One Year Into the GGKP Expert Working Group on Natural Capital

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29 November 2018

In November 2017, the Green Growth Knowledge Platform (GGKP) launched its Expert Working Group on Natural Capital. The group breaks new ground by bringing together a range of international organizations in neutral space to embed natural capital approaches into green growth.

“The concept of natural capital is a crucial contributor to sustainable prosperity,” says the group’s Co-chair Paul Ekins, Director and Professor at the Institute for Sustainable Resources at University College London. “The GGKP is advancing the state of the art in natural capital data and metrics and nature’s role green economic policymaking.”

The expert working group includes representation from GGKP Steering Committee Members the World Bank, OECD, UN Environment and the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), as well as conservation and research institutions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature), the World Wildlife Find (WWF), the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative, and the Natural Capital Project.

In addition to Paul Ekins, it is Co-chaired by Joe Grice, Chairman of the UK’s Office for National Statistics Economic Experts, and Oyun Sanjaasuren, Director of External Affairs of Green Climate Fund and former Mongolian Minister of Environment.

The group aims to:

  • Advance the knowledge frontier around natural capital and green growth;
  • Mainstream natural capital in global green growth activities; and
  • Strengthen implementation of natural capital commitments in national green growth plans.

This overview provides a snapshot of the group’s progress in its first year of operation, as well as new developments on the horizon for 2019 and beyond.


Mind the knowledge gaps

The group’s inaugural meeting took place in the wake of the Fifth GGKP Annual Conference at the World Bank. It took a big-picture look at the natural capital landscape, and particularly natural capital’s notable absence from green growth policy advice at the national level. To address this “implementation gap”, the group identified a number of areas where natural capital approaches could improve green growth planning.

These included integrating new data sources and applications, such as linking geospatial and socioeconomic data for resource management, incorporating natural capital metrics in national economic planning and statistics, providing integrated policy advice for green growth as well as nature conservation, and supporting ecosystem restoration and nature-based infrastructure.

Sub-groups were formed around these themes to sculpt a research agenda focused on three of the most critical needs: metrics, data and integrated policy support.


Getting measurement right

“If you can't measure it, you can't manage it,” said celebrated management scholar Peter Drucker. Proper measurement is the first key step to properly valuing natural capital in green growth planning.

In March 2018, the GGKP working group met at Stanford University to devise a work plan for improving the measurement of natural capital in green growth. It dug into some of the most widespread approaches to assessing natural capital, including metrics used by the TEEB and the Natural Capital Project, and related them to the UN-led System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (EEA) framework. The group emphasized the need for a robust, coherent system of natural capital measurement for green growth planning that responded directly to national stakeholder needs.

A strong measurement framework is only as good as the data it relies on. Another key focus of the group was coming to grips with the many new sources of data coming online, which provide hopeful opportunities for improving natural capital assessments. In addition to exploring new geospatial data sources, platforms and tools such as the UN Biodiversity Lab and the World Resource Institute’s Resource Watch, the group joined forces with the Natural Capital Project’s remote sensing working group to match green growth needs to natural capital data solutions.

The meeting, held during the Natural Capital Symposium, set the group’s measurement agenda, which is now focused on a thorough scoping of new data linked to a coherent system of valuation metrics.


Navigating the maze of policy priorities

While robust measurement underlies natural capital assessments for whatever purpose, it offers little value unless it can inform decision-making. The information must be relevant to policymaking and convincing to stakeholders. In mid-2018 the group turned its attention to knowledge barriers preventing the integration of natural capital approaches in green growth decision making.

To this end, the group sought to provide countries with an integrated policy framework that would not only link green growth with natural capital approaches, but also bring greater coherency to the numerous green growth policy priorities facing national governments today. These include national commitments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), preserve and enhance biodiversity, and fight climate change.


Matching research to action

By mid 2018, the expert working group’s research agenda had emerged. The first step will be to assess existing green growth policy frameworks among the world’s leading organizations. This will be fortified by a thorough case study review of natural capital approaches applied in economic decision-making. The group will simultaneously develop a new methodology for estimating natural capital needs for achieving green growth and the SDGs by 2030, building in cutting edge valuation methods and new data.

This agenda will not, however, exist in the ether, but will be matched to green growth realities on the ground. Before the group was launched, the GGKP held two public events focused on strengthening implementation of natural capital in national green growth planning, events which have framed the GGKP working group’s research agenda to this date.

These events included leading figures from the World Bank, OECD, UN Environment, GGGI, the Green Economy Coalition (GEC) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), as well as from the governments of Costa Rica, Italy and Rwanda. The conversation started at the Global Green Growth Week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in October 2017 and continued at the World Congress of Environmental and Resource Economists (WCERE) in Gothenburg, Sweden, in June 2018.


Improving implementation on-the-ground

This month, the conversation continues in Paris, in the midst of a week of events, discussions and networking geared towards a greener future. This will mark the first step towards concretely linking the expert working group’s research agenda with on-the-ground green growth policy advice by GGKP partner organizations.

On 29-30 November, in the wake of the Sixth GGKP Annual Conference, the group will meet to review its research agenda around policy, metrics, and data, and deepen it with implications for infrastructure and finance. Moreover, it will join representatives of the OECD and GGGI to interlink natural capital with concrete green growth policy advice for the governments of Indonesia and Myanmar.

This offers a strong win-win case for green growth – deeper, stronger and greener policy assessments fortified with new natural capital approaches and a test ground the group’s research in the context of pragmatic, real world development concerns.

"This is a truly collaborative research group,” says Oyun Sanjaasuren, Director of External Affairs of Green Climate Fund and former Mongolian Minister of Environment. “It draws together a range of cultural, regional and thematic perspectives all focused on advancing the natural capital knowledge frontier for green growth. It is also stimulating the creation of new partnerships and new joint activities to take the work forward." 


Looking ahead – Natural capital and the Sixth GGKP Annual Conference

The Sixth GGKP Annual Conference, which takes place from 27-28 November 2018 in conjunction with the 2018 OECD Green Growth and Sustainable Development Forum, will focus on the theme of “Inclusive solutions for the green transition: Competitiveness, jobs/skills and social dimensions". The GGKP Natural Capital Expert Meeting and related events in Paris all week offer the best opportunity in years to bring the green growth and natural capital communities together.

We hope it is the beginning of a broader momentum for sustainable development as we look ahead to 2030.

If you have any questions or would like to be involved, please contact John J. Maughan, GGKP’s Research Programme Manager, at



About the GGKP Natural Capital Expert Working Group

The GGKP Working Group on Natural Capital explores state-of-the-art methods, models, data and tools to achieve its three goals of pushing forward the knowledge frontier around natural capital and green growth; mainstreaming natural capital in global green growth activities; and supporting stronger implementation of natural capital commitments in national economic plans. The group is comprised of 24 experts from across GGKP’s partner institutions, each with at least 10 years of experience working with natural capital.

For more information, please see About the Natural Capital Working Group

Why Natural Capital?

A number of countries have taken up green economy or green growth action plans in recent years, but only a handful have included significant considerations of the role of natural capital in those plans. Given the critical role that natural capital stocks and ecosystem services play in maintaining biodiversity and enabling green growth, bringing natural capital into national development action plans now and into the future, will help make an important contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

For the latest knowledge, data, policy guidance and expert insight on natural capital, visit the GGKP theme page on Natural Capital

Economics for Nature

The GGKP Working Group on Natural Capital was established in the context of the Economics for Nature programme, a six-year initiative focused on ensuring that nature has a voice in economic and planning processes. The GGKP is part of the core team alongside the Green Economy Coalition (GEC), the Natural Capital CoalitionWWF France, and Finance Watch.

The MAVA Foundation, a Swiss-based philanthropic organization, has made the mainstreaming of natural capital into national development plans a key focus of its strategic programme for 2017-2022. It has committed to supporting the working group for five years.

For more information, please visit the Economics for Nature webpage.