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Towards a global map of natural capital

01 August 2014

For the first time, a composite map of the world’s ecosystem assets has been produced, covering both marine and terrestrial realms. A report for the UNEP Division of Early Warning and Assessment by UNEP-WCMC presents global maps of assets such as biodiversity, freshwater resources and soil quality.

Natural capital is fundamental to human well-being. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, at least 40 per cent of the world’s economy and 80 per cent of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources. We are now facing a problem where natural capital has been harvested and degraded at a rate that threatens to undermine our well-being and future economic growth.

In our latest report, UNEP-WCMC has combined information about key ecosystem assets into global maps covering terrestrial and marine realms. The assets included are freshwater resources, soil quality, organic carbon, terrestrial and marine biodiversity, and global fish catch (as a proxy for marine fish stocks). The report builds on a considerable body of work in the fields of natural capital accounting and the mapping of ecosystem services.

 Composite map of global ecosystem assets

The maps reveal hotspots for multiple assets, for example in the large remaining forest areas. This highlights the global significance of these forests and the priority that should be placed on conserving and restoring them. Further local mapping would identify additional important areas that are over-looked at the global scale.

As governments move towards national accounting of the value of ecosystem assets, mapping natural capital is increasingly useful. The information from these maps will also help assess sustainability and the relationship between natural capital distribution and human welfare; land-use planning and an examination of the effects of land-use change on natural capital; and the trade-offs between different assets and services.

To fully account for all natural capital, both ecosystem assets and natural resources such as fossil fuels and minerals need to be mapped and valued. As natural resources and the monetary value of ecosystem assets are not included in this report, an evaluation of both these factors is the next step in fully understanding the contribution of natural capital to human well-being.

Publication information

Dickson, B., Blaney, R. Miles, L., Regan, E., van Soesbergen, A.,Väänänen, E., Blyth, S., Harfoot, M. Martin, C.S., McOwen, C., Newbold, T., van Bochove, J. (2014). Towards a global map of natural capital: key ecosystem assets. UNEP, Nairobi, Kenya.