Do you know how to measure the value of the fresh water you drink every day or the carbon dioxide captured by the Amazon rainforest? If nature is going to be valued across the world who should do it: accountants, governments, companies or communities?
In April 2016 a group of academics and representatives from NGOs met at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London to discuss the challenge of reducing inequality and unsustainable consumption. I presented my research on the ecological footprint of the richest people and set out what I saw as the priority questions to focus on.
What is the carbon footprint of the richest 1% and how can it be reduced? This article is a response to a report by Thomas Piketty and Lucas Chancel on unequal carbon footprints. I also explore how policies to redistribute wealth could potentially increase or decrease an individual’s carbon footprint.
Extreme inequality and the wealth concentrated in the hands of the richest 1% is gaining increasing attention. However, these debates often do not include discussion of unsustainable levels of consumption (referred to as overconsumption) that are contributing to dangerous climate change and another potential mass extinction.
The Natural Capital Protocol, which is mainly aimed at business users, could potentially transform the way businesses operate because it comprehensively demonstrates how companies are dependent on a healthy environment. In my opinion for the Protocol to be considered successful it also has to transform the business model and reduce the impact of those economic sectors that have a hugely negative effect on the environment. Can an oil or mining company reduce the footprint of their business activity, change where they operate or change the products they sell?
What were the key debates at the heart of the process to agree on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Central areas of contention included how to interpret the universal nature of the SDGs and who will fund their implementation.
Fossil fuel divestment campaigns are gathering momentum. What if investors were convinced to divest? In the long-term they will probably shift their investments to renewable energy but we cannot rely on the assumption that divesting from fossil fuels will automatically reduce global emissions fast enough to tackle climate change. This is because investors may switch to carbon intensive non-energy investments and might not choose the cleanest forms of renewable energy.
Has the time come for economic valuation of ecosystems or will this weaken conservation by commodifying nature? Who values nature could be crucial to what happens after valuation.
The first major international conference on natural capital has increased understanding of our dependence on the environment but more research is needed on social issues.
An increasing number of governments and institutions including the World Bank are backing the valuation of natural capital. They argue nature needs an economic value to ensure it is protected. But there is fierce criticism against ‘pricing nature’ and questions over valuation methodologies. If natural capital is adopted internationally it could be a key pillar of the emerging green economy.