Julia Baker and Sally Fraser will be participating in a panel discussion the UK Business Summit (22 June, London) on the opportunities associated with delivering a nature positive future, and how natural and social capital-based approaches are transforming the delivery of environmental goals. Here they give us a preview of their thoughts.
EA: What is a "nature-positive economy" – is the term well-defined and broadly understood, or is there still some debate?
JB: In a business context, nature-positive means to put nature at the heart of decision-making in order to address the continued loss of nature and biodiversity. In this way, businesses are fundamental to efforts to restore our natural environment. Nature-positive is a relatively new term and concept, and I think much more needs to be done for it to be widely understood, but I also think that these discussions are happening, which is really exciting to see.
SF: Nature-positive is a relatively new term. There is no single definition, but the idea is that it is an approach that goes beyond actions to simply minimise and/or compensate for impacts on nature and seeks to reverse nature loss. By extension a ‘nature-positive economy’ would embed nature, by valuing natural capital and ecological integrity, in all business and financial decisions and therefore redress the balance towards nature-positive financial flows (versus nature negative). Whilst the term is gaining traction, I would say it’s currently a loose term that is not well defined or understood (at least by the majority). It adds to a sometimes-overwhelming collection of terms and approaches related to actions to address the joint climate and biodiversity emergencies including net zero, biodiversity net gain, environmental net gain, nature-based solutions, offsetting, natural capital, ecosystem services (and the list could go on).
EA: What will it take to get there, for example in terms of government policy, public support, international standards, and funding, in your view?
JB: The UK government committed to a nature-positive future in 2021, but we now need concrete action at scale to see actual outcomes on the ground. This is about governments, companies and projects understanding, measuring and reporting impacts on nature, and then taking action to address these impacts and monitoring the outcomes so that we can all make progress to becoming nature-positive.
SF: To know what it will take to get there, we first need to understand where ‘there’ is and that we can measure progress towards it. For nature to be fully accounted for in decision making, nature-positive goals must be clearly defined, evidence-based, and translated into measurable actions against which businesses and other organisations are accountable. We need to account for the true value of nature (natural capital) and have a better understanding of how we can ‘stack’ benefits. Whatever the goals, getting there requires clear messaging through joined-up legislation, policy, standards and public and private funding which all pull in the same ‘nature-positive’ direction. We need to break down existing blockers and silos and make nature-positive a commercially attractive proposition. There are knowledge gaps still to fill and capacity to build in all sectors involved before we can hope to make significant progress to nature recovery.
EA: How does taking a nature-positive route to infrastructure development affect project planning and management?
JB: Taking a nature-positive approach means considering nature equally alongside other considerations when planning, designing, constructing and maintaining a development project. This can be incorporating nature-based solutions into the design, such as natural flood mitigation measures. It can also mean working with supply chain partners who, through their work, have positive impacts on the natural environment.
SF: From my experience working with a biodiversity net gain (BNG) approach, embedding this into project planning and management requires a change from business as usual and a shift in mindset towards enhancement, nature recovery and long-term legacy. A nature-positive approach, like BNG, needs to be implemented from day 1 of a project. The site selection and design hierarchy need to start with consideration of nature-based solutions and/or true integration of biodiversity into design, as opposed to considering it as a bolt-on. The benefits and beneficiaries of this approach will then drive decisions regarding design funding strategies. At the current time, this new approach may give rise to risk and uncertainty in funding and timescales.
EA: What benefits (or challenges) does the natural & social capitals approach bring to advising infrastructure developers who want to ensure both financial and ecological needs are met?
SF: Natural capital approaches are the mechanism for delivering much of what is encompassed in nature-positive. The benefits should include a truly integrated design that maximises environmental and social gains and allows developers to achieve their environmental aspirations. However, the application of natural capital approaches are not business as usual and there is uncertainty regarding application. Challenges exist around definitions and applications of different value frameworks and this can complicate things resulting in risk and uncertainty. More case studies of successful applications are needed.
EA: Is there enough policy/regulatory/risk pressure yet to enable the biodiversity imperative to compete with financial imperatives, and if not, over what timescale do you foresee this happening?
JB: In England, the forthcoming mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain under the Environment Act is a good step forward, although it is not enough to act at the scale we need to truly restore nature. The wider nature-positive approach is all encompassing and, by going through the process of becoming nature-positive, we understand all our impacts on nature and how these ultimately cost society and affect our way of living. But this is not about becoming nature-positive overnight. Rather, it is about taking this step-by-step forward, and then each step adds up over time.
SF: Many organisations now recognise the importance of a nature-positive approach from a reputational perspective and are setting themselves ambitious targets. Whilst pressure is building from growing awareness of the global biodiversity emergency, supported in England with the upcoming mandatory BNG requirement for new developments, the biodiversity imperative is still often viewed as a mitigating approach with a bolt-on cost burden, as opposed to enhancing nature recovery and long-term legacy. To allow biodiversity to compete with the financial imperative, we need to resolve much of the uncertainty that currently exists around its delivery and how we can account for, and be rewarded for, the co-benefits of good biodiversity design.
Hear more from Julia and Sally on 22 June at the UK Business Summit: Leading Together for Net Zero Success, where they will be participating in a panel discussion on opportunities in delivering a nature positive future.
Join other business leaders, senior executives, clients and stakeholders, committed to achieving real environmental progress and secure your place at the Summit today.