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Asia-Pacific Natural Capital Forum Aims to Change the Development Paradigm

ADB, regional leaders, and a Stanford team convened in the Philippines to better integrate natural capital approaches into decisions across sectors
Participants at ADB Headquarters for the Asia-Pacific Natural Capital Forum. Photo courtesy of ADB.

On November 7-9, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Stanford University’s Natural Capital Project (NatCap) convened the Asia-Pacific Natural Capital Forum: Mainstreaming Natural Capital Assessments to Address Climate-Food-Nature Nexus at ADB Headquarters in Manila, Philippines. The forum focused on building awareness of natural capital approaches among key decision-makers across the Asia-Pacific region, and on issues of practical implementation, including sustainable finance solutions. More than 250 people attended in person or online, including officials from 13 of ADB's developing member countries (DMCs), multilateral organizations, academia, and civil society organizations.

A clear takeaway from the forum was that accounting for nature is no longer optional - it’s a must. The World Economic Forum estimates more than half of the world’s GDP (about $44 trillion) is based on nature. “This Natural Capital Forum is very timely and an important opportunity to learn from the natural capital assessments that are underway in several of our developing member countries,” ADB Vice President of Sectors and Themes Fatima Yasmin said in her opening remarks, referring to pilot projects that ADB, NatCap, and the countries are collaborating on. Forum participants discussed the different ways natural capital approaches can illuminate nature’s benefits to people within a specific region or country, and in doing so, motivate investments in ecosystems that improve the well-being of both people and nature (read more about natural capital approaches in this Natural Capital Approaches Explainer). 

At the forum, ADB and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) announced the creation of a new Asia and the Pacific Natural Capital Fund for projects that enhance food security while protecting and restoring natural capital. The GEF is supporting the fund with an investment of $15 million.

Scaling up collaboration and innovation

This forum and the pilot projects are part of the People, Planet, Prosperity project, which NatCap, ADB, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the World Bank are partnering on, funded by the GEF and the Moore Foundation. The partners are co-developing natural capital approaches in 16 pilot countries that directly inform policy and investment decisions, and they are increasing capacity among the countries and bank staff for carrying these approaches forward. Five ADB member countries are currently participating (Armenia, People’s Republic of China, Cook Islands, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka), and the project partners intend to expand to additional countries in future years.  

NatCap and ADB have a longstanding partnership, having worked together on a Yangtze River eco-compensation scheme and natural capital accounting, and now, they are leveling this up through a new ADB Natural Capital Lab and the People, Planet, Prosperity project. “Working together with the experts at ADB, with their deep knowledge and experience working with country leaders throughout the Asia-Pacific region on development finance, is a game changer for mainstreaming natural capital approaches in policy and finance decisions,” said Mary Ruckelshaus, NatCap’s Executive Director. “NatCap's collaboration with ADB and with several other multilateral development banks aims to accelerate uptake of these approaches within the banks and their member governments around the world.”

At the forum, ADB’s U.S. Executive Director, Ambassador Chantale Yok-Min Wong, commended Stanford and ADB’s partnership, and the importance of addressing the climate-food-nature nexus and aligning international financial institutions’ actions on nature and food security. At ADB, this new project also fits into broader efforts to boost nature financing, including their Nature Solutions Finance Hub, developing scalable and bankable demonstration projects centered around innovative finance. “It is critical that we mainstream nature and natural capital thinking based on such robust accounting into our ADB operations, so that the projects that we design, the solutions that we offer to our DMCs, will be based on such solid principles,” said Ramesh Subramaniam, Director General and Group Chief, Sectors Group, ADB.

Conversations inspiring change

The forum also provided an invaluable opportunity for the pilot country teams to meet in person with their NatCap and ADB collaborators, crystallizing plans for the pilot projects and sharing ideas across teams. In one example of this, a country learned that another is involving a local research institution as a partner, and was interested in pursuing this approach themselves. The Philippines pilot project team also benefited greatly from the chance for in-person conversation, where they could more easily come to a decision on the direction of their work together for the pilot, which will involve the NatCap and ADB teams providing additional capacity to government staff as they launch a new effort to incorporate natural capital assessment and accounting into their existing workstreams. 

In another example of how bringing people together fosters innovation, after listening to a session, Ana Tiraa with the Cook Islands Ministry of Economic Finance and Management reflected on how natural capital approaches are not yet at the forefront of decisions about large infrastructure investments. This led to further conversations about ways to change this, including new ideas about how to do just that in the pilot project on wastewater management in the Cook Islands, and to ADB emphasizing the importance of mainstreaming these approaches across projects, which its Natural Capital Lab will be instrumental in scaling up.

Benefits to livelihoods and ecosystems, in action

Amanda Battad of Amanda’s Marine Products, with the fish her team is processing for sale. Credit: Lisa Mandle.

Another important outcome from the forum was the opportunity to connect with eight ADB developing member countries not yet part of the People, Planet, Prosperity project: Cambodia, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Nepal, Uzbekistan, and Viet Nam. These countries expressed interest in learning more about natural capital approaches and shared potential opportunities for future collaboration. The forum helped show participants what is possible through these approaches, especially around supporting both livelihoods and ecosystems. In particular, on the second day of the event ADB brought forum participants to the City of Balanga Wetland and Nature Park, a woman-owned enterprise called Amanda’s Marine Products, and the Community Fish Landing Center. The livelihoods of the fisherfolk and the jobs created by small and medium enterprises like Amanda’s Marine Products depend on the fish and shrimp from the nearby wetlands and mangroves. This wetland is one of the sites under ADB’s Regional Flyway Initiative, which is mobilizing large-scale financing to support the protection, maintenance, and restoration of -- particularly coastal -- wetlands in East and Southeast Asia. Also, the local government pays a monthly stipend to teams at the Community Fish Landing Center for activities that support coastal protection, including planting mangroves. 

Looking ahead

Fishing boats at the Community Fish Landing Center; credit: Lisa Mandle.

ADB and the Natural Capital Project are planning to start a webinar series to continue the conversations from this event and build a community of practice. The next regional training event for the People, Planet, Prosperity project will be held in Santiago, Chile in 2024, co-hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank, the Chilean government, and NatCap. The project also includes the development of a new massive open online course, or MOOC, and “scaling packets” to share lessons, training curricula, and promising practices for mainstreaming natural capital approaches across country governments, multilateral development banks, and the broader development and finance communities. 

For more information about this project, see the People, Planet, Prosperity project page, and the ADB Forum event page. Sign up for our newsletter for quarterly NatCap updates including news about this project.

The Natural Capital Project is part of the Stanford University School of Humanities & Sciences’ Department of Biology, and the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. 

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