The natural capital framework for sustainably efficient and equitable decision making


The concept of ‘natural capital’ is gaining traction internationally as recognition grows of the central role of the natural environment in sustaining economic and social well-being. It is therefore encouraging to see the first signs of a ‘natural capital approach’ to decision making being accepted within government policy processes and the private sector. However, there are multiple different understandings of this ‘approach’, many of which misuse or omit key features of its foundations in natural science and economics. To address this, we present a framework for natural capital analysis and decision making that links ecological and economic perspectives.

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Fig. 1: Natural capital framework.
Fig. 2: Estimated benefit-to-cost ratios for potential large-scale investments in built and natural assets in the United Kingdom.


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We are grateful for comments from participants at the ‘Workshop on discounting and the social cost of carbon’, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, 13 May 2019 and the Rockefeller Foundation Economic Council on Planetary Health Workshop ‘Natural Capital: Policy and Practical Applications for Planetary Health’, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, 2 May 2019 and the UK Natural Capital Committee and its Secretariat in Defra. The opinions expressed are those of the authors alone and not of any public or private sector body with which they are associated. I.J.B. acknowledges support from the NERC SWEEP programme (Project code: NE/P011217/1) and the Turing-HSBC-ONS Economic Data Science Awards 2018, and G.M.M. acknowledges the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) programme supported by the Wellcome Trust’s ‘Our Planet, Our Health’ programme (grant no. 205200/Z/16/Z).

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Both authors are equally responsible for the ideas within, and writing of, this paper.

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Correspondence to Ian J. Bateman or Georgina M. Mace.

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Bateman, I.J., Mace, G.M. The natural capital framework for sustainably efficient and equitable decision making. Nat Sustain (2020).

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