3. The Role of Legislators

This section outlines the various roles that legislators must play to ensure that the real value of natural capital and ecosystem services is integrated into government policy making. Legislators play a critical
role in examining and challenging the work of the government and passing legislation. Therefore, they are a key stakeholder who must understand and champion the need to value natural capital.

3.1 Mainstreaming Natural Capital across Government

Legislators play a central role in the policy making process by holding their governments to account and scrutinizing their decisions. This oversight function is of particular relevance when the government is considering trade-offs between economic growth and the natural environment. Traditional macroeconomic indicators, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), play a central role in guiding government’s public policy, despite their limited inclusion of environmental impacts. Therefore, it is essential that legislators are equipped to highlight the shortcomings of these indicators and to encourage the government to mainstream ecosystem valuation into the economic growth model.

The key government department that needs to understand the concept of natural capital is the Finance Ministry or Treasury. The Finance Ministry is at the heart of government and is central to implementing government policy, advising and supporting the economic management of the State, and the overall development of the public sector. Chapter 4 of the GLOBE Natural Capital Action Plan outlines a set of recommendations for governments to implement, with a particular focus on the Finance Ministry.

3.2 Scrutiny of Government Policy Making

Legislators on the Public Accounts Committees, or equivalent parliamentary bodies, are responsible for examining the public expenditure of the government, carrying out value-for-money studies of the economy and for scrutinising the effectiveness and efficiency by which government departments use their resources.

In many instances, although not all, parliaments are also the bodies to which national audit offices, national statistical offices and national accounts offices report. Therefore, legislators have the responsibility to oversee the operations and strategies of the institutions that play a central role in both auditing government policy and providing the fundamental data on which government policy is based. Chapter 5 of the GLOBE Natural Capital Action Plan outlines a set of recommendations for National Audit Offices and Courts of Account to adopt the natural capital approach.

3.3 Ownership of Environmental Accounts

The success to the long-term uptake and use of environmental accounts depends on the level of ownership by the host country. It is critical to demonstrate the relevance of environmental accounts to key legislators in order to develop the political ownership of the environmental accounts that will ensure their sustained use and further development.

In particular, previous donor-driven attempts to create environmental accounts in developing countries have failed to advance beyond the initial period of support due to a lack of buy-in from the relevant ministry at the beginning of the initiative. Therefore, a critical early component of this initiative must involve working with the end-users of environmental accounts and ensuring that there is an internal demand for their development.

3.4 Achieving Public Policy Goals by Investing in Natural Capital

Legislators can develop political support across all government departments by highlighting the economic and social benefits that exist alongside the environmental objectives of protecting the natural world. ‘Investing in natural capital’ through restoration, conservation or environmental management can achieve mainstream public policy goals in a timely fashion, such as economic growth, job creation and energy and food security.

GLOBE has produced a supporting document, “Natural Capital: The New Political Imperative”, which profiles 12 case studies where environmental policies have achieved benefits for the economy and society. These policies are currently seen as “progressive”, however, once natural capital is integrated into decision making, these approaches will become second nature to policy makers.