Dr. Paul Ekins


Ekins, P. (2012). Safeguarding the future of the wealth of nature. In UNU-IHDP and UNEP. Inclusive Wealth Report 2012. Measuring progress toward sustainability. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Key Messages from Chapter

Nature is very different from human, social, and manufactured capital stocks in that it predates humanity and it operates through its own complex laws and systems.

Most accounting for natural capital involves assigning monetary values to the flows of benefits from that capital. A monetary measure suggests that one capital stock can be substituted for another when trying to measure a country’s total wealth in a multicapital model. For natural capital, there is an emerging body of opinion that such substitutability is not complete, therefore Inclusive Wealth Report accounting for it in this way could be seriously misleading.

The assumption of more or less complete substitutability between natural capital and other capital stocks is sometimes referred to as the “weak sustainability” assumption; while an assumption of limited substitutability is termed the “strong sustainability” assumption.

The assumption of strong sustainability in respect of certain important aspects of natural capital would seem more consistent with the scientific evidence. Starting with this assumption when trying to understand the interactions between different forms of capital allows substitutability to be considered to the extent appropriate. Starting with an assumption of complete substitutability (the weak sustainability perspective), and proceeding directly to monetary valuation, tends to obscure those situations where this assumption is not valid.

While consumption is important to wellbeing, it is also affected by a number of other crucial factors. The contribution of natural capital to well-being has not been widely recognized in the literature, but that has started to change in recent years as diverse contributions have been revealed through ecosystem assessments.