On Friday 8th January, NCI hosted a breakfast meeting focussing on natural capital monitoring and data at Charles Darwin House in London. Chaired by Prof Rosie Hails, Director of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Science at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and former Chair of NCI, over 80 attendees discussed the availability of natural capital data as well as gaps, monitoring and data needs, and how these are currently being addressed by science, policy and business.
To kick off, speakers gave a broad overview of science, policy and business practice on natural capital monitoring and data use. Newly appointed Dame Professor Georgina Mace, Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystems and Head of the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London, argued that while natural capital is at the heart of our economy, it is a small proportion of the UK’s measured wealth which shows that it is seriously underestimated at present. A comprehensive and inclusive approach is needed to determine its utility in the broadest sense, looking not just at monetary values but also health and social benefits. With regards to natural capital monitoring she argued that schemes should be designed to gather information for metrics efficiently, i.e. with relevance to the objectives such learning about the system or informing policy decisions. She concluded that there was more research to be done in streamlining and validating metrics developed by the first Natural Capital Committee, as well as better understanding relationships between natural capital assets and the benefits we derive from them.
Mark Gough, Executive Director of the Natural Capital Coalition, gave insights into the emerging Natural Capital Protocol, a global standardized framework for business to measure and value its direct and indirect impacts and dependencies on natural capital. He said when it comes to natural capital, corporates know that something was missing from their decision making process but they don’t know how to incorporate it. He highlighted that data are a fundamental part of the Natural Capital Protocol, and that businesses need to understand what data they need and how to differentiate good from bad data.
Joe Grice, Director and Chief Economist at the Office of National Statistics explained that there was a growing interest in accounting for all forms of capital in Government. The ONS is working with Defra on National Natural Capital Accounting Framework, taking a two way approach, developing a coherent framework for natural capital accounting as well as publishing examples of habitat accounts based on existing data to initiate discussion on how this type of accounting can be improved upon. He highlighted raising awareness – bringing natural capital accounting into the mainstream – as well as improving methodologies as the main challenges.
In the Q&A session, speakers and participants debated aspects of liability and potential negative impacts of nature on humans, land management and property rights, the interrelations between natural capital and other forms of capital, and the role of the UK in developing international natural capital accounting standards. The discussions showed there are encouraging developments in all sectors: the Government is developing a long term plan for nature, with monitoring and measuring at its heart. The private sector is collaborating over a standardised framework for better decision making and the ONS’s roadmap aims to fully incorporate natural capital into the national accounts by 2021. However, data and a suitable monitoring framework will be needed to ensure we are set up to measure our progress towards an improved state of our natural capital assets.
Speaker presentations and further resources are available on the event webpage.