Daija Angeli, project officer for the Society of Biology’s special interest group the Natural Capital Initiative, attended a meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee on the valuation of natural capital on 25th February 2014. Here is what she learned:
How do we value our nature? The concept of natural capital is often used to describe the economic value of nature, and has been explored as a way to ensure that nature is protected and to assign priorities. This was the focus of discussion at a recent meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, which tackles issues where science and politics meet.
Three talks by experts on natural capital spoke about recent research and policy developments before chair Andrew Miller MP opened the debate to the audience.
Environmental economist Julian Harlow (Defra) pondered not how, but why we value natural capital. We have failed to protect the environment based on intrinsic values, the view that it is valuable in itself, alone. He introduced the Natural Capital Committee, the Government advisory body consisting of eight experts from the natural and social sciences, including NCI Chair Rosie Hails MBE FSB. He also gave a sneak peek into the forthcoming second report of the Committee which will be published on the 11th March – watch this space to learn more.
Professor Rosie Hails summarised the work of the Natural Capital Committee from her perspective as an ecologist. Using the example of carbon storage in woodlands, she outlined how quantity, quality and location of habitats can help to assess the health of our countryside. She highlighted the need for a 25 year plan for natural capital in the UK to outline our vision and goals for restoring these vital assets for our wellbeing.
Professor Brett Day, environmental economist at the University of East Anglia, how economic valuation of natural capital can help to make better informed land management decisions to generate maximum benefit from the environment or saving costs in the long term. As an example, he showed how using an auction in a Payment for Ecosystem Services scheme can be a cost efficient way for water companies to provide their customers with clean water (watch an in-depth video).
During the debate it became clear that we cannot go back to nature in its pristine state, and choosing a reference point on the state of the environment is a societal decision rather than a scientific one. At the same time, valuing natural capital will help us to maximise the contribution of the environment to our economy while making sure we preserve natural capital for future generations.
What are the ‘big themes’ up for discussion on natural capital this year? What is important to you? Share your thoughts on the blog or on Twitter, #natcap2014