Determining and accounting for the monetary value of ecosystems, biodiversity and ecosystem services and factoring them into the calculus of business decision-making is a very tall order. Yet, that’s precisely what’s necessary if humanity is to avoid environmental catastrophes of unprecedented scope and scale over the course of the 21st century, according to proponents of “natural capital,” nearly 500 of whom from 35 countries gathered in Edinburgh November 21-22 for the inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital.
World Forum host government Scotland wasn’t reticent about lending support and providing leadership to the Natural Capital movement. During the World Forum’s opening day, First Minister Alex Salmond announced the launch of the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital, a public-private partnership dedicated to charting a course for ongoing development and adoption of the natural capital framework and methodologies throughout Scottish society.
A new framework for socioeconomic development
Five founding partners are throwing their weight behind the cross-sectoral initiative: The Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group, the University of Edinburgh, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland (ICAS) and the Institute of Directors.
“During the Year of Natural Scotland, I am delighted to welcome delegates from over 35 countries to Edinburgh for the inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital,” the First Minister was quoted in a press release.
“This is the first major global conference to discuss the challenge of ‘valuing’ and conserving our natural resources: our high quality water, land and air. I hope this event becomes a regular fixture and that Scotland, a country with a rich and diverse natural environment, will continue to play a pivotal role.
“The World Forum on Natural Capital is a world-first in terms of understanding how natural capital accounting can inform decision making by everyone from small business to large NGOs,” added Simon Mine, chairman of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. “The Scottish Forum will use the understanding we are developing to inform how we go about protecting and improving Scotland’s natural capital.
The new Scottish Forum on Natural Capital, the First Minister explained, “will bring together public, private and voluntary sectors to help protect and rebuild Scotland’s natural capital. It will also offer leadership in the hope of increasing action both in Scotland and beyond.”
Peatlands and beyond
The restoration, conservation and sustainable use of Scotland’s peatlands will be “an early focus for the Scottish Forum,” he continued, “which is especially fitting since they form a substantial part of the Scottish landscape and are widely recognized as important in climate change mitigation, biodiversity and water quality. The Scottish Government has long acknowledged the benefits of peatland restoration and is making every effort to conserve this vital and valuable resource.”
Scottish Wildlife Trust chairman Simon Mine drew attention to the value and socioeconomic foundation ecosystems provide. Scotland’s natural assets provide services and products worth between an estimated £21.5 ($34 billion) to £23 billion ($37.25 billion) per year to Scotland’s economy.
“The value of Scotland’s natural assets to sectors like tourism, food and drink, and to society as a whole is huge. Without a better appreciation of this value we cannot properly track the damage that we are doing to our natural assets, nor can we properly incorporate this value into decision making,” Mine highlighted
A strategic vision based on Natural Capital
The inclusive nature of the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital’s initiative to conserve and make sustainable use of its ecosystems and natural resources is elaborated in its strategic vision:
- A Scotland in which all parts of society, including companies, NGOs, the government, public bodies and communities, recognize our reliance on natural capital and the impact we have on it.
- A Scotland in which an understanding of our relationship with natural capital leads to action to protect and rebuild it.
- A Scotland which is exercising leadership to galvanize action both here and beyond Scotland’s borders.
More specifically, the following three main objectives have been set out:
- Calculate the monetary value of Scotland’s natural capital and the cost of depleting it. This will involve coordinating experts including accountants, people from business, academics and policymakers.
- Communicate to a broad range of businesses and other stakeholders the risk of depleting Scotland’s natural capital and the huge economic value from protecting and enhancing it.
- Set up collaborative projects to deliver tangible action to protect and enhance Scotland’s natural capital.
Commenting on the new initiative, “Scotland’s natural capital is one of its most defining features and it has never been more important to protect and enhance it,” stated Ian Marchant, chairman of Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group Ian Marchant.
“Only by creating an economic environment that recognizes the value of the services provided to us by nature will businesses and other interested parties be able to make the informed decisions that will lead them to invest in preserving and improving Scotland’s natural environment.”
“Crucially we hope to use the principles of natural capital to help more businesses see the benefits of acting differently and galvanize more action to invest in Scotland’s natural capital,” added Scottish Wildlife Trust chairman Mine, who also hopes to see Scotland’s natural capital initiative galvanize action internationally and be taken up widely in the U.K. and countries around the world.
“We hope that the Scottish Forum will provide a blueprint to other countries of how they can encourage collaboration to find new ways to protect and enhance the natural environment, to the benefit of their people and their economies,” he stated.
“There is no reason why England and Wales should not be taking this just as seriously as every country has as much a financial stake in their natural assets as Scotland has.”