[Blog] World Forum on Natural Capital shows 'we get it'

5 December 2015

“Monetise nature! It’s the only solution ye eejet.” shouted the political philosopher from Kirkcaldy Adam Smith. “No no ye erse” slurred the botanist from Dunbar John Muir. “Naturalise the economy.” “Wait a minute. What are we blathering on about? Isn’t that the same bloody thing? Just value nature!” They agreed. And ordered another dram.

This is how I imagine the conversation could have gone between the founder of modern economics and the founder of the modern conservation movement, if they’d still been around to share a few drams of whiskey last week during the second Natural Capital Forum in Edinburgh.

Opened by the first minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, HRH Prince Charles, and the IUCN Director General Inger Andersen, the Forum saw leaders from all corners of society come together to present and share progress, struggles, hopes and fears in using this seemingly simple concept of ‘natural capital’. To discuss ending our out-dated flat earth economics. Hosted by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, in partnership with IUCN, WBCSD, UNEP FI and the Natural Capital Coalition, the Forum aimed to drive progress in enhancing and conserving natural capital, demonstrating the importance of collaboration between business, governments and NGOs; and contributing to international targets on biodiversity and ecosystems.

Four thematic streams

The Forum was organized into four thematic 'streams' related to natural capital: (1) how can natural capital approaches address business risks and opportunities, (2) innovations and tools available in natural capital accounting, (3) natural capital in finance and investment, and (4) policy implications and dialogues around natural capital. In one session on risk and opportunities, Jochen Zeitz, the 'radical' (if you can use that term these days without thinking of skateboarding) ex-CEO of Puma hosted a workshop on getting natural capital into the boardroom, highlighting the importance of making the most of the big examples, getting the business case and incentives right in arguing for natural capital, and making the most of innovations. In another session on the finance sector, Neil Brown, SRI Investment Manager at Alliance Trust and Yiannis Bartzilas, ESG Analyst at Bloomberg showed some brilliant innovations in how water footprinting and valuation is being integrated into investment decisions. Kering and Interface, two of the pioneers in natural capital accounting showed how the approach is now transforming their companies.

The ethics of natural capital

Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General, hosted a session on one of the thornier issues of the Forum, the ethics of natural capital. Reflecting her opening plenary speech, the session demonstrated that we should use natural capital to address ‘challenges’, ‘change’ economic policy, whilst not forgetting to ‘cherish’ nature. Or as Jonathan Hughes, Chief Executive at the Scottisch Wildlife Trust and IUCN Councilor put it in plenary, don't let 'the ethical debate around natural capital be an excuse for inaction'.

Natural Capital Protocol

Day one of the Forum also saw the launch of the much anticipated 'draft zero' Natural Capital Protocol. The Protocol is in many ways the transformation and innovation that both the conservation sector and those forward thinking economists and business folk have been looking for - a standarised global framework for measuring and valuing the direct and indirect impacts and dependencies of economic activities on natural capital. The Protocol is being tested by more than fifty companies and organisations from all walks of our economies over the next few months before being launched in July 2016. IUCN NL is extremely proud to be part of this collaborative effort to make nature truly visible in all our economic decision making.

Many who get it

The second World Forum on Natural Capital was really a confirmation that there are many in economics and business who get it, who get that nature is an essential part of our economy, and that the path to a brighter, more prosperous future involves understanding and maintaining our natural capital. Collaboration is however key. The progress being made together within this community is a demonstration of that. Let's hope they see this and deliver in Paris these coming weeks.

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