Prioritizing ecosystem services in SDG monitoring in Aruba

Written by TReNDS Staff with Elena Palacios, Wolfs Company

In 2018, the Local Data Action Solutions Initiative (LDA-SI) launched a microgrant initiative to support learning from existing subnational SDG data initiatives, harnessing tacit local knowledge and informing a learning exchange. This post details the work of LDA-SI grantee Wolfs Company and its partners during the 2018-2019 grant period. For more information, visit the LDA-SI microgrant program page.

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Islands and SIDS have shown a strong commitment to nature conservation in the face of climate change and other sustainable development challenges (e.g. through the Convention on Biological Diversity and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development). However, their global commitments have not translated into clear national goals with measurable targets, nor have they made a clear domestic case relating to the benefits of investing in and conserving healthy ecosystems for the achievement of national and global environmental and socioeconomic goals.

Aruba is one SIDS that is highly dependent on its coastal and marine ecosystems for economic growth and well-being. LDA-SI grantee Wolfs Company took on the challenge of capturing linkages between ecosystem services (ESS) and the SDGs to support the localization of the SDGs to the SIDS context.

Specifically, Wolfs Company aimed to: create awareness of the important contribution of natural capital to the achievement of SDGs among different stakeholder groups, develop an advocacy tool to facilitate evaluating and understanding the links between ESS and the SDGs, and provide guidance to policymakers in mainstreaming and integrating ESS into national sustainable development policies. It partnered with local consultancy YABI and engaged directly with the Government of Aruba’s Directorate of Nature and Environment (Directie Natuur en Milieu, or DNM), with the ultimate goal of supporting the Aruba SDG Roadmap and the “Planet” theme within the roadmap.

Read on to learn more about Wolfs Company’s approach to linking ESS and the SDGs in the Aruban context and supporting local policymaking on the SDGs.


Aruba and the SDGs

In Aruba, multiple initiatives are currently taking place to operationalize the implementation of SDGs. In 2017, the Aruban government passed a Ministerial Decree recognizing and institutionalizing the work of the National SDG Commission and the SDG Aruba Indicator Working Group (IWG), chaired by Aruba’s Central Bureau of Statistics. In 2018, the IWG released a report that provided a baseline for the set of 230+ Global Monitoring Indicators for the SDGs.

Also recognizing the importance of tailoring the SDGs to a specific context, Aruba concurrently decided to embark upon a process of localizing the SDGs, aiming to define a set of context specific targets and indicators through its SDG Roadmap. The Roadmap intends to define two things:

1. A set of “SDG accelerators”: catalytic measures that tackle multiple development priorities at once, thereby maximizing impact and investments. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has supported the development of Aruba’s “accelerators” through consultation with stakeholders and by developing a theory of change that explains the mechanisms through which accelerators can have maximum impact.

2. A set of local indicators to monitor the SDGs in Aruba. These indicators are being developed along five thematic pillars: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership. Specific working groups have been set up for each of these pillars. DNM leads the Planet working group.



A significant effort within the project was identifying priority SDGs and ESS to link to one another. This effort was captured in Wolfs Company’s five-step Nature2SDGs toolkit, which prescribes both technical and consultative processes for ESS-SDG alignment. It includes:

  • establishing a policy objective,

  • determining and assessing priority SDGs,

  • identifying priority ESS for the SDGs,

  • assessing the socioeconomic value of ESS for the SDGs, and

  • capturing ESS-SDG links in a data index and facilitating change.

For detailed information on the Nature2SDGs toolkit, contact Wolfs Company at

Key resources informing this process were:

  • Aruba’s SDG Roadmap, specifically using the Roadmap’s SDG accelerators to identify priority SDGs

  • The TEEB Aruba Study, which identifies socioeconomic values of different ESS and, for non-monetizable ESS, visual maps demonstrating the perceived importance of ecosystems for recreational, aesthetic, and cultural purposes

  • Questionnaires and in-person consultations with both international and national stakeholders

Participatory Approach

Wolfs Company incorporated a participatory approach throughout the project. From the start, the team engaged and consulted policymakers who were in turn engaged in development policies, investments, and management options, and were the ultimate targets of the project’s outputs.

Beyond policymakers, the team also consulted local stakeholders and ESS experts, hailing from the public and private sectors, academia, and nongovernmental organizations. This was largely achieved through the dissemination of a questionnaire providing a matrix displaying one-to-one ESS-SDG target linkages and asking respondents to rank them on a scale of importance.

Additionally, two sets of consultative meetings were completed to verify and validate the survey data. The first targeted international experts in ESS and SDGs with a focus on SIDS, and the second convened a group of local Aruban stakeholders. As reported by the project team, the consultations and questionnaire revealed valuable insights about prioritization of ESS and the SDGs–including differences of perspective among the stakeholders, such as what geographic areas are most important to address in the process of linking ESS through the SDGs.

Ultimately, the team was able to derive priority ESS for the SDGs through the information shared by these different stakeholders and the more technical work described above.


Although funded by the LDA-SI grant, this project ended up being predominantly target-based. The team produced a replicable process for other SIDS and other national entities to link ESS to the SDGs through consultation with stakeholders (the Nature2SDGs toolkit, described in brief above) and two data-driven outputs: the Aruba Data Index and the Aruba Dashboard (currently in development).

  • The Aruba Data Index is a short list of indicators to inform investment decisions on SDGs accelerators based on the contribution of ESS to the achievement of SDGs for Aruba. It is based on the Aruba SDG accelerators, consultation results, and indicators and socioeconomic value data/visual mapS profiled in the TEEB Aruba study.

  • The Aruba Dashboard will be a visual tool to facilitate assessing and communicating selected ecosystem services contribution to SDG achievement. As of this writing it is currently under development, and will serve as a primary means of visualizing the Aruba Data Index and the contribution of ESS to the SDGs.

The Aruba Data Index is profiled in brief in the table below.

TEEB ESS indicator Baseline socioeconomic value (2017) Level of contribution to ESS-SDG target SDG Target Aruba SDG accelerator
Fisheries value US$4.45 million Very important 14.7 – economic benefits for small islands from marine resources Improved natural resources management
Tourists WTP enhanced nature protection US$10.6 million Not specifically assessed with the toolkit
Local WTP enhanced nature protection US$3.6 million
Nature-based tourism expenditure US$269 million Very important 8.9 – devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism Sustainable tourism
Nature-based tourism services “Hotspot” spatial maps
Local cultural recreational services “Hotspot” spatial maps Important 3.4 – reduce premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and promote mental health and well-being Improved quality of life and well-being

Informing Policymaking and More

The selected indicators will inform policy and investment decisions related to the SDGs accelerators in the following ways:

Improved natural resources management: Accounting for the current value of fisheries enables to track fisheries stock and revenues annually, as well as assess the economic effects of the potential creation or expansion of marine protected areas for fishermen. The sustainable management of this ESS contributes to the achievement of SDG 14 and “very importantly” to Target 14.7 (economic benefits for small islands from marine resources) as stated by both local and international stakeholders. Additionally, the inclusion of the TEEB indicators “Tourists and Local population willingness to pay (WTP) for enhanced nature protection” (e.g. creation or expansion of protected areas) is considered relevant to inform the implementation of the measures foreseen by this accelerator.

Sustainable tourism: By tracking annual nature-based tourism expenditures, it is possible to infer whether Aruba’s natural assets are being preserved. The sustainable management of this ESS contributes to the achievement of SDG 8 and “very importantly” to Target 8.9 (devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism) as stated by international experts. According to TEEB Aruba, the added value to the tourism industry that can be attributed to the natural environment of Aruba is estimated at US$269 million.

Improved quality of life and well-being: TEEB Aruba states that 70 percent of Arubans visit natural environments to destress and unwind, and 68 percent find urban and peri-urban green spaces “very and extremely important” for improving social cohesion. By spatially mapping the importance of local cultural and recreational ESS, it is possible to assess how many people are benefiting from nature to improve their quality of life and well-being and to track key island areas for these activities. This also has the potential to inform government investments in activities for the health of the community (e.g. marking walking paths, construction of a bike lane, etc.). The sustainable management of these ESS contributes to the achievement of SDG 3 and “importantly” to Target 3.4 (reduce premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and promote mental health and well-being) as stated by both local and international stakeholders.

DNM is using these tools to advocate for nature conservation and to make the case for sustainable development investments on the island. Due to its role leading the Planet working group for Aruba’s SDG roadmap, the Wolfs Company team is hopeful that these tools will be integral to future policymaking in support of the SDGs.


This section summarizes key lessons to guide initiatives that seek to replicate the methods described above in other island territories:

Allocate sufficient time to identify and discuss the policy question or decision-making process that you seek to inform. In Aruba, the definition of the policy question took final shape after having a better understanding of the ongoing decision-making and processes for localization of the SDGs taking place on the island.

Tailor the selection of SDG targets and ESS to the local context as much as possible. The SDG Targets and ESS selected in this case were supported by an extensive literature review and are therefore generally applicable for SIDS. Nonetheless, the scope of the selection can be narrowed down or fine-tuned according to local policy needs.

Strategically select and follow up with stakeholders during the consultation process to ensure their participation. A large share of time was also dedicated to facilitation and ensuring the completion of the questionnaire by respondents. Phone calls and in-person interviews were undertaken to explain the purpose of the questionnaire and assist the participants in filling in their answers.

Team up with a local partner or champion with knowledge of the local stakeholders working on the SDGs and environmentally-related issues. YABI Consultancy was paramount in addressing the right stakeholders and communicating with DNM throughout the whole project.

Identify enabling channels to raise the sensitivity of and interest on the topic with local stakeholders. In Aruba, the high level of participation in the limited time to perform the consultation was also partly motivated by the existence of several initiatives around SDGs.

Anticipate lack of data and identify and program ways to collect information on the value of ESS, either through tailored studies or using information from previous ESS valuation studies. The TEEB study was a cornerstone for implementing the Nature2SDGs toolkit in Aruba.

To facilitate mainstreaming the solution, it is key to have a good understanding of the existing, ongoing processes for selecting and localizing SDG indicators and the governance structure and timings that rule the selection of SDG indicators. Gather information about these during the consultation process and foster key stakeholders gaining ownership of the data index. It should be noted that the uptake of this kind of island data is likely subject to long discussion processes between national statisticians.

Whenever possible, base the SDG indicator selection process on existing policy documents and initiatives. In Aruba, the application of the toolkit sits on the 2030 Roadmap for the island, namely, on the SDG accelerators.

Tailor the data index to the island site and find a compromise between data availability and “most suited” data to inform the policy in question and shortlist adequate indicators. In Aruba, the selection of indicators was determined by the consultation process, the data available from the TEEB study, and their suitability to inform Aruba’s SDGs accelerators.



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Government of Aruba. 2018. “A Roadmap for SDG Implementation in Aruba.”

International Science Council. 2017. “A Guide to SDG Interactions: From Science to Implementation.”

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