Our thriving, sustainable economy conserves and grows our natural assets

Last updated: 30 May 2022

This outcome is about the transformative changes to our economy needed to play Scotland’s role in tackling the global climate and nature crises. It is also about the new opportunities that the transition to a net-zero, sustainable economy will create for Scotland, supporting our green economic recovery and boosting jobs, business and trade.

Here we report two indicators that help us to monitor progress towards this outcome: Scottish Natural Capital Accounts and Natural Capital Asset Index. These indicators reveal the important contributions that Scotland’s natural assets make to our economy, whilst highlighting the significant action and investment needed to conserve and grow Scotland’s stocks of natural capital.

Our natural capital in Scotland is rich and diverse, from our populations of wild species to soils, minerals and our iconic ecosystems like Caledonian pinewoods, blanket bogs, cold-water corals and sea lochs. This natural capital underpins our social, human and financial capital.

As illustrated in the Dasgupta Review of the economics of biodiversity, our economy is embedded in our natural environment, not separate to it. This means our economy is fundamentally dependent on our natural environment to supply the resources and services it needs and to assimilate its wastes, including greenhouse gases.

Measuring the many ways that our natural assets support the economy is challenging. As the Monitoring Framework is further developed, we will explore the options for additional indicators that will help to provide a meaningful and robust measure of progress towards this outcome. For example, we will consider indicators relating to investment in natural assets, jobs in the nature-based sector and wider green industries, the scale of green finance and other measures of Scotland’s progress in transitioning to a net zero, nature-positive economy.

Natural capital accounts

Indicator Updated: 26 April 2022

Headline: The annual monetary flow of services from Scotland’s natural capital (excluding fossil fuels) has increased since 1999.

Source: Data produced by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and published by the Scottish Government.. Data for this chart can be downloaded from the Data Source page.

This indicator reports the annual monetary flows of the services supplied by Scotland’s natural capital, excluding flows created by fossil fuels. Find out more about the natural capital accounts indicator.

Natural capital accounting values goods and services provided by nature, to estimate the benefits that these natural assets provide to humanity. In 2018, annual monetary flow was £4.0B, more than double the £1.9B in 1998 (the start of the time series). This increase has been driven by a large increase in the amount of Scotland’s energy which is produced from renewable sources, as well as an increase in the level of timber production and in the number of hours which people spend on outdoor recreation.

Natural capital asset index

Indicator Updated: 30 May 2022

Headline: Overall, the capacity of Scotland’s terrestrial ecosystems to provide benefits to people has increased slightly since 2000, following decades of decline, but individual indicators within the index tell a more nuanced story.

Source: NatureScot. Data for this chart can be downloaded from the Data Source page.

The Natural Capital Asset Index (NCAI) measures the potential of our natural assets (e.g. peatland, grassland, woodland) to provide benefits to society (through measurements of their quantity and quality) now and into the future. Find out more about the Natural Capital Asset Index indicator.

The Natural Capital Asset Index (NCAI) has increased slightly since detailed monitoring began in 2000. Whilst this broadly suggests that the potential of Scotland’s natural assets to provide ecosystem services has been maintained over the past 20 years, underlying trends of different habitats, trade-offs between services and individual indicators within the model tell a much more nuanced story. A back-casting exercise also suggests that natural capital in Scotland is at low levels when considering long term trends, and declined significantly between 1950 and 1990. We want to see Natural Capital continuing to increase – by conserving and growing the quantity and quality of our natural assets.