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5 reflections from the World Forum on Natural Capital

By Dr Jim Ormond

Following this year’s World Forum on Natural Capital, we wanted to share five points which resonated with us from the two days …

1) Understanding and valuing Natural Capital makes clear business sense.

Companies and Government are now providing clear, tangible and measurable evidence that protecting Natural Capital provides direct financial rewards. For instance, despite it being hard to sell a swamp to an engineer, Dow Chemical company have shown that replacing 'grey infrastructure' (e.g. waste water treatment plants) with 'green infrastructure' (e.g. reed beds) can deliver over $280 million of savings.

2) Understanding Natural Capital enables smart and informed carbon reduction policy and action

With only 5 days until the 21st COP Climate Summit, carbon reduction and climate change mitigation were central themes throughout the Forum. Of particular interest was Scotland’s Peat Protection plan – an initiative designed to prevent the release of over 3000 megatonnes of carbon from Scottish peatland. This store represents 60 times more than the carbon storage in Scotland's trees and plants. What is particularly important here is that by understanding how Nature works, and the flows of carbon, policy and resources can be directed to the most critical and impact-full elements of the system.

3) Natural Capital underpins the Sustainable Development Goals

The link between Natural Capital and the Sustainable Development Goals was discussed at length. Despite the goals being global they affect everyone at whatever scale they operate and underlying each one is a form of Natural Capital. Pete Bakker, WBCSD commented “I am happy to meet with anyone, but first you must tell me which SDG you are tackling”. 

4) Water scarcity will lead to stranded agricultural assets

Whilst there has been considerable discussions of fossil fuels as stranded assets the Forum highlighted water scarcity as a driver of stranded assets, particularly within the agricultural sector.

5) The Humble Tree is key to carbon reduction, water protection and building social capital

Finally the humble tree. Scotland’s are planting 100,000 hectares of forests by 2020 (Nicola Sturgeon), whilst Pakistan are planting a billion trees. (Malik Amin Aslam). What is interesting about trees is the role they play in both preserving natural capital – e.g. enhancing water availability; reducing soil erosion and enabling carbon sequestration - and enhancing social capital e.g. providing jobs and enhancing economic productivity in Pakistan and supporting improved health and wellbeing in Scotland.

Therefore, to conclude, the Natural Capital Protocol consultation was launched... time is running out... and it is critical that Governments and businesses alike engage with Natural Capital. As Prince Charles explained at the beginning of the Forum – “We are failing to run the global bank of nature in a responsible way, due to the economic invisibility of nature”.

Note: The World Forum on Natural Capital brought together business leaders, government representatives and environmental experts from around the world in Edinburgh to discuss how risk can be turned into opportunity by putting natural capital at the heart of their strategy. 

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