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NatCapper Perspective: Highlights from the Natural Capital Conversations

Jun 8 2021 | Posted in: Research Highlight
By Talia K. Trepte
The Natural Capital Conversations hosts practitioners, scientists, and leaders in ecosystem services to discuss innovative science and answer critical questions from communities around the globe while sheltering in place. Here, Natural Capital Project Communications Intern, Talia K. Trepte, shares their highlights and personal takeaways from each #NatCapConvo in the 2021 series to date.

The Industrial Revolution led to shifts in nature, notably increasing extinctions in species. Douglas McCauley (McCauley Lab, UC Santa Barbara) says that we are approaching a Blue Industrial Revolution, where we can guide the momentum towards sustainable uses and innovations.

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The Anthropocene Ocean (January 27, 2021) 

Moderator Jean Baptiste Jouffray defined the anthropocene as a geological era and intellectual framework in which humans are significantly influencing our climate and ecological systems — particularly our oceans. Panelists discussed the role of stakeholders, laborers, and companies in creating equity during the “Blue Industrial Revolution.” This seems like a daunting task,  considering the 2018 data shared by John Virdin of the Nicholas Institute, which shows that while 100 companies generate 60% of ocean industry revenue, small fisheries employ the majority of labor worldwide.

We are in a critical time for our oceans. How we adjust industry practices now will have rippling impacts over the next century. So how do we incentivize sustainability in Blue Growth to preserve nutrient and cultural benefits? The panelists emphasized the importance of collecting relevant data, publicly ranking organizations by sustainable production of ocean goods, and making impactful investments.

Key Quotes

“What are the types of ways people depend on the oceans? In our expert working group process, we identified four key types of dependence: nutritional, economic, coastal protection, and cultural.”  - Elizabeth Selig, Center for Ocean Solutions, Stanford University

John Virdin (Nicholas Institute, Duke University) shared data from a 2018 study showing that while 100 companies generated 60% of ocean industry revenue, small fisheries employed the majority of labor.

“Due to the break between people and nature, it is imperative that small-scale fisheries are seen as a 14,000 year legacy of the relationships between Peruvians and sea-scape. They are not protected or adequately funded as they are seen as less important than industrial fisheries, mainly in terms of revenue.” - Rocío López de la Lama, University of British Columbia

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Cultural Ecosystem Services Connected to Water and Land (February 2 and 16, 2021)

Though less studied in academic research, Cultural Ecosystem Services (CES) are critical to conservation and land-use decisions because they reflect why humans care for their environments. Experts came together in these two talks to share their findings on CES from land to sea and innovative methods to understand them. Ecosystem services with biophysical traits, like water purification and sediment retention, can be measured with remote sensing data. But how are researchers mapping social benefits like CES? From social media data analysis to participatory mapping, researchers like Rebecca Hale (Idaho State University) and Nora Fagerholm (University of Turku) are creating new methods to map CES through recreation patterns. Local and traditional ecological knowledge also play a significant role in understanding the benefits of CES. Rocío López de la Lama (University of British Columbia) shared an in-depth exploration of innovative fishing technology and spiritual practices in pre-Hispanic Peru and application to future investments. Meanwhile, on land, Elisa Otero Rozas (Chair on Agroecology and Food Systems, University of Victoria) documented the importance of CES like environmental education, tourism, and recreation to human wellbeing.

Key Quotes

"The cultural services like education, aesthetic, and recreation are comparatively less studied than others but are important because these are some of the reasons that we care about the environment.” - Alejandra Echeverri, Natural Capital Project

 “We can’t ‘remote sense’ cultural ecosystem services. They often require on the ground interviews with many people which can be expensive, making it difficult to implement studies at large spatial scales.” - Rebecca Hale, Idaho State University

“Participatory mapping, mapping of regions by local communities, displays most valued ecosystem services in different contexts, which can inform future land use preferences.” - Nora Fagerholm, University of Turku

“Nature-based solutions are not a separate agenda from climate change, agriculture, etc. This is the fatal flaw that we made early on in the environmental community. What we need to do is join other agendas, to learn their processes and work together." - John H. Matthews (Alliance for Global Water Adaptation)

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Nature-based Solutions and Water: Navigating the Transition to a Climate-Resilient Future (March 16, 2021) 

As Natural Capital Project co-founder Gretchen Daily eloquently said at this session’s opening, “Humanity has maybe a decade to transform dramatically across all dimensions of society to protect our environment, with water running through it all." 

Our panelists, beginning with moderator Carter Brandon (World Resources Institute), discussed how investments in nature-based solutions are necessary to make our interconnected resource sectors resilient in the face of climate change—starting with water. Kate Brauman (University of Minnesota) detailed nature-based solutions from green buildings to riparian buffer strips and more that replicate or restore natural processes and accrue direct and indirect benefits. Saving lives, reducing damage costs, and storing carbon are just a few of the ecosystem services that Adrian Vogl analyzes in her Natural Capital Project research. To move these solutions forward, John H. Matthews suggested that nature-based solutions practitioners must: (1) work with other environmental agendas as connected fronts, (2) communicate issues better, and (3) make finance a mainstream tool.

Key Quotes

“What we invest into the natural environment supports resilience across all sectors. The benefits of #nature, as we invest in #water, flows into food, infrastructure, health, and all these other sectors.” - Carter Brandon, World Resources Institute

"Nature-based solutions have the potential to be less expensive than built infrastructure, and we’re starting to see that the infrastructure we have right now isn’t working." - Kate Brauman (Lead Scientist, Global Water Initiative, University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment) shares types of NBS that mimic natural management of water.

"Investing in nature-based solutions has some benefits that can be valued: avoiding lives lost and damage to infrastructure from landslides, storing carbon, farm benefits to landowners, and more." - Adrian Vogl (Lead Scientist, Natural Capital Project)

“Our typical response to protect from sea-level rise is to build walls. But there are other ways to create coastal resilience, better understand the impacts of climate and build a portfolio of ecosystem-based strategies that support livelihoods." - Katie Akema, Natural Capital Project

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Climate-smart Coastal Planning and Sustainable Development in Latin America (April 22, 2021) 

On Earth Day, our Conversation featured practitioners working in the Caribbean, which is home to the Western Hemisphere’s largest barrier reef. Coming from organizations and government partnerships in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras, panelists shared a diverse range of adaptation strategies being used to address climate change impacts. At the center of these coastal development plans to account for climate risk are ecosystem services modeling and natural capital science. For example, Secretary of Sustainability Sayda Rodríguez Gómez gave insight to Yucatan, Mexico’s research on development prioritization based on water, biodiversity, and habitat. Combating sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and tropical cyclones through mitigation is a goal shared across governments and partners. The experts all agreed that lack of resources is a challenge for climate-smart coastal planning, but with interest growing across sectors, there’s significant traction for natural-based solutions. 


Key Quotes

"The motto of Earth Day is to restore our earth because a healthy planet is not an option, it’s a necessity. Today we’re talking about how it is a necessity to adapt."  - Fabio Cresto (Climatologist, Freelance Journalist)

"Belize Coastal Zone Management Authority & Institute’s focus is on vulnerability and resilience. Without habitat, the number of people at risk for coastal hazards increases dramatically."  - Arlene Young, CZMAI Beliz

According to Dr. Avecita Chicchón (Program Director of Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Andes-Amazon Initiative) 70% of forest cover is needed to preserve ecosystem functions in the Amazon, but only 56% of land is currently protected. Slide shows increase of Indigenous and Reserve Lands protected from 2003 to 2018.

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Advances in Integrated Land Use Planning in the Amazon Region (May 25, 2021) 

Deforestation and agricultural expansion in the Amazon region are driving significant land use change in the world’s largest tropical rainforest. In this panel, Natural Capital Research Associate Marcelo Guevara brought together scientists and government practitioners to share their work in Amazon conservation. One of the most prominent questions the experts discussed was how to prevent forest and habitat loss from reaching a critical threshold. Illicit crop farming, illegal ranching, and other illegal land appropriations make the need for formal land tenure and conservation increasingly key parts of future land use plans. 

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Join us in the next Conversation!

The Value of Natural Infrastructure in Urban Planning: Experience from Singapore/Asia (June 22, 2021) 

NatCap’s next Conversation ventures into the urban planning landscape. Led by Perrine Hamel, Assistant Professor at the NTU Asian School of the Environment and former NatCap Cities team co-lead, panelists will address challenges of rapid urbanization such as inequity, climate vulnerability, and infrastructure development in Singapore and other regions of Asia. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from natural infrastructure scholars and ask them questions!

RSVP for the June 22nd conversation here.

Read more about and view recordings of previous panels here.

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