Natural Capital: its time has come!

At the recent World Forum on Natural Capital in Edinburgh, Scotland I noticed a change in clothing. The concept of “Natural Capital” has been around for decades. What has changed is who is paying attention now. There were far more suits than at any other nature conservation conference I have attended.

View of Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh was the setting for an international conference about “natural capital” attended by museum President and CEO Meg Beckel. Image: Meg Beckel © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Briefly, Natural Capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets, which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is from these assets that humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible.

An economist talks at a podium on a stage.

Pushpam Kumar, Chief Economist for the United Nations Environment Program, addresses the forum delegates. Image: © World Forum on Natural Capital

The language of natural capital is attracting a new crowd of people who are key to the future of our natural world. There are the usual suspects from the fields of nature conservation, natural science and government policy. But beyond them, we now see, and are hearing from, industry leaders, financial sector leaders and accounting professionals.

A crowd of conference delegates standing around and talking in a large hall.

Forum delegates mix and mingle over a cup of tea. Image: © World Forum on Natural Capital

The forum featured speakers, perspectives and case studies that led most of us to believe that the concept and application of Natural Capital in government and industry is real…and is taking off.

But it was an announcement at the forum that grabbed my interest, as it highlighted where natural history museums could play a role. The news was that consultations would be launched on a Natural Capital Protocol.

The protocol’s overall vision is to transform the way business operates through understanding and incorporating their impacts and dependencies on natural capital. It is anticipated that the resulting framework would be the starting point to inform future common standards of practice.

Five people sit on a stage while talking at the conference.

A plenary session at the conference. Image: © World Forum on Natural Capital

The protocol does not yet address one important source of data and knowledge about our natural world—natural history collections and the information derived from those collections. These could provide valid current and historical records to do an inventory and put a value on natural assets.

I mentioned this to a number of the natural capital researchers and they simply had not considered collections and associated research as sources of data. I see a definite call to action for the leaders of natural history museums and I plan to spread the word and get us engaged in this consultation phase of the Natural Capital Protocol. This blog is a first step!

I encourage people to share the news about the Forum, the Natural Capital Coalition and the Natural Capital Protocol. I was so inspired that I visited colleagues at the National Museum of Scotland and stirred them into action! I think natural history museums have a vital role to play, providing another lens on nature to help inspire understanding and respect for a better natural future.

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