ESA title

Natural Capital

  • Activity Kick-start Activity
  • Opening date 13-09-2022
  • Closing date 11-11-2022


Natural capital is the sum of our ecosystems, species, freshwater, land, soils, minerals, our air, and our seas. These are all elements of nature that either directly or indirectly bring value to people and the country at large. They do this in many ways but primarily by providing us with food, clean air and water, wildlife, energy, wood, recreation, and protection from hazards.

Approximately 60% of the ecosystem-services mentioned above are being degraded, through loss of biodiversity, pollution, climate change and poor land use. Based on a study from The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), it is calculated that the economic impact of the degradation of natural systems to approximately 2 to 5 trillion USD per year.

Governments and business alike are beginning to recognise the critical importance of natural capital as the foundation of all economic productivity and the associated benefits from valuing it, such as greater transparency over supply chain security and a deeper understanding of the risks to business continuity. Natural capital is very often a core input into an organisation’s business model, and some companies are beginning to account for the impacts of their operations on natural capital through their operations, products, and services.

With financial capital, when we spend too much we run up debt, which if left unchecked can eventually result in bankruptcy. With natural capital, when we drawdown too much stock from our natural environment, we also run up a debt which needs to be paid back, for instance by replanting clear-cut forests, or allowing aquifers to replenish themselves after we have abstracted water. If we keep drawing down stocks of natural capital without allowing or encouraging nature to recover, we run the risk of local, regional, or even global ecosystem collapse.

Poorly managed natural capital therefore becomes not only an ecological liability, but a social and economic liability too. It is important to understand the economic value of nature’s benefits which will enable smarter decisions that account for nature in the economic systems and ensure that it can sustain us. Working against nature by overexploiting natural capital can be catastrophic not just in terms of biodiversity loss, but also catastrophic for humans as ecosystem productivity and resilience decline over time and some regions become more prone to extreme events such as floods and droughts. Ultimately, this makes it more difficult for human communities to sustain themselves, particularly in already stressed ecosystems, potentially leading to starvation, conflict over resource scarcity and displacement of populations.  Furthermore, sustainable management of natural capital delivers sustainable businesses and economic sustainability which has direct impact on costs (fewer resources such as carbon or water are used). 

It was estimated in the “Living Planet Report 2018: Aiming Higher” (2018) by WWF that the contribution of nature to the global economy is worth more than $125 trillion annually. Yet, according to – “The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review” (2021), current estimates of financial investments in natural capital are still only about 0.1% of global GDP (about US$78­–143 billion per year). In addition to this government spending, private finance directed at biodiversity ranges from about US$6.6 billion to US$13.6 billion including spending on biodiversity offsets, sustainable commodities, forest carbon finance, payments for ecosystem services, water quality trading and offsets, private contributions to conservation non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and private finance leveraged by bilateral and multilateral public development finance. However, to put this in proportion, at the same time, global governments spend around US$500 billion on activities, such as subsidies and investment, that can be considered harmful to biodiversity.

The Natural Capital Protocol is a decision-making framework that enables organisations to identify, measure and value their direct and indirect impacts and dependencies on natural capital. A key stage in the application of the protocol is to determine how a business is contributing to changes in the state of natural capital and what can be done to reduce their impact.  Measurement is a crucial step on the path delivering on a natural capital strategy.
Considering the above challenges, the objective of this Kick-Start initiative is to foster new state-of-the-art services combining space-based assets to enhance the natural capital management and monitoring as described in the identified topics of relevance below.

Join our webinar and learn more about this opportunity.

Key focus areas

1.    Nature based interventions – land use change

  • Sustainable forest management - Managing and increasing tree cover: 
    • landscape protection - by monitoring the water, soil, and natural resources of fragile ecosystems, it is possible to decide on the best place to develop the land
    • land cover disturbance from fire, drought, or resource development 
    • deforestation, forest structure (height and volume) and biomass density monitoring
  • Managing and monitoring soil carbon: 
    • monitoring and assessing soil and peatland areas, including determining the status and condition of intact peatlands
    • estimating and monitoring soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks. 
    • sustainable agricultural site planning, irrigation management, improved soil structure, increased soil biodiversity, better holding water capacity and nutrient availability.
  • Improving wildlife/ biodiversity: 
    • wildlife monitoring and ecosystem optimisation/re-organisation of areas that suffered ecosystem damage (e.g. due to flooding, fires etc.) 
    • forest management, land use planning including new infrastructures that might have a direct and in-direct impact on biodiversity disturbance  

2.    Nature based interventions – water and marine environment

  • Managing freshwater and wetlands: 
    • monitoring aquaculture, protecting underwater ecosystems, monitoring infrastructure development, land conversion, water withdrawal, pollution, overharvesting and overexploitation of freshwater species
  • Managing the marine environment: 
    • monitoring seabed habitats and their condition (whether they are disturbed or not)
    • mapping the areas important for key ecosystem services such as carbon storage, fish habitat and recreation.
    • water management (water loss), hydrographic surveying and environmental monitoring analysis, maritime pollution detection and monitoring, emissions monitoring (SOx, CO2, etc)


Space technologies and data can play a key role in the development of natural capital services.

Satellite Navigation (SatNav):

GNSS can be used for locating and geo-referencing new sites of deployment and for supporting local teams in the implementation of the planned afforestation/ reforestation/ restoration actions. GNSS can be used to provide geo-/time-referenced sensor information from deployed Internet of Things (IoT) systems. Furthermore, GNSS can be used to support geophysical and hydrographic surveys and to support autonomous marine systems used to monitor bodies of water while reducing the associated carbon footprint.

Satellite Communication (SatCom): 

Satellite communications can provide connectivity to remote areas with limited or no terrestrial connectivity (wired or wireless), where especially most carbon storage sites, and reforestation/ land restauration actions will be located. This connectivity can be used for instance to remotely monitor local energy production and geological sensor status to explore renewable energy resources, achieve sustainability and provide in-the-field team with access to needed on-line services.

Satellite communications can also be merged with IoT and remote sensing technologies which can be used on applications such as, monitoring carbon levels in soil which is vital as it has the potential to help mitigate the effects of climate change by carbon sequestration. Satellite communications remote sensors can be placed in water to detect pollution levels, or in soil to determine its status in terms of carbon through collection of real-time data; they can also be used to collect biophysical and biochemical vegetation data for large geographic areas over long periods of time, which in-situ with other data can help provide more sustainable solutions of natural capital management.

Satellite Earth Observation (SatEO):

About ten types of Natural Capital in terms of amount and condition can be directly measured from space at national and site level: habitat type, habitat distribution, vegetation height, woody biomass, canopy structure, coastal forest/ mangrove degradation/ afforestation, annual primary productivity, above-ground carbon, water cycling, above-ground nitrogen.  

Earth Observation (EO) data can provide instrumental information for the identification of the best geographical sites for establishing new afforestation/ reforestation/ restoration sites, monitor on-going sequestration actions and support the evaluation of sequestrated carbon volume. Similarly, this data can contribute to identify safe sites for deploying carbon capture and underground storage facilities, detect potential issues such as leaks (via emissions detection or effect on vegetation monitoring) and contribute to total net emissions computations. 

Tree growth over time using synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data (direct backscatter to look at biomass or looking at a more developed sort of internal metric techniques to determine parameters like heights). EO data can be used to create digital elevation model as well as land use and land cover maps to support hydrological calculations and classify forests.


Kick-Start activities explore the business opportunity and the technical viability of new applications and services that exploit one or more space assets (e.g. Satellite Communications, Satellite Navigation, Earth Observation, Human Spaceflight Technology). This call for Kick-Start activities is dedicated to the theme ‘Natural Capital, which means that the call is open to companies that intend to develop space-enabled applications and services relating to the themes in this domain.


  1. Register by completing the online questionnaire on esa-star registration (this provides for the minimum ‘light registration’)
  2. Visit esa-star publications and search for this opportunity to download the official tender documentation. Official documents will include proposal templates, a draft contract, and additional information about this opportunity.
  3. Use the official documents to prepare your proposal.
  4. Write your proposal and obtain a Letter of Support from your National Delegation, if needed (see Authorisation of Funding section below).
  5. Submit your proposal via esa-star tendering by the deadline. 


ESA Space Solutions can provide funding to perform Kick-Start activities under this ‘Natural Capital’ initiative to any company (economic operator) residing in the following Member States: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

However, please note that currently, Austria, Greece, and Switzerland are not supporting Kick-Start activities.

Applicants must inform the National Delegation of the country they are residing in to obtain a letter of authorisation allowing the funding of the proposed activity. Contact details of each national delegate can be found here

Currently, Germany, Hungary, LuxembourgNorway and the United Kingdom have pre-approved funding for this kick-start activity. Applicants from these countries do not need to obtain a letter of authorisation from their National Delegation.

Kick-Start activities are funded at 75% by the European Space Agency for a maximum of €60K per contract.


07 September 2022 10:00-11:00 BST/ 11:00-12:00 CEST

  • Host: Asimina Syriou, ESA
  • Guest Speakers:
    - Claire Wansbury - Fellow and Technical Authority on Biodiversity and Natural Capital. Associate Director of Ecology at ATKINS
    - Christophe Christiaen - Innovation and Impact Lead at Spatial Finance Initiative, University of Oxford