Accounting for biodiversity: Where do we start?

4th May 2018

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What is biodiversity? Whilst often perceived as simply representing exotic and endangered species, biodiversity includes all of the life on Earth, in all of its forms – from bluebells to redwoods, molluscs to whales - and all its interactions. It is the interactions between biodiversity and non-living resources that generate most of the benefits that flow from natural capital. In this sense, biodiversity underpins all of our natural capital and, as such, the entire economic and societal framework of humanity. However, biodiversity is widely undervalued by many businesses which rely directly on it – even those who actively use natural capital principles in their decision-making processes.

This is due to the fact that frameworks which help businesses incorporate biodiversity elements into natural capital assessments are not prolific. The interactions between biodiversity and natural capital are extremely difficult to fully value due to the fact that they operate on scales so vast and complex that they are often poorly understood. Sometimes it is possible to attribute monetary values - most notably for species which pollinate crops and ecosystems which maintain watersheds - but many values, particularly those related to underlying ecosystem function, resilience to change or the ‘intrinsic’ values of nature, tend to be hidden or missing altogether.

In an effort to fill this gap, the Natural Capital Coalition has partnered with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI), a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and leading biodiversity-focused conservation organisations, to develop new guidance on how to strengthen the representation of biodiversity in natural capital assessments through a Biodiversity Supplement to the Natural Capital Protocol.

 

What’s needed?

As part of this project’s second phase, CCI organised a series of workshops around the world where potential users of the Supplement could feed into the developers their needs and expectations. The Scottish Forum on Natural Capital hosted one such workshop last week at the University of Edinburgh Business School, which brought together 24 representatives from Scotland’s private, public and voluntary sectors, including representatives from Aberdeen Asset Management, Chivas Brothers and Scottish Natural Heritage.

The purpose of the workshop was to source a range of answers to the following four questions: 

  1. What are your key challenges in considering biodiversity within your company?

  2. What do you need further to assess biodiversity in your company?

  3. How should the additional support be presented?

  4. Who would use this in your company? 

The primary challenge faced by the organisations represented was overcoming the lack of data surrounding biodiversity, from baseline biodiversity surveys and data on how biodiversity interacts with other forms of natural capital, to specific datasets from supply chains and investee companies. These gaps have made it difficult to convey the issue of biodiversity to high-level decision makers within businesses and, where there is the will to act, produces obstacles to effectively measuring an organisation’s impacts on biodiversity. 

To combat this, simple frameworks and tools were asked to be developed which are based on already existing biodiversity frameworks. This stemmed from a collective belief that those new to this field need simplicity and relevance so that they wouldn’t feel inhibited in using the Biodiversity Supplement, and those who are already working within this space do not feel daunted by the prospect of learning a completely new set of frameworks. 

Whatever form the Biodiversity Supplement takes, there were calls for it to be delivered via a variety of means to a variety of audiences. Reports, videos and webinars are all effective means of conveying the technical aspects of biodiversity assessments, but including case studies and ‘success stories’ can help to engage high-level management. The workshop attendees wanted the Supplement to appeal to decision-makers at all levels of a company, and would, therefore, need a range of communication mediums to appeal to varying levels of knowledge and influence. 

The notion that the Biodiversity Supplement should exist in ‘all formats for all audiences’ is demonstrative of the overarching sense of urgency felt amongst the attendees. It was clear to everyone in the room that the loss of biodiversity seen in recent decades posed a risk to businesses and the environment alike, with significant ramifications to the economy. There was a general sentiment that a cultural shift was needed, one which could be achieved through a combination of education and legislative changes. Most surprisingly, there was a call from businesses for government to deliver legislative clarity and perhaps even new regulations in order to ensure that appropriate resources go into biodiversity assessments.

 

Next Steps

The comments and suggestions from our workshop attendees have been fed back to CCI and will inform the development of the tools and frameworks which will make up the Biodiversity Supplement. Trials will start towards the beginning of next year, with the full launch planned for the fourth quarter of 2019.

If you would like to stay informed of the progress of the Supplement, please click here to register for updates