A common framework of natural capital assets for use in public and private sector decision making

Natural capital assets are currently under pressure globally. This pressure may result in changes in the function of ecological systems and associated ecosystem services, resulting in changes in the benefits derived by people. The loss of natural capital also translates into economic and business risk. While advances have been made to understand and classify ecosystem services, the linkages between such services and the natural capital assets that combine to enable service provision are less well established. An agreed classification of natural capital assets is required to standardise their identification, description and measurement, and support action to reduce and mitigate the pressures they are under. Here, we evaluate the main systems classifying the environment into natural capital assets, against a number of requirements for decision making, showing that to date, we lack a unified classification encompassing all aspects of the natural environment. We have thus amended and consolidated existing classifications and propose a new hierarchical classification, which allows standardisation of use within public and private sector natural capital assessments. Promoting a common understanding is key in measuring and monitoring the value of assets and will enable more consistent and holistic decision making in relation to the management of natural capital.