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For the first time in Ireland, the Irish Natural Capital for Sustainable Environments (INCASE) Project will apply Natural Capital Accounting (NCA) principles to a suite of ecosystem and geosystem services at river catchment scale

Accounts based on the UN System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA) Central Framework and SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounts guidelines will be developed to map the biotic and abiotic stocks and flows of these services in biophysical terms and, where appropriate and useful, in monetary terms.

Our work will highlight challenges, knowledge and data gaps, and recommend a framework to operationalise NCA in Ireland.

We will also produce a stock-flow coherent dataset, quality estimation methodology, and visualisation, flow diagrams by sector, a GAP analysis and economic impact assessment.

INCASE is an EPA-funded research project. It kicked off in March 2019 and has three phases, as follows: 

Phase 1 - Methods and Data: 

We will review the literature on natural capital accounting to explore the various methodologies that are in use around the world. We'll identify the data - both biophysical and qualitative - that are available to us (along with the data gaps) at river catchment-scale in order to inform the accounts, and develop a framework to test the application of NCA in Ireland. Prof Jane Stout at Trinity College Dublin will lead this Work Package.

Phase 2 - Ecosystem Accounts:

We'll identify river catchments deemed ‘Areas for Action’ in the River Basin Management Plan. We'll collate existing datasets and develop indicators, and use them to generate a range of ecosystem accounts that describe habitat condition, habitat extent, as well as environmental flow accounts that might include water, land use and carbon. Then we'll use the case studies to test the strengths and weaknesses of the accounts, and identify the data gaps. While these accounts do not necessarily require monetary valuation, we will assess the efficacy of monetising the benefits to people that certain ecosystem services provide. To do this, we will develop a framework to guide the appropriate use of monetary valuation and determine how these values can be integrated with existing economic and environmental policies to inform decision-making. Assoc. Prof Mary Kelly Quinn at University College Dublin will lead this Work Package.

Phase 3 - Economic Analysis:

We'll explore the accounts and develop tools for decision-makers. Data visualisations will be used to produce a framework/flow-diagram by sector, industry, or organisation. This will then be used to produce a gap-analysis of information monitoring systems and policies underpinning them. We'll also conduct economic impact assessments to better understand the trade-offs between policy options. We'll use bio-economy Input-Output models and extend analysis of impacts of food production policies to the wider natural capital stock. This will be achieved by linking natural capital outcomes to the sectors in the I-O model to assess the land footprint of different agricultural activities and the natural capital footprint of individual agricultural activities. Assoc. Prof Stephen Kinsella at the University of Limerick and Prof Cathal O'Donoghue at NUI Galway will each lead portions of this Work Package.