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Mainstreaming Natural Capital Accounting: Building On a Decade of Experience

Gretchen Daily — Bing Professor, Environmental Science, Stanford University
Mary Ruckelshaus — Managing Director, Natural Capital Project; Consulting Professor, Stanford University
Steve Polasky — Regents Professor & Fesler-Lampert Professor, Ecological/Environmental Economics, University of Minnesota
Chinese woman standing on bridge.
Photo credit: Natural Capital Project.

China’s leaders first became interested in natural capital after devastating landslides and flooding in 1998 killed thousands and displaced millions of people, at a cost of more than US$30 billion in damages. In response, the Chinese government invested over $150 billion in natural capital—extensive deforestation was partly to blame. China recently published its first National Ecosystem Assessment in Science, showing widespread ecosystem improvements. China’s results demonstrate that mainstreaming natural capital information into policy and finance decisions is possible, and is already yielding massive rewards.

NatCap has been working closely with key decision-makers in China and around the world to map and measure nature’s benefits for over a decade. Focused on natural capital data, our work parallels Michael Bloomberg’s efforts in the early 1980s to amass market data, consolidate it in a common format, and make it more accessible to analysts in a terminal snapshot. Bloomberg’s work revolutionized analyses of financial markets. At NatCap, we are working to greatly improve the accessibility, usability, and uptake of natural capital information to diverse decision-makers around the globe.

“Over 3,000 scientists with the Chinese Academy of Sciences contributed data, research, and analyses to the National Ecosystem Assessment…”

Over 3,000 scientists with the Chinese Academy of Sciences contributed data, research, and analyses to the National Ecosystem Assessment, which used NatCap’s InVEST modeling software and other tools to quantify the flows of natural capital to people across the country. This exemplifies the power of our new Natural Capital Science & Technology Platform, designed to make it easier, faster, and cheaper to mainstream natural capital into decisions.

For years, NatCap has heard from decision-makers the world over of the urgent need for transparent, actionable natural capital information. The platform we are building meets this growing demand, by putting relevant, scientifically credible information and tools directly into the hands of people making decisions. With support from The Rockefeller Foundation, NatCap is scoping work with leading institutions in the finance sector to make it easier and faster to include natural capital information in their decisions. Enhancing opportunities and incentives for private finance to support ecosystem improvements that sustain human well-being is a primary objective of the Foundation’s Revalue Ecosystem portfolio.

With this platform, we hope to contribute to a future in which restoring natural capital is the engine of green growth, prosperity and human well-being.

Learn more about the NatCap partnership, its tools, and approach here.

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