Greater R&I would protect businesses and our natural world

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A set of four new reports identifies the range of research and innovation (R&I) needs of key UK business sectors, to enable them to measure and value natural assets.

The reports cover three business sectors – built-infrastructure, land management and insurance/financial services – all of which substantially depend upon, and have significant impacts on, natural resources in the UK and beyond.

The reports have been published by the Valuing Nature Programme ahead of its annual conference.

The Programme recognises there is an increasingly urgent need for decision making by businesses and policy makers to take account of natural assets that provide benefits for humans, such as clean air and water, crop pollination, and flood regulation. This so-called Natural Capital approach is necessary to ensure businesses’ long-term viability as well as the protection and restoration of the environment.

The reports’ authors note that, while there is increasing activity within businesses across the three sectors in addressing natural assets, most businesses have yet to fully engage or have difficulty in taking action due to a range of barriers and challenges. 

The three sector reports identify existing Natural Capital approaches being taken by businesses, barriers preventing businesses adopting a Natural Capital approach, and key R&I needs to support further uptake.

A fourth report highlights commonalities and differences in R&I needs between the built-infrastructure, land management and insurance/financial services sectors. These needs include:

  • Increasing business-relevant research into natural assets
  • Developing datasets, frameworks, standards, models, metrics and other tools to integrate natural assets in business decision-making
  • New pilot projects to enable the creation of business models and solutions to protect and restore natural assets
  • R&I to help stimulate investment in natural assets and develop new markets
  • Assessing risk and resilience in relation to natural assets
  • Creation of specialist training programmes and knowledge exchange

The report proposes options to meet the identified R&I needs, including a substantial hub, which would coordinate and accelerate UK investment in business-relevant R&I and also promote knowledge exchange.

Partners in the Valuing Nature Programme say transformative change is required to reverse the catastrophic decline of nature recently highlighted by the IPBES Global Assessment and to comply with recent UK Government policy such as the 2050 net zero target for greenhouse gas emissions and the 25 Year Environment Plan.

Professor Sir Charles Godfray, Director of the Oxford Martin School and Policy Champion of the Valuing Nature Programme, said: “Businesses need to change to help address the environmental challenges of the 21st century, something that far-sighted companies clearly understand and want to act on. These reports highlight what the research community needs to do to support business in this critically important task.”

Jacky Wood, Head of Business Partnerships at the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which funded the reports, said: “We welcome the publication of these reports, which shed light on the key research and innovation needed to enable UK businesses, across a wide range of industry sectors, to better measure and value the natural assets upon which we all depend.”

Researchers, business leaders and representatives of government agencies will be discussing the R&I needs highlighted in the reports at the Valuing Nature Programme’s annual conference, taking place on 28 and 29 October 2019 at the Royal Society, London, and at a dedicated cross-sector workshop early in the New Year.

All the reports can be found here