Bringing natural capital into mainstream use: a collaborative effort

Bringing natural capital into mainstream use: a collaborative effort
News & Blog | Blog Posted 21.08.15

Written by Daija Angeli, Project Officer for the Natural Capital Initiative

The concept of valuation and stewardship of natural capital in planning and development is clearly gaining traction. In the United Kingdom, it is not only the focus of major research programmes; businesses are also increasingly aware of natural capital and it is being implemented into policies and strategies. 

The Natural Capital Initiative (NCI) launched its ‘Valuing our Life Support Systems’ summit report in the Houses of Parliament in London earlier this summer. The report assimilated discussion on progress made in the UK in conceptualising natural capital, and the valuation of natural capital for planning and decision-making based on sound science.

The report shows that the conceptual framework for natural capital is more or less in place and understanding of why we need to conserve natural capital is developing. However, available tools for accounting and valuation are limited and we are nowhere near mainstream adoption. As Peter Young, former Chair of the Aldersgate Group, put it, “the UK is a world leader in environmental science and in writing policy; it is not a world leader in taking subsequent action”

In order to realise the potential benefit the approach, there is a need for robust and coherently applied concepts, terms and principles that are based in sound science.

The UK is one of the best monitored countries in the world and considerable knowledge and data has been accumulated about the various components and functions of natural capital.

We are in a fortunate position, however, having data is only one side of the coin: scientific results of natural capital research must be translated into a language that is easily understood by policy-makers, businesses and land users working with the natural and the built environment. This will be true in countries where natural capital knowledge base is less developed.

At the summit, business leaders called for clear, consistent and long term frameworks for valuing and accounting for natural capital. The Natural Capital Coalition has taken on this task and is developing the Natural Capital Protocol which will allow businesses around the world to measure and value their direct and indirect impacts and dependencies on natural capital. However, it is a challenge to create accounting frameworks that are simple enough to be usable for corporate value chains yet reflect sound science and complexity. Researchers need to provide summaries of the relevant best available evidence and decision support tools. We need to avoid oversimplifying – details matter, and improving natural capital will only work if we take a close look at the situation at hand within a broader context.

There is also a risk that the notion of natural capital could reinforce and facilitate the treatment of nature as a commodity to be traded. 'Valuing our Life Support Systems' identified an urgent need for a well-developed discussion about the ethics of natural capital. A widely accepted ethical framework is needed to ensure the appropriate use of natural capital valuation to enhance fair distribution of the benefits of natural capital. Many will be looking at the upcoming World Forum of Natural Capital with the expectation to further develop the Natural Capital Charter to serve as this framework.

Taking social and cultural values into account will be crucial if we want natural capital thinking to be widely adopted within the public sphere. This is challenging, but not impossible, and in the UK, an increasing interest in the nature and well-being agenda shows potential benefits.

Attendees at the summit identified mainstreaming of good practice as a key priority for the future. However, mainstreaming natural capital will only be possible if business, academia, policy makers and civil society join forces. Data and evidence, government policies and private sector accounting frameworks can only achieve what they set out to do if they are widely supported.

Last but not least, it is unlikely that the evidence or the well-developed framework will win over hearts and minds to the importance of conserving natural capital. We need to work together to elicit people’s valuing of nature, and engage everyone in reconnecting with it.

All outputs of the summit, including speaker presentations and videos, are available on the summit pages on the NCI website.

Written by Daija Angeli, Project Officer for the Natural Capital Initiative.

The Natural Capital Initiative is a UK-based partnership between the Royal Society of Biology, British Ecological Society, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the James Hutton Institute.

Book now for the 2015 World Forum on Natural Capital and join an international audience of business leaders, policymakers and leading experts at the forefront of natural capital policy and practice.


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