‘What has nature ever done for us? Global experts on natural capital explain…

Posted on: 04 October 2016

Renowned campaigner, writer, sustainability advisor and leading British environmentalist Tony Juniper asked 'What has Nature ever done for us?' as he challenged perceptions at a public lecture at Trinity College Dublin earlier this week.

For decades environmental damage has been seen as a regrettable but necessary price of progress — the inevitable consequence of economic growth. Such a world view often regards environmental laws and targets to be 'anti-development' and a threat to the interests of people.

Reality is somewhat different, however, as more and more research confirms that healthy natural systems are vital preconditions for advancing human wellbeing. From the pollination of crops to the recycling of nutrients in soils, and from the replenishment of freshwater to the capture and storage of carbon, nature delivers a wide range of essential services — and for free.

If we are to avoid the costly consequences that will accompany the continuing degradation of natural systems, then we need to understand the full range of values provided by nature, including those with economic and practical benefit in the human world.

Jane Stout, Chair of the Irish Forum on Natural Captial (IFNC) and Professor in Botany at Trinity, is looking forward to a week packed full of events that put nature at the heart of future political and economic decision-making.

Professor Stout said: “Nature provides us with numerous benefits: from food, water and fuel, to climate regulation, productive soils and a place for relaxation and recreation. It is of infinite value to human society. However, nature is invisible in modern accounting systems, and so appears valueless. The Natural Capital Approach explicitly links the environment and our economies in an attempt to address this problem. By recognising the value of nature, the argument to protect it becomes crystal clear.”

Natural capital is the world's stocks of physical and biological resources, including air, water, minerals, soils, fossil fuels and all living things. These stocks work together to deliver the ecosystem services (such as food, materials, clean air and water, medicines, pest control, flood regulation and carbon sequestration) from which we all benefit.

Professor Stout added: “The natural capital approach has been contested within scientific circles and in the media. While many believe it is a positive way forward to address environmental and social challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss, others fear that it commodifies nature. Nonetheless, big business and governments are moving in this direction, presenting opportunities for discussion and debate on a potentially transformative agenda for all sectors.”

Among this week’s natural capital events are a major conference, held at the National Concert Hall and hosted by the IFNC on Tuesday October 4th, and an academic discussion held in Trinity  on Wednesday October 5th.

A diverse array of world-leading voices on natural capital will speak at the conference, which will draw experts from disciplines including economics, business, accountancy, ecology and policy. These include:

·         Chief Economic Adviser to the Scottish Government, Gary Gillespie, who enshrined nature in Scotland’s Economic Strategy and made natural capital a national performance indicator

·         Director of Science at Kew & Professor of Biodiversity at Oxford University, Kathy Willis, whose work with the Natural Capital Committee is driving the economic assessment of nature in the UK

·         Technical Director at The Prince’s Accounting 4 Sustainability project, Kathryn Jackson, a Chartered Accountant who believes that accountancy has a role to play in saving the planet

·         Ireland’s Ambassador to the UN, David Donoghue, who co-Chaired the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

·         Chair of the UK's Natural Capital Committee, Dieter Helm CBE, who is Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Economics at New College, Oxford.

·         Irish speakers include the CEO of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ireland, Bord Bia, Central Statistics Office, Environmental Protection Agency, Bord na Mona, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service

Leading academics from a variety of disciplines will then discuss whether the opportunities of valuing natural capital in order to protect nature outweigh the risks at the academic event in Trinity on Wednesday.

‘Panellists from Trinity include Professor of Zoology, Yvonne Buckley, Assistant Professor in Geography, Patrick Bresnihan, and Professor in Botany, Jane Stout, who will introduce the discussion with Chair, Ella McSweeney. Dr Craig Bullock from UCD and Dr Peter Doran from Queens University Belfast will also be on the panel.

Media Contact:

Thomas Deane, Media Relations Officer | deaneth@tcd.ie | +353 1 896 4685