The planet’s sustainable future, and humanity's sustainable development, relies on us being able to understand, quantify and recognize the multiple values of biodiversity. However, natural capital and ecosystem services are often neglected in traditional assessments of economic progress and development planning. This is where Natural Capital Accounts (NCA) are a useful tool: they quantify the stocks of ecosystems and other natural resources and flows of services they provide, helping decision-makers to accurately value how societies and industries benefit from nature and incorporate environmental and economic prosperity into their plans.
Since 2015, UNEP-WCMC has supported international efforts to integrate biodiversity into national accounting processes. One of our flagship projects “Integrating Natural Capital Accounting into Sustainable Development in Uganda” has recently been completed. This Darwin Initiative-funded work builds on experimental accounts produced with Uganda in 2017. Here we reflect on the three and a half years of work UNEP-WCMC has undertaken with the Government of Uganda and international partners to better integrate biodiversity into NCA in the country. We also highlight how this project ultimately supported green growth, alleviating poverty and accelerating progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and ongoing global targets for nature.
“Integrating Natural Capital Accounting into Sustainable Development Decision-Making in Uganda” was implemented by the Government of Uganda in collaboration with UNEP-WCMC. In July 2018, the Centre received a GBP355,000 grant to lead this work with three Ugandan partners – the National Environment Management Authority, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, and the National Planning Authority – as well as two international partners, the Institute for Development of Environmental-Economic Accounting and the International Institute for Environment and Development. To further increase its potential impact and provide opportunities for shared learning and support, the work was aligned with various regional and global initiatives on NCA, including the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainable in Africa, the World Bank WAVES partnership and the UN Environment Programme and UN Statistics Division project on Natural Capital Accounting.
The work focussed in four key areas:
- Raising the awareness of the value of biodiversity-related natural capital, conducting context analyses and inception meetings to
agree on the priority themes for the country’s accounts.
- Organising biodiversity-related natural capital data using the internationally agreed accounting framework, developing draft methodological notes and meta databases for each set of accounts to enable the production of the accounts.
- Building communities of practice by strengthening capacity to compile and use the natural capital accounts through training workshops and other stakeholder engagement.
- Institutionalising this accounting approach by supporting sectors to use the accounts in their development planning.
Key findings across the accounts
Three novel sets of biodiversity-related natural capital accounts were developed on the following themes: Biodiversity and Tourism, Fisheries Resources and Land and Soil Improvement. These accounts - which can be found here - were compiled in accordance with the UN System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) framework and the recently adopted SEEA Ecosystem Accounting framework, produced under the auspices of the UN Statistics Division.
Key findings and recommendations from the accounts include:
Biodiversity and Tourism:
- Tourist spending associated with visits to 12 of Uganda’s protected areas has increased from around USD25 million in 2012 to around USD51 million in 2019.
- Boosting tourism is a key national development and post-COVID recovery goal for Uganda; at the heart of this will be investment in conserving and enhancing natural ecosystems and species in protected areas and reducing human-wildlife conflict.
- This investment could be combined with investments in innovative tourism packages and facilities, especially in less-visited destinations,
- Tourism growth has the potential to create more jobs and opportunities for local people and accelerate Uganda’s sustainable socio-economic transformation.
- Uganda’s 500 freshwater fish species provide a critical resource to the people and economy of the country. The species of highest economic value include: Nile perch, Nile tilapia, Mukene, and Muziri. In 2017/2018, the fishery sector contributed to 1.5 per cent of GDP and the overall trend in revenue from fisheries, including aquaculture, is generally increasing (from 495 billion Ugandan Shilling (UGX) in 2009 to UGX 1.6 trillion in 2016).
- Coordinated practical action between the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industries and Fisheries and fisheries associations, combined with investment in regular stock assessments and trade monitoring, is required to establish sustainable fishing practices and control the use of illegal fishing.
- Action is also required to identify and protect fish breeding areas and set up consistent lake-wide water quality monitoring programmes to assess the condition of the water bodies. This needs to include monitoring the levels of invasive plant species and pollution across all water bodies, which threaten the sustainability of the subsector.
- A sustainable agro-industrialisation agenda needs to be fast tracked for the fisheries sector, with the regular compilation and upkeep of fisheries resources accounts.
Land and Soil Improvement:
- Over ten years from 2005 to 2015, small-scale farmers and others converted nearly 1.2 million hectares of forests and wetlands to create cropland for farming, representing approximately 5 per cent of Uganda’s total land area.
- Most of Uganda’s population is rural, with livelihoods dependent on subsistence agriculture. Soil quality and land degradation directly affect livelihoods and wellbeing.
- Communities, farmers, agricultural extension officers and planners should boost biodiversity and ecosystem services by practising integrated land-use planning at a local-level, which would help optimise land use and soil fertility, and ultimately, implement sustainable food production systems.
- A comprehensive soil and land management package comprising soil fertilizer application and smart agriculture practices (for example, agroforestry, minimum tillage, terracing) needs to be fast-tracked and implemented.
In 2021, these three thematic natural capital accounts werevalidated and endorsed by the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics, with support and assent from government as well as non-governmental, academic and international stakeholders.
The findings and many resources developed during the work have provided opportunities for shared learning and support for other countries and practitioners interested in developing natural capital accounting for mainstreaming biodiversity into development planning. In addition to the three sets of accounts, the resources produced include:
Since the conclusion of this work, the Ugandan government has been working with local stakeholders and industry leads to implement the accounts’ recommendations to reduce poverty and support a green post-COVID economic recovery. We hope that this work will inspire the wider uptake of natural capital assessments as a tool to support the integration of environmental considerations into development planning and thereby realize a more sustainable future for people and for nature.