EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: The Natural Capital Debt Bubble
By Jonathan Hughes, Councillor at the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature)
A quiet but steady revolution is taking place in the environmental movement which is having profound implications for the business community.
Environmentalism in the first half of the 20th century was characterised by two main responses to the rapid intensification of man’s impact on the natural environment. The first was targeted protection of endangered species; the second was the designation of specially protected parks and nature reserves. These remain the two pillars on which the foundations of modern conservation movement are built, and have led to many notable successes from the return of the once critically endangered otter to every county in the United Kingdom, to the protection of now world-famous national parks like Yellowstone or the Serengeti.
Yet, these conservation successes represent minor skirmishes in a war being lost on almost all fronts. Despite targeted species conservation projects backed by legal protection in most countries and around 13% of the world’s land surface now designated as protected areas, the global species extinction rate is running at around one thousand times the background rate as calculated from the fossil record. A quarter of all plant species are considered by the United Nations Convention of Biological Diversity to be threatened with extinction and these are the same plants we rely on for our medicines, food and other raw materials.
In the latter part of the 20th century, we built on the two pillars and began to deepen our understanding of our impacts on the delicate balance of environment as a system on which we are ultimately dependant for our health, well -being and prosperity. A new wave of environmental NGOs campaigned as much about the plight of humanity on a failing planet, as they did for the plight of nature.