"To restore and sustain the ability of the Earth to support human communities". These words from the Gaborone Declaration are simple, direct and uncompromising. They perfectly reflect the serious purpose with which legislators from 20 different countries met in Berlin at the beginning of June this year to bring about a transformation in the way we account for our national wealth.
The time when the Earth could support human communities without difficulty is coming to an end. We live in an age of planetary boundaries and tipping points. Natural Capital has been eroded to such an extent that the complex mechanism of ecosystem services that nature provides has been compromised and now we need to restore and sustain the earth's ability to support us. As legislators this means passing legislation that will properly value the natural capital upon which all economic wealth depends.
Yet today, as the Executive Secretary of the Global Environment Facility reminded legislators, our governments are still failing to implement the commitments that their countries signed up to three years ago in Nagoya. We are still failing to take proper account of the threats and opportunities that Natural Capital represents to our economies. Naoko Ishi reminded us that any erosion of nature's capacity to deliver products and services has a damaging effect on our economic progress. A decline in forest cover can affect everything from food security to flood protection; a decline in insect populations can affect the yield of our crops.
Juergen Voegle spoke for the World Bank to point out that whilst the global loss of biodiversity in the 50 years to 2050 has been estimated to amount to 7% of global GDP the greatest impacts are felt by the poorest. If you are living on less that $2 a day, half of all your GDP comes from your environment and its biodiversity. Properly valuing Natural Capital then, is not simply our responsibility as good environmentalists. It is not even just our responsibility as good economists. It is our responsibility as human beings. It is our moral responsibility.
Legislators listened intently to the economist who has perhaps done more than any other to promote the process of Natural Capital Accounting: Pavan Sukdhev, the author of TEEB, introduced the Natural Capital Legislation Study by asking us when we last received an invoice for pollination services from a bee? With elegance and simplicity he explained:
"We use nature because she is valuable. We abuse nature because she is free."
It is because classical economics treats the services that nature provides as externalities, that it fails to properly represent either the non-market benefits of ecosystems or the environmental costs of growth. He insisted that it was not just governments but businesses too that needed to make transparent their environmental externalities in their annual reports to shareholders.
Our German hosts - and how splendidly generous they were in providing such a wonderful setting for the launch of our work in the Bundestag - were lucid in their emphasis on the importance of Natural Capital for the work of poverty relief. Germany's Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) Dirk Niebel, on whose behalf GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) supports GLOBE's Natural Capital Initiative, recognised Natural Capital as the basis of economic value, whether in the form of non-renewable commodities such as minerals and fossil fuels, or in the form of finite but renewable resources and ecosystem services such as fuel wood, fresh water and provisioning. He welcomed the GLOBE Legislation Study that reviewed the progress made in eight countries (including his own) which have begun to try to incorporate the value of Natural Capital into their government accounting frameworks in some way. But he recognised clearly the enormous progress we need to make to embed Natural Capital into all governments' accounting systems by 2020.
Technical progress towards this has been much aided by the United Nation's adoption of the revised System of Economic Environmental Accounting (SEEA) as an International Accounting Standard. It has been aided too by the recommendation of the UN Secretary General's High Level Panel to include Sustainable Management of Natural Resources as a key target of the Post 2015 Development Goals. But real progress will need more than technical proficiency and high level exhortations. It will require cash to carry out the National Ecosystem Assessments at a country level that must form the basis for any technical accounting work that may take place.
The GEF is the financing mechanism for the UN Conventions and it is vital that their fifth replenishment fund is fully supported by donor countries.
Also, a specific Natural Capital Accounting Post-2015 Development Goal (DG) will be required. This will signal the importance of Natural Capital Accounting. It will also help attaining all other DGs which depend on maintaining the Earth's capacity to provide the flow of environmental goods and services that sustain human life.
GLOBE believes that by implementing a programme of National Ecosystem Assessments in just 50 countries around the planet, the GEF could unfold a strategic vision for Biodiversity that would materially change our capacity to meet the Aichi targets by 2020 and would place government accounting for Natural Capital at the heart of global understanding of the true nature of wealth.
The strength of the final communiqué shows a quite extraordinary determination on the part of legislators to drive this agenda in their own jurisdictions. From sixteen different countries we pledged unanimously to promote awareness and understanding of natural capital accounting in our legislatures and to hold our governments to account for the quality and quantity of support that they provide to international bodies such as the GEF and to development banks and agencies. We promised to scrutinise the management of Natural Capital in our own countries and to ensure that the appropriate policies, legislation and budgetary support are in place.
Finally we have called upon our fellow legislators from around the world to join us in Mexico City in June 2014 for the 2nd GLOBE World Summit of Legislators. There we will bring together 500 legislators from over 150 countries to report on their progress in valuing Natural Capital in pursuit of the objectives set out in the UN Conventions and "to restore and sustain the ability of the earth to support human communities".