Nature-based development policies can bring inclusive growth in South Asia

19 Dec 2014, Kolkata, India


During a high-level policy dialogue held in Kolkata, India from 17 to 19 December 2014, participants from four Eastern Himalayan countries stressed the need to include the value of natural capital in national accounts. The dialogue, titled ‘Natural Capital for Inclusive Growth: Options and Tools for South Asia’, brought together more than 40 senior policy practitioners, ecologists, economists, and statisticians from Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, and representatives of the state governments of North East India. Participants also included forestry officers, statistical officers, economic planning officials, and representatives of influential NGOs.

The event was jointly organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). The key lesson was that it is important to value and account for the contribution of ecosystems and ecosystem services, such as water, forests, and biodiversity, to a country’s overall capital, as well as the support they provide to human wellbeing and sustainable development. Incorporating natural capital into the national accounts system will create scope for a broader and more inclusive approach, as it takes into account the resource base of the poor, a group often left behind under current economic growth models.

Participants at the Natural Capital for Inclusive Growth: Options and Tools for South Asia, a policy dialogue for senior policy makers
Photo credit:  UNEP/ICIMOD

The experts called for greater efforts to make policies that take into account the full value of ecosystem services. This message of the policy dialogue was: “We now need to think beyond GDP, as traditional indicators are limited to measuring social progress, and fail to account for wellbeing and sustainability”. 

At the opening session, Dr Eklabya Sharma, Director of Programme Operations, ICIMOD, said that mountains are endowed with a rich natural capital base, but also have a large bulk of the region’s poor population. “We need to take landscape level and river basin approaches while trying to improve the sustainable management of natural capital in the mountains, and to account for their impacts in the downstream areas,” he said.

Dr Pushpam Kumar, Chief of the Ecosystem Services Economics Unit, UNEP, said, “Applying innovative approaches, like valuing natural capital and showing how natural resources contribute to societal wellbeing in sustainable and just ways, in the natural resource rich regions of Bhutan, North East India, Myanmar, and Nepal has the potential to bring transformational change.”

In his keynote address, Prof. Jim Salzman, Samuel Fox Mordecai Professor of Law and Nicholas Institute Professor of Environmental Policy at Duke University, USA, said that balancing conservation with development is a delicate subject. He said that context-specific instruments, such as payment for ecosystem services (PES), could help ensure this balance. 

The mountain regions of Bhutan, North East India, Nepal, and Myanmar heavily depend on their natural capital, which exist in the form of water, agriculture, forest, hydropower, and tourism resources.

The event sensitized the participants on the need to mainstream the valuation of natural resources into their national accounts and development design. This will enable the countries to ensure the long-term sustainability of development and resources. In this regard, guidance and technical support from UNEP and ICIMOD will be extremely valuable for these countries.  

“This is significant for ICIMOD as taking account of natural capital will show the importance of mountain ecosystems and also help us redefine sustainable mountain development in relation to sustainable development goals,” said Bhaskar Karky, Resource Economist, ICIMOD

The dialogue also touched on the ‘Inclusive Wealth Report 2014’ recently released by UNEPUNESCO, and UNU. The report provides an assessment of the changes in human, natural, and produced capital in 140 countries.

For more information, please contact: 

Shereen Zorba, UNEP 

Nira Gurung, Communications Officer, ICIMOD   

Tel. +977 1 5003222