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The pluralistic approach to Natural Capital has to include the knowledge of indigenous people who may understand the natural world but not western economies
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"NATURAL CAPITAL" - A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE

Victor Anderson

14th December, 2016

It is easy in a country like the UK to imagine that science and economics command the whole debate about nature's value. But step back and look at the bigger picture internationally, and it all looks rather different writes VICTOR ANDERSON

What we have is a pluralistic approach based principally not on economics but on science, and not on science on its own but including other worldviews

‘Debating Nature's Value' is a new network - launched on November 1st - designed to promote discussion about the idea of "natural capital" and the various problems that arise from using that concept. [1]

It is always easy to imagine the debate about an issue in one's own country reflects the state of the debate internationally. Here in the UK, it is clear that the concept of "natural capital" holds a dominant position in any debate about nature's value and the implications for policy. This reflects the general current dominance of the language of market economics.

However, internationally the situation is rather different. "Natural capital" is recognised as an important idea but the legitimacy of other ideas is recognised too.

The most important international governmental body in the field of biodiversity is IPBES - the Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services - otherwise known as the "IPCC for biodiversity". It is the body that integrates and channels information from scientists around the world to representatives of governments. Rather than having to deal with an ever-expanding swirl of journal articles, the point of IPBES is to present to government policy-makers (as near as it is possible to be) an authoritative summary of the current state of the relevant science of extinctions and ecosystems.

At its conference in 2013, IPBES adopted a "Conceptual Framework" to guide its work. The term "natural capital" is not even mentioned in the document ("intrinsic" value is mentioned twice). Instead what we have is a pluralistic approach based principally not on economics but on science, and not on science on its own but including other worldviews. Referring to its central diagram, the Framework says it: "demonstrates the main elements and relationships for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services, human wellbeing and sustainable development. Similar conceptualizations in other knowledge systems include "living in harmony with nature" and "Mother Earth", among others... text in green denotes the concepts of science; and text in blue denotes those of other knowledge systems." [2]

The following year, a progress report on the implementation of the IPBES work programme noted the existence of an IPBES "task force on indigenous and local knowledge systems". [3] Again, "natural capital" isn't mentioned as featuring in the Platform's work. The language of the document makes clear, however, that its inclusiveness is directed principally towards indigenous knowledge rather than approaches from other religious, philosophical or political standpoints.

The IPBES work programme, covering the period 2014-18, includes "Deliverable 3(d)". This is summarised as follows: "The assessment of tools and methodologies regarding multiple values of biodiversity to human societies is important for guiding the use of such methodologies in all IPBES work. Different valuation methodologies will be evaluated according to different visions, approaches and knowledge systems, and their policy relevance based on the diverse conceptualization of values of biodiversity and nature's benefits to people ..." [4]

Again, this is a very clear signal of a pluralistic approach. It is difficult to see how anything else would be feasible in a global international body, and particularly in a world where the local inhabitants of many of the areas where biodiversity is under the most extreme pressure have a deep understanding of the natural world but not in a way which is conceptualised in terms of either Western biological science or economics.

It is easy in a country like the UK to imagine that science and economics command the whole debate about nature's value.  But step back and look at the bigger picture internationally, and it all looks rather different.

This Author

Victor Anderson is Visiting Professor at the Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University, UK. He is the author of Alternative Economic Indicators and worked as an economist for the UK Sustainable Development Commission.

Victor.anderson@anglia.ac.uk

 

[1] The aims of the Network were set out in my previous Ecologist blog:

http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/Blogs/2987917/nature_vs_natural_capital.html

[2]  Decision IPBES-2/4: ‘Conceptual framework for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services', Para B1.5

[3] Decision IPBES-4/1: progress report on ‘Work programme of the Platform', Para II.3.

[4] IPBES Work Programme: Deliverable 3(d).

 

 

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