Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services

The challenge

Healthy ecosystems are, by definition, about biodiversity. This is the key indicator for the health of the natural capital stocks we share – land, water, minerals, soil and species. In turn, healthy ecosystems support the flow of ecosystem services on which our economies and societies depend. These include supporting services, such as nutrient cycling and crop pollination; provisioning services, such as food and water production; regulating services, such as the control of disease and climate; and cultural services, including spiritual and recreational values. Yet, biodiversity and ecosystem services are often overlooked when decision-makers allocate land and water resources to economic and other activities.

Theory suggests that if people recognize the value of nature to human well-being it should lead to changes in policy, and specifically to increased investments in conservation. On that basis, economic valuation of nature has been relatively well embedded in how WWF and other conservation organisations work on valuing nature over the past decade. But beyond one-off, small case studies, incorporating natural capital into resource- and land-use decisions remains a challenge. Responding to this challenge is also critical to advancing the science on biodiversity and ecosystem service valuation. In this context, the primary research focus for Luc Hoffmann Institute is to build and test stakeholder-led methods for integrating natural capital and ecosystem services in public policy and private decision-making.

The response

The NCES research programme builds research around the core principle of internalising the value of nature in public and private sector decision-making. Our goal is to

Innovate on decision making approaches to natural capital and ecosystem service analyses.

We will do this by developing knowledge and products that better define, value and incorporate natural capital into decisions concerning poverty reduction, economic development and the conservation of biodiversity.

The theory of change for the workstream is that opportunities for increasing the use and impact of ecosystem service information in real world decision making requires working with decision-makers to better understand 1) how biodiversity and ecosystem services will change with human action; 2) in turn, how changes in biodiversity and ecosystem services will affect social, economic and other environmental goals; and 3) the governance contexts in which ecosystem service valuation information is to be integrated.

The position of the Luc Hoffmann Institute on the boundary of natural capital advocacy efforts and valuation science gives a unique opportunity to test this theory of change.

The core research questions for the workstream ask:

  • What impact has valuing nature had in conservation?
  • What actors define the landscape?
  • How could the conservation community engage better?
  • What methodologies support integration of natural capital and ecosystem services information in decision making?
  • What changes when we integrate natural capital and ecosystem services information in decision making?

The Impact

Contribute innovations on natural capital and ecosystem services in decision making to the conservation science, policy and practice communities.

The Projects

Main image: Leaf Cutter Ants in Costa Rica. © / Bence Mate / WWF

Luc Hoffmann InstituteNatural Capital and Ecosystem Services