Understanding what 'natural capital' is and why it matters

The inaugural World Forum on Natural Capital will take place in Edinburgh, Scotland, this November. “Natural Capital” has been defined as the world's stocks of natural assets, including geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is from this natural capital that humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible.

The forum on natural capital will be the first major global conference devoted exclusively to turning the debate on natural capital accounting into action. It will build on the enormous private sector interest shown at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio in June 2012, and the many developments that have taken place since.

The most obvious ecosystem services include the food we eat, the water we drink and the plant materials we use for fuel, building materials and medicines. There are also many less visible ecosystem services such as the climate regulation and natural flood defences provided by forests, the billions of tonnes of carbon stored by peatlands, or the pollination of crops by insects. Even less visible are cultural ecosystem services such as the inspiration we take from wildlife and the natural environment.

In advance of the World Natural Capital Forum, International Union for Conservation of Nature director general Julia Marton-Lefèvre explains why governments, companies, environmental organizations and each one of us must work together to value and invest in the planet’s natural wealth.

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