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  • INCASE Team

'It's all hands on deck for our planet in peril'

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

Our paper published in Restoration Ecology highlights the potential for natural capital approaches to deliver on the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, as it means an integrated approach across all sectors.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) offers a vital opportunity to advance scaled-up, integrated approaches that reverse ecosystem degradation, biodiversity loss, and climate disruption and deterioration. Combining tools across disciplines is essential to addressing these interwoven, global crises through inclusive, equitable strategies with demonstrable socio-economic benefits.

This is the key message of our open-access article published in Restoration Ecology =

'Natural capital approaches: shifting the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration from aspiration to reality.' Our INCASE team, led by researchers in Trinity College Dublin combined forces with global experts on natural capital approaches to highlight the need for trans-disciplinary collaborative tools such as that presented by the approach to deliver on ambitious restoration targets.

Tools and initiatives described in the paper, include the work of the EcoHealth network, the System of Environmental Economic Accounting - Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA) and its application through the INCASE project in Ireland, and the Natural Capital Project. Each of these examples present ready-made approaches to engage with policymakers and stakeholders in a transparent way, by developing accurate indicators to reveal the true costs and benefits of restoration policies and projects in both environmental and social terms.

Natural capital approaches offer us opportunities to track and support the necessary changes to expand and embed the culture of restoration into decision making across sectors, highlighting multiple benefits for society and economy.

There are 5 key messages:

  • Natural capital approaches offer a transdisciplinary language, facilitating cooperation between academics and decision-makers, across rural communities, governments, and business sectors.

  • Aligned with established decision-making frameworks, these approaches reveal the dependence of economic and social systems on ecosystems, and the multiple services they provide.

  • Natural capital accounting in particular presents considerable scope for synergy with ecosystem restoration frameworks, enabling prioritisation of restoration targets while tracking their outcomes.

  • Framing ecosystem restoration through natural capital approaches can create policy impetus for the adoption of scaled-up restoration projects.

  • While challenges remain, natural capital approaches are effective tools that drive investment to deliver mutual benefits across an array of multilateral environmental agreements.

Dr Catherine Farrell of Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, lead author on the article, said:

“We are faced with immediate threats to human wellbeing through the combined effects of climate change and biodiversity loss, and the associated societal challenges. This collaborative article integrates learnings from global thought leaders on ecological restoration and natural capital approaches, on how we can harness the potential of working across disciplines to drive the necessary progress in ecosystem restoration. The key messages build on the work of the INCASE project as well as seminal work by the United Nations and others, on standardising approaches to natural capital accounting”.

Prof Jane Stout from Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences is the project lead. She said:

“This interdisciplinary approach is really important because assessing natural capital and valuing benefits from nature can help enable sustainable decision-making, which is crucial to address the current biodiversity and climate crises.”

Author Paddy Woodworth, of Natural Capital Ireland, said: "I'm particularly happy that this paper directly addresses two persistent misconceptions that some environmentalists use, in good faith, to critique the natural capital concept:

Firstly, that the concept somehow "puts nature up for sale", when the truth is the reverse: by revealing the true costs of degrading ecosystems, blindly ignored by conventional economics, the concept provides tools to guide us towards truly sustainable policies

Secondly, that the concept is inherently 'capitalist', when natural capital, like other forms of capital, simply refers to stocks that yield a flow of services and benefits that is necessary to all members of society, and all social systems. Who controls those stocks, and how, is an entirely separate issue, though a very important one.

Co-author James Aronson of the EcoHealth Network said: "In the lead up to the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, all three of the UN ‘Rio Conventions’ - CBD, CCD, and UNFCCC, as well as the World Health Organization, and the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the UN Environmental Program and the UN Development Program, are calling on all governments, communities and corporations, to participate and invest far more in ecological restoration, for the benefit of society and all life on Earth. In simple terms, roll up your sleeves, people; it's all hands on deck for our planet in peril."

Read the full article: Natural capital approaches: shifting the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration from aspiration to reality - Catherine A. Farrell, James Aronson, Gretchen C. Daily, Lars Hein, Carl Obst, Paddy Woodworth, Jane C. Stout

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