Pavan Sukhdev

"We still have a lot to learn about the nature of value and the value of nature"

Out of Africa : The “Gaborone Declaration” and its Implications for Rio+20

Which environmental economist said: “We need to take stock and attach value to our natural resources and ecosystems such that we may include their value in planning and decision making processes as well as in our national accounts and balance sheets.” ?

The answer is, none. That was President Ian Khama of Botswana, speaking at a Summit for Sustainability in Africa, hosted in his capital city, Gaborone, by his Government and Conservation International, 24th- 25th May. Other participants at this meeting included the heads of state of Liberia, Namibia, and Mozambique and the vice president of Tanzania.

Botswana is the size of France, but it has just 2.2 million people. It is Africa’s largest beef exporter. It also has a huge population of 150,000 wild elephants , and is a growing eco-tourism destination. The summit held here in Gaborone was remarkable for four reasons : because of who participated, when it was held, what was committed and why.

Who participated ? Ten African nations who are all interested in progressing a ‘Green Economy’ transition in their respective countries, whilst others in G-77 still think ‘Green Economy’ is a devious Western capitalist plot to hold back development.

When was it held? Less than a month before ‘Rio+20’, so that the ‘Gaborone Declaration’ can feed into the discourse at Rio+20, and actually deliver a serious outcome at Rio+20 – so long as other nations endorse it .

So what exactly was agreed ? The signatories agreed to develop ecosystem accounting in order to adjust national accounts (System of National Accounts, SNA) as well as Corporate Performance for the invisible impacts that government policies and business activity have on natural capital. They also agreed to annual reporting of progress on these fronts.

Why did they commit this ? Because, they all see natural capital is as their biggest “asset for development” (in the words of President Khama) and believe that its economic invisibility has been a reason for its neglect and sub-optimal management, and they clearly want this to stop. This is also what the G8+5 project TEEB ( see ) has been saying in its series of reports at COP-9 and COP-10 of CBD.

Another participant at this ‘Summit for Sustainability in Africa’ summarized the challenge thus : “Natural capital – our ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources – underpins economies, societies and individual well-being. The values of its myriad benefits are, however, often overlooked or poorly understood. They are rarely taken fully into account through economic signals in markets, or in day to day decisions by business and citizens, nor indeed reflected adequately in the accounts of society”.

This participant was not an environmental economist either. It happens to be President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.

First published in Bank of Natural Capital website on 1 June 2011

May 31st, 2012 Posted by | one comment