Natural Capitals

Resources, Natural Resources, Economical Resources

Natural capitals and their values – some examples from around the world

Source: Building on TEEB (2009), TEEB 2010b, TEEB 2011a


Patrick ten Brink, Leonardo Mazza, Tomas Badura, Marianne Kettunen and Sirini Withana of the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP)1.


Global forests are estimated to store 289 Gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon in their biomass alone (FAO, 2010). 

It has been estimated that halving deforestation rates by 2030 would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 to 2.7 Gt CO2 per year, thereby avoiding damages from climate change estimated at more than US$3.7 trillion in Net Present Value terms (Eliasch, 2009).

A third of the world’s hundred largest cities draw a substantial proportion of their drinking water from forest-protected areas (Dudley and Stolton, 2003). 

For instance, the four European cities of Berlin, Vienna, Oslo, and Munich, each benefit significantly from both water purification and provision services (ten Brink et al, 2011). 

At a local level, the Central Otago conservation area (Te Papanui Catchment) in New Zealand was estimated to have saved the city of Dunedin approximately US$65 million in water supply costs (BPL, 2006).

In the Alpine region of Switzerland, the use of forests is recognised as a major component of disaster prevention

Today 17 per cent of Swiss forests are managed mainly for their protective function, estimated to bring value of around US$ 2-3.5 billion per annum in avalanche, rock fall and landslide protection (ISDR, 2004).

Coral reefs & coastal ecosystems

Some 30 million people in coastal and island communities are totally reliant on reef-based resources as their primary means of food production, income and livelihood (Gomez et al, 1994; Wilkinson, 2004). 

More broadly speaking, estimates of the number of people dependent on coral reefs for their food resources range from 500 million (Wilkinson, 2004) to over one billion (Whittingham et al., 2003). 

At state level, the total annual benefits of the coral reefs in Hawaii were estimated at around US$360 million per year (Cesar et al., 2002). Similarly, coral reef- and mangrove-associated tourism were estimated to contribute US$150-196 million to Belize’s economy in 2007 (equivalent to 12 to 15 per cent of GDP), while annual economic benefits from reef- and mangrove-dependent fisheries were estimated at between US$14-16 million (Cooper et al, 2008).


A global economic assessment of 63 million hectares of wetlands estimated their value at US$3.4 billion per year. Wetlands play a significant role in delivering ecosystem services globally

The highest benefits are found in Asia with an economic value of US$1.8 billion per year (Schuyt and Brander, 2004). Wetlands and peatlands can play a significant role in climate change mitigation

For example, the drainage of 930,000 ha of peatlands in Germany for agriculture has been estimated to cause emissions of 20 million tonne of CO2-eq. per year. Total damage of these emissions amounts to EUR 1.4 billion (approx. US$ 1.85 billion) (Förster, 2010; MLUV MV, 2009; Schäfer, 2009). 

The increased appreciation of the value of wetlands has led to greater interest in and benefits from restoration (see Mecklenburg- Vorpommern case in Box 3.3).

A study aiming to analyse the role of wetlands in reducing flooding related to hurricanes in the United States has estimated an average value of US$8,240 per hectare per year, with coastal wetlands in the US estimated to provide US$23.2 billion a year in storm protection services (Dudley et al, 2010).


Nearly 80 million tonnes of fish were captured in 2008, with an estimated value of more than US$80 billion. 

This translates into around 35 million jobs directly linked to the industry, the livelihoods of more than 300 million people, and food security for millions of coastal communities (TEEB, 2012c).

The value of the marine capture seafood production at the point of harvest is some 20 per cent of the $400 billion global food fish market (World Bank and FAO, 2009).

Biodiversity & the benefits of pollination

Some 87 out of the 115 leading global food crops depend upon animal pollination including important cash crops such as cocoa and coffee (Klein et al, 2007). 

On a global scale, it has been estimated that the services that insect pollinators provide are worth around EUR153 billion, which is 9.5 per cent of the total value of the world’s agricultural food production in 2005 (Gallai et al, 2009). 

Insect pollination is also estimated to increase the yields of 75 per cent of globally important crops and is responsible for an estimated 35 per cent of world crop production (Klein et al, 2007). 

At a national level, the United Kingdom’s National Ecosystem Assessment estimated the economic value of biotic pollination as a contribution to crop market value in 2007 at EUR 629 million (approx. US$ 875 million) in 2011 (UK NAE, 2011).

Saving money: 

spending less and/or avoiding costs 

Many activities can be more efficiently provided by maintaining or restoring ‘ecological infrastructure’ than by artificial structures or processes (TEEB, 2011a). Water and beverage companies, communities and citizens benefit from clean water provision by ecosystems. 

A range of companies have found it useful to assess the costs that they would face were they need to invest in water filtration installations to ensure appropriate water quality.

Natural hazards management 

and ecosystem- based adaptation to climate change

During typhoon Wukong in Vietnam in 2000, areas planted with mangroves were relatively unharmed while neighbouring provinces without mangroves suffered significant losses of life and property (Brown et al, 2006). 

Also, mangrove restoration by volunteers cost US$1.1 million, but saved US$7.3 million annual expenditure on dyke maintenance and benefited the livelihoods of an estimated 7500 families in terms of planting and protection (TEEB 2011a building on IFRC, 2002).

Climate change mitigation

In Mecklenburg- Vorpommern, Germany, 30,000 hectares of peatland were restored over the period 2000 to 2008, leading to emission savings of up to 300,000 t CO2-equivalent at an avoidance cost of CO2 ~ 8 to 12 /t CO2. 

If alternative land use options are realized (extensive grazing, reed production or alder forest growth) costs can decrease to 0 to 4 / t CO2 (Forster, 2010). In the state of Sao Paulo (Brazil) natural forest will be restored on approximately 5,576 ha of land around four reservoirs created by hydroelectric plants. 

This is expected to sequester 0.67 Mt CO2e by 2012 and 1.66 Mt CO2e by 2017 along with increasing critical habitats and creating vital wildlife corridors, connecting the newly forested lands with existing conservation areas (World Bank, 2009).

Source: UNDP (2012), TEEB (2011a) building on Federal Environmental Agency (2007); MLUV MV (2009); Schäfer (2009), World Bank (2009)

Also see 
in this e-book