The Natural Capital Initiative hosted and facilitated two key sessions at the major World Forum on Natural Capital, taking place in Edinburgh on 21st – 22nd November 2013. The Forum aimed at providing “clear information on emerging risks and opportunities, with a focus on practical implications” to enable business “solve real-life business challenges”.

During NCI’s first session on ‘What synergies exist between public and private natural capital accounts?Ivo Mulder, Coordinator Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, UNEP Finance Initiative, Alan McGill, Partner, Sustainability & Climate Change, PwC, Rafael Jiménez-Aybar, Director, GLOBE Natural Capital Initiative, Stefanie O’Gorman, Director of Economics and Policy, Jacobs Engineering Group, and Carl Obst, editor of the United Nations System of Environmental and Economic Accounts, engaged in a discussion chaired by Camilla Toulmin, Director, IIED, on areas of cross-over and synergy between public and private natural capital accounting processes. The panel stressed that the new language of valuation is critical to understanding risk for both the public and private sectors, particularly in relation to growth. Both need to find a common approach to embedding this new concept of natural capital valuation in order to avoid inappropriate investment. Asked what hopes panellists had for the future, Ivo Mulder suggested that in two years’ time, he expects to see more widespread board level support within business for natural capital accounting, while Alan McGill stressed that those that ignore this shift will risk being completely left behind. Reflecting after the forum, Carl Obst felt that currently both sectors are developing different methods, but would benefit from more frequent productive exchange of ideas to identify the many commonalities that do exist in order to progress cohesively.

Natural Capital Initiative at WFNC NCI’s day-two panel on ‘International trade and natural capital accounting beyond borders’ brought together Pushpam Kumar, Chief, Ecosystem Services Economics Unit, Division of Environment Programme Implementation, UNEP, Prof. John Barrett, Professor of Sustainability Research, University of Leeds and Director, Centre for Sustainability Accounting, Daan Wensing, Managing Director, Leaders for Nature, IUCN NL, Mathis Wackernagel, President, Global Footprint Network, and Barry Gardiner MP, Shadow Minister for the Natural Environment & Fisheries to reflect on how international trade affects the metrics and interpretation of Natural Capital Accounts. Chaired by NCI’s Prof. Alison Hester, Natural Capital Theme Lead at the James Hutton Institute, the conversation turned around what governments’ ‘international footprint’ and international trade meant for natural capital accounting and sustainable consumption measures. Prof. Barrett argued that we cannot leave the solution to corporations alone, as they do not and cannot think about the whole. It is governments that can and need to implement regulation and take system-level responsibility. Trade of course makes this highly complex.

Pushpam Kumar highlighted that trade and investment directly affects the resilience of ecosystems but despite this, not much research or activity is happening yet around trade and natural capital accounting, which, he said, is bordering on negligence. Some academic members of the audience reassured him that there was research being carried out, perhaps underscoring greater need for communication and collaboration between academic and other sectors. Focus shifted to the global South, where much of our natural resources are mined and sourced, and where future economic growth is expected to occur. Barry Gardiner MP argued that the concept of natural capital makes this unequal trade relationship and dependency clear. While the message from developed countries to developing countries, he argues, has implicitly been ‘grow your economy and become poorer’, the natural capital concept makes this explicit. Once we properly account for these natural resources that we extract from the global South, the balance of power will tilt out of recognition. This is both frightening and unavoidable, stressed Mr. Gardiner.

Throughout the two days delegates heard a lot about the need for more genuine, sustained and frequent cross-sector collaboration and dialogue. Shared vision, trust, and open and honest dialogue were billed as being essential to achieving this. The final plenary of the World Forum summarised the event in 7 words:

  1. Silos – they still exist between sectors and between agendas (particularly natural and social capital) and need to be broken down more
  2. Scale – the natural capital agenda needs scaling up (requiring bigger ambition) and out (achieving wider spread)
  3. Drivers – what are the internal and external drivers of change? How do we manage these?
  4. Outlay – who will make the initial outlay and how?
  5. Metrics – we need these, and need to keep developing more sophisticated versions
  6. Storytelling – it is critical that we find and tell compelling stories to engage people on natural capital
  7. Youth – we need to bring the next generation of leaders on board and harness their energy

You can read a storified version of NCI’s tweets of discussions as they happened at the World Forum here. The next World Forum on Natural Capital will take place in November 2015. You can sign up for further announcements here.

Read perspectives on the WFNC on our blog: