African nations agree to put a price on nature - Ten African nations have pledged, ahead of Rio+20, to include the economic value of natural resources in their national accounts


By Ola Al-Ghazawy and Aisling Irwin - Available at - News and analysis of science in the developing world - Read more …


Africa has taken the lead in the quest to persuade nations to include the full economic value of their natural resources in their national accounts, with the promise last month by ten of its nations to do so.


The heads of state or government of Botswana, Liberia, Mozambique and Namibia, along with ministers from Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania, signed the 'Gaborone Declaration' at the Summit for Sustainability in Africa (24-25 May), co-hosted by the government of Botswana and the nongovernmental organization Conservation International.


The declaration undertakes to add the full value of forests, coral reefs, grasslands and other natural resources and ecosystems to the countries' national and corporate planning and reporting policies. The countries agreed to report annually on their progress.




This article is part of our coverage of preparations for Rio+20 — the UN Conference on Sustainable Development — which takes place on 20-22 June 2012. For other articles, go to Science at Rio+20


The aim is to make financially clear the 'invisible' benefits of natural resources and ecosystems, from the pollination services of bees to the water purification services of forests, thus allowing decision-makers to consider the costs and benefits of conserving or destroying them.


The declaration also admits the continent's failure to achieve sustainable development in the past 20 years.


Seretse Khama Ian Khama, president of Botswana, told the meeting: "I challenge all other nations — developed and developing — and the public and private sectors to follow [this] example".


Worth more 'dead than alive'

The summit heard that natural resources accounting would help countries incorporate the true financial value of a resource into their accounts, which would guide decisions about its conservation or destruction.


In the case of selling raw wood, for example, the costs to the country in terms of the soil erosion, water quality and disruption of water catchments that arise from deforestation would be included.


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, said that until these services were reflected in national accounting, forests "will be worth more dead than alive".


In an example from Thailand cited at the meeting by Rachel Kyte, the World Bank's vice president for sustainable development, a hectare of mangrove has been calculated to offer flood protection that would otherwise cost US$16,000 to provide. This figure can help influence whether to cut it down for wood worth US$850 or make US$9,000 converting it into a shrimp farm.


The World Bank's global partnership Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES) is building capacity in countries such as Botswana, Colombia, Costa Rica, Madagascar and the Philippines so that they can implement natural capital accounting.


WAVES uses the UN's System for Environmental and Economic Accounts, an internationally agreed method to calculate the wider economic value of material natural resources such as timber, and is working on an internationally acceptable method for ecosystem services such as pollination.


A move in the right direction

Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said the declaration reflected a move towards green development in Africa. It also demonstrates a recognition of the importance of natural resources to development.


Namibia, for example, already uses natural capital accounting in its environment and tourism ministries and is compiling water and mineral accounts.


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