FROM NATURAL CAPITAL COALITION WEBSITE
The Moral Question
Some take the position that it’s immoral to ascribe any tangible value to the natural world. But when we buy almost any physical product we are, in a sense, commodifying Nature by signifying our willingness to pay a designated price in exchange for ownership of natural materials, organisms and their derivatives.
In this way, much of Nature is already commodified, and has been for thousands of years. A natural capital approach, far from abetting this neoliberal model, turns it on its head. While there are many prices for the products that are created from Nature and natural derivatives, the value of leaving the natural world intact is often far less understood – or worse, regarded as zero. Framing these resources as natural capital and working to illuminate their value is a way of recognising the value of leaving Nature intact.
Much of the debate comes down to language. In a bid to address some people’s unease with the term ‘ecosystem services’, in January 2018 30 global experts associated with the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) suggested a move away from the term, and towards ‘Nature’s Contributions to People’. They argued the latter was a more inclusive term that bypassed perceived failings of the ecosystem services framing.
IPBES chair Sir Robert Watson said, ‘Nature underpins every person’s wellbeing and ambitions – from health and happiness to prosperity and security. People need to better understand the full value of Nature to ensure its protection and sustainable use.’
Ultimately the message remains the same, irrespective of the language used: we fundamentally depend on Nature in a multitude of ways, and if Nature continues to be degraded, we will all suffer.
In March 2007, environment ministers from the G8+5 countries met in Potsdam, Germany to propose a proper analysis of the global economic benefit of biological diversity, the costs of the loss of biodiversity and the failure to take protective measures versus the costs of effective conservation. The result was the launch of a global TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) study, designed to make Nature’s values visible.
As well as getting to grips with the inherent value of our natural bounty, the goal of TEEB is to embed the values and benefits of biodiversity and ecosystem services into decision-making at all levels.
The TEEB for Business Coalition – now the Natural Capital Coalition – was launched in December 2012. Its purpose was to study and standardize natural capital approaches, and enable its valuation and reporting in business. The goal was to engage key stakeholders from business, government and civil society to join a leading-edge collaboration that would shape the future of business thinking and action on natural capital. TEEB for Business evolved into the Natural Capital Coalition in 2014; it had become clear that the entire system – not just business – needed to come together to tackle these issues and embed natural capital thinking in mainstream discourse.
Joining the Dots
Many organisations have a policy on water, another on energy, another on biodiversity, another on forests – the list goes on. Often the people working in these areas don’t talk to each another; in some cases they are actually in competition for budget allocation. A policy on one of these areas, without an understanding of how it connects with the others, means we’re often playing a four-dimensional game of tug of war, attempting to keep interconnected systems in balance without understanding the ways in which they work and connect.
The natural world and ecosystems are fundamentally symbiotic, so our approach to their conservation and restoration must be similarly interconnected if it is to succeed.
A systems approach allows businesses to understand fundamental interdependencies, tipping points and thresholds. If farmers deplete the local water table, the health of local vegetation may be affected; this could cause insect habitats and populations to decrease, affecting the pollination services necessary for the success of the farmers’ crops.
NOTE – How the debate is framed on a FALSE claim of scarcity, such as water, petroleum etc. Of course we sell these resources since there are costs of obtaining these resources for use. . . However, these resources are RENEWABLE, and we are not running out and that’s the difference.
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