Combining Forces: efforts to prevent the degradation and depletion of natural capital must be consolidated, life on Earth necessitates it.

Numerous efforts and initiatives to advance and develop natural capital thinking have emerged over the past 10 years. The approaches vary across disciplines and the private and public sectors resulting in a cluttered and confusing landscape. Are they competing, are they useful, are they the same? Can they be streamlined to maximise our collective efforts?

The problem of natural capital depletion and degradation requires a concentrated, unified effort. Coordination and participation across public and private sectors, and across disciplines is needed at an unprecedented scale in order to preserve life as we know it on Planet Earth.

IDEEA Group is supporting the Natural Capital Coalition to deliver the Combining Forces Initiative. It is the first step towards seeking to build a common language that will enable the exchange of ideas and ongoing innovation aimed at conserving natural capital.

The public sector approach to NCA applies the UN SEEA (United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting) framework, whilst the overarching framework for the private sector is the Natural Capital Protocol. These approaches use complementary valuation techniques to understand the relative importance and worth of the natural world on which we collectively depend.

Next week (Nov 26-30), IDEEA Group will travel to Paris to participate in Natural Capital Week 2018.

IDEEA Group Director Carl Obst and Natural Capital Coalition Executive Director Mark Gough, will facilitate a session on the Combining Forces Initiative at the 3rd Forum on Natural Capital Accounting for Better Policy.

Simon Cook (Forico) will also be making the trip to present on the work program completed by Forico and IDEEA Group. He will be on a panel during the session on the Combining Forces Initiative and will also be making a presentation during the Natural Capital Coalition: Collaboration Day. He will discuss the reasons behind linking up with IDEEA Group to apply natural capital accounting using the UN SEEA to the Forico forest estate.

Out with the old and in with the new – extending the production boundary of GDP to account for ecosystem services

It is widely understood that GDP, as a measure of economic activity, fails to recognise the depletion or degradation of natural capital. A key feature of national accounting (which underpins GDP) is the recording of transactions between economic units, households, business and government. However, it does not recognise transactions between economic units and the environment. The environment provides services to economic units, often referred to as ecosystem services. Accounting for ecosystem services is required to bring measures of the depreciation and degradation of natural capital in line with measures of the deprecation of built capital that is already included in GDP.

While the generic concept of ecosystem services provides an excellent platform for discussion, the ongoing lack of clarity surrounding the definition, classification and measurement of ecosystem services, is a barrier to collaboration across disciplines and its inclusion in measures of GDP.

Our paper applies the principles of national accounting to bring additional rigour and consistency to the discussion on ecosystem services. The key outcome of the paper is a framework for describing the relationship between ecosystems and economic activity that can be used to consistently define, classify, measure and account for ecosystem services.

Mark Eigenraam & Carl Obst (2018) Extending the production boundary of the System of National Accounts (SNA) to classify and account for ecosystem services, Ecosystem Health and Sustainability, DOI: 10.1080/20964129.2018.1524718

Accounting for ecosystem services in the forest sector – Forico, Tasmania

Since 2016, Forico and IDEEA Group have worked together to apply the United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) in the Forico Estate. Phase 1 of the work program explored the feasibility of applying the SEEA framework to the Forico estate, while Phase 2 put the concepts developed during Phase 1 into practice. It is understood that these efforts are the first to employ the UN SEEA principles to account for the environment and ecosystems at the business level.

Completed in September 2018, Phase 2 of the work program involved:

  1. accounting for the stock and condition of ecosystem assets held by Forico
  2. accounting for the flow of ecosystem services supplied by these ecosystem assets
  3. developing a method to integrate this information with financial information

A key outcome of the work was a set of environmental accounts that enable Forico to recognise the value of the ecosystem services that it delivers. Incorporating environmental-economic accounting into standard financial accounting approaches and business processes provides several benefits for Forico including:

  1. improved operational decision-making by using a more complete set of financial accounts;
  2. improved communication to stakeholders through the recognition of a wider range of environmental values; and
  3. improved strategic allocation of financial resources to maximise the flows of ecosystem services.

Additionally, the accounts could be used to report on requirements under the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) newly released FSC National Forest Stewardship Standard for Australia