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STATS SA and SANBI host South Africa’s first Natural Capital Forum

By Nicole du Plessis, SAMREF Project Officer, SAEON Egagasini Node
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Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), in partnership with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), hosted South Africa’s first-ever national Natural Capital Accounting (NCA) Forum at Stats SA’s Head Office in Pretoria on 10-11 July 2019.

The aim of the forum meeting was to explore how natural capital accounting could support South Africa’s progress towards economically and environmentally sustainable development, including its linkages to South Africa’s National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA), National Development Plan (NDP) and the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The event included participants from various government departments, representatives from the international partners, as well the national research institutions, the private sector and NGOs. Nicole du Plessis represented SAEON at the forum based on her focus on oceans economies through the South African Marine Research and Exploration Forum (SAMREF) and the South African Chapter of the Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group (SA IORAG).

The two days saw an interactive and informative meeting with lively panel discussions, question-and-answer sessions and breakaway session discussions.


Panellists on day 1 discuss how natural capital accounting supports national development priorities

South Africa is at the forefront of the global NCA movement. It is the first of the pilot countries participating in the international NCA and Valuation of Ecosystem Services (NCA&VES) project to hold a national NCA Forum.

The NCA&VES project was launched in partnership by the United Nations Statistics Division, the United Nations Environment Programme, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the European Union in 2017, with funding provided by the European Union. The other pilot countries participating in the project are Brazil, China, India and Mexico.

The South African project is co-led by Stats SA and SANBI, in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Affairs and global project leaders, the United Nations Statistical Division and UN Environment.

NCA is meant to present a more holistic picture of a country’s wealth than GDP, looking at not only the economic production but also providing a means to incorporate environmental and social components into the accounting framework to assess the wealth and well-being of a country.


Participants in South Africa’s first Natural Capital Accounting Forum

Developing the oceans accounts

The central framework for the System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) was first published in 1993, with the most recent edition adopted by the United Nations in 2012 as the first international standard for environmental economic accounting.

The central framework calls for the development of satellite accounts, which then focus on specific sectors or environmental services to be developed. South Africa has been involved in the process from the start, with the development of the Natural Resource Accounts: Water Accounts for 2000 published by Stats SA (who have the mandate to implement SEEA).

All the national and international SEEA satellite accounts have so far focused on land-based services, with the methods untested for the oceans, which is a much more complex system. Currently the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is leading on developing an oceans accounting methodology. With South Africa as one of the pilot countries for the NCA&VES project, this provides an opportunity for South Africa to be at the forefront of the development of the oceans’ accounts.

This would, however, require an as yet unseen level of information and data sharing between all spheres of South African society. The accounts would incorporate information all the way through from pressures from ocean industries and pollution sources to biodiversity condition assessment and habitat mapping as well as social and cultural uses and values.

SAEON, as one of the few ocean and coastal research institutions and data curators, is well placed to contribute to this process and providing value addition to data already being collected through various projects.

The NCA process requires developing new ways of managing and interpreting data, as it relies on information from various disciplines and sectors. The skills development and capacity needed to undertake the environmental accounts within South Africa and incorporate these within our national accounting system could be used as an opportunity for youth development and employment.

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