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The Natural Capital Project

The Natural Capital Project

Capital has often been thought of narrowly as physical capital – the machines, tools, and equipment used in the production of other goods, but our wealth and well being also relies on natural capital. If we forget this, we risk degrading the services that natural ecosystems provide, which support our economies and sustain our lives. These services include purifying our water, regulating our climate, reducing flood risk, and pollinating our crops.

The Natural Capital Project—a partnership among WWF, The Nature Conservancy, University of Minnesota and Stanford University—works to provide decision makers with reliable ways to assess the true value of the services that ecosystems provide.

An essential element of the Natural Capital Project is developing tools that help decision makers protect biodiversity and ecosystem services.

WWF scientists have helped develop InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs)—a unique software tool that models and maps the delivery, distribution, and economic value of ecosystem services and biodiversity. InVEST helps decision makers visualize the impacts of decisions and identify tradeoffs and compatibilities between environmental, economic, and social benefits. WWF scientists have also developed complementary policy tools  to help people apply InVEST to change real-world decisions, including tools for developing future scenarios. The Natural Capital Project holds regular events to train people in InVEST and integrating ecosystem service information into decision making.

Impacting Decision Making Across the Globe

Sumatra, Indonesia
In Sumatra, commercial logging and conversion are decimating the forest habitat of tigers, orangutans, rhinos and many other rare and endangered species. With support from the Natural Capital Project, WWF has mapped the distribution and economic value of ecosystem services in priority watersheds under current and proposed land use plans. The results are providing input to regional and local government-led land-use planning efforts.

Eastern Arc Mountains, Tanzania
Agricultural development, logging, and fires have reduced the forests of the Eastern Arc Mountains by 70 percent over the past decades—threatening thousands of rare species, people’s livelihoods, and water and power resources. The Natural Capital Project works with over 40 collaborators in Tanzania, the UK, and South Africa to map and value the mountains’ many ecosystem services. This information will be used to steer decisions and resources toward forest conservation and watershed management.

The Greater Virungas Landscape
Encroachment, illegal logging, pollution, and mining threaten biodiversity and livelihoods throughout the region’s rich forest ecosystems. The Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS) is using InVEST outputs to gain government and stakeholder support for ecosystem service and biodiversity conservation in the Virungas landscape, which covers areas of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. The project has involved quantifying and valuing ecosystem services and examining tradeoffs between a Business as Usual (BAU), Green, and Market-driven scenarios. The next phase of the project will create new incentives for conservation.

Colombian Amazon
The Amazon Piedmont of Colombia is one of the most biologically outstanding areas of the Northern Andes. It is also a landscape of great cultural significance as the ancestral home to several indigenous groups.

The rain and cloud forests of Colombia’s Upper Putumayo region within the Amazon Piedmont are threatened by advancing agriculture, ranching, and infrastructure development. These activities can have adverse effects on the benefits nature provides, including water supply and quality, soil erosion, carbon capture and sequestration, and biodiversity. The impacts of climate change intensify these effects, which will likely have serious consequences on future development.

To identify areas in the Upper Putumayo that supply multiple ecosystem services and could be at risk from climate change, WWF, with support from the Natural Capital Project, used InVEST to map regionally important services and compare their provision under different climate scenarios. Areas with the largest concentration of ecosystem services and greatest vulnerability to the effects of climate change are now being considered as priority sites for conservation actions, including the establishment of silvopastoral systems, which incorporate strategically located tree cover on ranchlands; and, developing compensation and rewards for ecosystem services (CRES) schemes, which create incentives for better land management.

Coastal Belize
Belize’s coastal zone includes spectacular atolls, lagoons, mangrove forests, seagrass beds, coral reefs, and more than 1000 cayes. It is home to 35 percent of the population of Belize and endangered species like the West Indian manatee. The Natural Capital Project, in partnership with the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI), is helping stakeholders design possible options for the government’s national coastal zone management plan. Using InVEST, they are identifying the impact of alternative zoning schemes on lobster fisheries, tourism and recreation, coastal protection from storms and inundation, and habitat for culturally important species.

Heart of Borneo
The Heart of Borneo is an area of mountainous forests with exceptional biological diversity in the center of the world's third largest island, covering areas of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei- Darussalam. More than two decades of unsustainable logging, fires, plantation development, and mining has led to a dramatic decline and degradation of forest and freshwater ecosystems. WWF and its partners carried out a climate, ecosystem and economic assessment using several modeling tools, including InVEST, to highlight how conservation and sustainable land management in the Heart of Borneo can help create a “Green Economy.”

The Amazon
WWF and our partners work with the Brazilian government to determine how valuable the Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPAs) is to its citizens and the world. Most of the services ARPAs provide – such as sequestering carbon dioxide, cleaning the surface water, electric generation from hydropower, and providing habitat – are difficult to value because they are not traded in markets. In collaboration with Woods Hole Institute and Bowdoin College, WWF uses regional land-use and biophysical maps and economic data to value the goods and services ARPA provides.

WWF mainstreams the value of nature in its work all over the world, with similar projects emerging in the Arctic, China, the Coral Triangle, the Eastern Himalayas and the Mekong River Basin.

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