beyond GDP to a more holistic way of measuring development that incorporates the value of natural resources. We also discussed inclusive green growth as the path to sustainable development, the need for better oceans management, expectations for Rio +20 – the UN Conference on Sustainable Development – and what people want to see in any sustainable development goals (SDGs) that emerge from the conference.

The hour flew by, and there were several questions that I didn’t have time to get to. I’d like to address some of those now.

Join Us for a Live Chat about Rio+20 on World Environment Day

Rachel Kyte's picture

Credit: Henrique Vicente, Creative Commons

On June 5, World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte will host a live online chat about Rio +20 and sustainable development at live.worldbank.org. Submit questions now, and then join Rachel Kyte and economist Marianne Fay on June 5 at 14:00 GMT/10 a.m. EDT.
 

Rio +20 is coming up in a few weeks. Some 75,000 leaders, advocates, scientists and other experts are expected in person, and tens of thousands more will be watching online to see how the world can advance sustainable development.

Many of us have been advocating for greener, more inclusive growth since before the first Earth Summit at Rio 20 years ago. We’ve seen economic growth lift 660 million people out of poverty, but we’ve also seen growth patterns run roughshod over the environment, diminishing the capacity of the planet’s natural resources to meet the needs of future generations.

The growing global population needs world leaders to do more than just check in at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20 – it needs them to move the needle now toward truly sustainable development practices.

Demystifying Natural Capital Accounting: 10 African Countries Sign On

Rachel Kyte's picture

Credit: Juan-Vidal, Creative Commons

We’ve all seen what happens when natural capital is undervalued. Oceans that billions of people rely on for food and income get overfished and become dumping grounds for chemicals and waste. Mangroves that protect shorelines from storms are replaced with resorts.

Many countries are looking beyond GDP to help them address the challenges undervaluing natural capital has created. What they need is a measure of a country’s wealth that includes all of its capital — produced, social, human, and natural capital.

In Botswana at the Summit for Sustainability in Africa this afternoon, 10 African countries endorsed the need to move toward factoring natural capital into systems of national accounting. By Rio +20, the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development, we hope to see 50 countries and 50 private corporations join this effort.