Sustainable development - can Natural Capital Accounting help? (Pt1/4)
Updated: Mar 25
Following the completion of our INCASE Feasibilty Report, DR CATHERINE FARRELL presents a series of four blogs on the background of the project, the first highlighting how natural capital accounting can be used as a tool to track pressures and identify solutions in working towards sustainable development in Ireland.
The natural world we live in underpins human existence. It can be thought of as our stock of natural capital that yields flows of goods and services. These goods and services include the basic requirements of daily living – food, water, clean air, etc. Ensuring those services continue to flow for this generation and future generations is one of the fundamental aspects of sustainable development and the keystone of social and economic welfare.
In the Irish context, the EPA State of the Environment Report (EPA SOER, 2016) highlights the need to integrate natural capital accounting (NCA, often referred to as Green or Environmental Accounting) into our measures of prosperity, so that we can track and measure our performance alongside related issues such as wellbeing and environmental health. Data behind natural capital accounts, as demonstrated in other countries such as the UK and Netherlands, serve as a standardised data platform that can be used in a multi-disciplinary way.
NCA can be used to identify trends in the quality of the environment, inform trade-offs, identify co-benefits, establish critical links between natural and other capitals (such as built and social capital) as well as identifying knowledge gaps. Such an approach will help us to understand and, combined with the use of other appropriate tools, address the dominant pressures and their impacts - climate change, growth in human population, continued degradation of nature - on Ireland’s environment.
The INCASE (Irish Natural Capital Accounting for Sustainable Environments) research project aims to apply NCA at a pilot (catchment) scale in Ireland. Significant pressures on At Risk water bodies are well-defined at catchment level by the EPA, with agriculture identified as the most significant pressure in the River Basin Management Plans 2018-2021. In the meantime, EPA reports in December 2019 indicate that water quality in Ireland continues to decline. Addressing the causes or drivers of these pressures can help to identify solutions to reverse negative trends. This is one of the main applications of NCA.
Developing natural capital accounts at catchment scale will inform how the accounts (asset extent, condition, supply and use of services, benefits, etc) can be built using Irish data sources and provide valuable lessons on how best to scale up to the national level. INCASE will explore how NCA can be used to identify solutions either through investing in and renewing degraded natural capital stocks and flows (improving water quality, restoring ecosystems, etc) and/or changing management practices and incentive schemes (for example developing Payment for Ecosystem Services).
You can find out more in our INCASE Feasibility Report.
READ Pt2/4 in our Sustainable Development series: Policy Drivers for Natural Capital Accounting.