About Natural Capital
Natural capital is an economic metaphor for nature; a concept that frames the world's renewable and non-renewable resources like plants, animals, air, water, minerals and soils as assets or stocks that combine to yield a flow of benefits to all of us.
The natural capital approach asks us to consider more than just our impact on the natural world. It asks us to examine all the ways in which we depend on it, and embed those dependencies at the heart of our policies, plans and actions.
Investing in nature
Like any asset, we need to invest in our natural capital to maintain and improve its ability to provide us and future generations with what we need to survive: food, materials, fuel, clean water, fresh air, climate regulation, waste decomposition, medicines, recreation, pest control and flood mitigation, as well as the inspiration and sense of awe and wonder that so deeply enhance our lives.
However, this is not something that is commonly done. While we have lots of data on the economy and society and a good understanding of their interactions, the same cannot be said for the environment. This blind spot has led to environmental damage frequently being cast as an 'externality', or something outside the scope of a traditional economic transaction. As many environmentalists recognise, nature is not sufficiently 'valued' - despite being priceless.
Progress is being made around the world to develop solutions that will help governments and businesses to quantify, measure and understand the relative importance of nature's value to people and shine a light on the many ways in which natural capital interacts with built, financial, human and social capitals:
Assessments can attempt to value natural capital assets and ecosystem services in biophysical and/or monetary terms to support informed decision-making.
Accounts can systematise environmental information to tell a story of how the quality or extent of a natural asset has changed over time in a way that aligns with the long-established System of National Accounts, enabling a more reflective aggregate for prosperity and well-being than the current commonly and widely cited GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
Many of these solutions are still in their infancy, and there is much work to be done to test and refine them in the real world. Researchers are currently tackling ecological, economic and statistical questions around how we bring meaningful information about nature into accounts and assessments: how do we classify natural capital assets? What are the right indicators of asset condition? How do we value nature, and do those values need to be monetised?
Questions for the future
Further socio-political and philosophical questions also exist, for instance: whose values matter? How can use and non-use values be integrated into accounts and assessments? How can these tools be used to inform decision-making? How can they bring transparency and clarity to trade offs? How do they connect to the Sustainable Development Goals and support an economic system that operates within planetary boundaries?
The Irish Forum on Natural Capital is working with academics, government, NGOs and the private sector to explore these questions, and others, and support the application of the learnings in an Irish context. We believe that the natural capital approach has the potential to transform our understanding of nature's contributions to people and inform the development of a new economics that is fit for purpose in the age of climate change and biodiversity loss.
About the IFNC
The Irish Forum on Natural Capital (IFNC) brings together a diverse range of organisations and individuals from academic, public, private and NGO sectors who are interested in the development and application of the natural capital agenda in Ireland. The Forum is structured as a representative group led by a Steering Committee and administered by a Secretariat.
As of 2020, we have over 600 members.
Our vision is for an Ireland in which natural capital and ecosystem goods and services are valued, protected and restored.
Our mission is, through the collaboration and leadership of our diverse members, to help to value, protect and restore Ireland’s natural capital and ecosystem services. We will do this by supporting the adoption of natural capital concepts in public policy and corporate strategy, promoting informed public and private sector decision-making and assisting in the establishment of a national natural capital accounting standard.
Our Board of Directors
Chair of the Board: Prof Jane Stout
Professor in Botany, Trinity College Dublin
Jane is an ecologist whose research seeks to understand the links between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and the delivery of ecosystem services, which ultimately influence human livelihoods and well-being. She chaired the inaugural Natural Capital Ireland committee which led to the formation of the Forum and is a former chairperson of the Irish Forum on Natural Capital.
Director: Dr Michéal Ó Cinnéide
Former Director, Environmental Protection Agency
Micheál was a Director of the EPA between 2008 and 2018 and is a former Director of Marine Environment at the Marine Institute. His career has spanned the Irish public and private sectors. He holds an MBA from Harvard and a DBA from Waterford IT on 'Social Learning & the Water Framework Directive'. Micheál believes that the Irish Forum on Natural Capital offers a great opportunity for networking, learning and advocacy on the value of the natural environment in Ireland.
Company Secretary: Pat Costello
Former CEO, Chartered Accountants Ireland
Pat is a former CEO of Chartered Accountants Ireland and Accounting Technicians Ireland and Chairman of Chartered Accountants Worldwide which represents over 700,000 Chartered Accountants around the world. He is a former CEO of the Irish Taxation Institute, a Board Member of the Irish Policing Authority and a member of the GAA Audit Committee. Pat spent 20 years in the Irish Defence Forces and served with the United Nations as an Irish Army Officer in the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia.
Our Steering Committee
Chairperson: Andrea Carroll
SME Programme Manager, SEAI
Andrea is an experienced Management Consultant, working on corporate sustainability issues with a particular interest in the green economy. Andrea has a BA in Environmental Geography, MSc in Environmental Resource Management and is currently completing an MBA in International Business. She regularly consults and advises local government on sustainable development and economic development issues. She has significant voluntary experience working on climate change, the green economy and animal welfare issues. Andrea is active on her blog (peachygreenlife.com) and twitter (@peachygreenlife) on environmental and corporate topics.
Vice Chair: Bernadette Phelan
Head of Sustainability Services, Business in the Community Ireland
Bernadette is a senior executive in corporate responsibility & sustainability practice, and has worked on regional, national and EU programmes at leading non-profit organisations. Currently she sits on the Management Team of BITCI, the leading Irish network for responsible business. In BITCI, she leads and designs their corporate advisory services in responsible and sustainable business. Bernadette has a background in sustainable development having designed and managed a range of strategic economic and community initiatives. She holds a Masters in Science from UCD, a BA (mod) in Economics and Geography from TCD and an Advanced Certificate in Renewable Energy from LIT.
Finance Officer: Dr Declan Little
Project Manager, Woodlands of Ireland
For the past 20 years, Declan has worked in the native woodland sector, initially as a researcher of woodland development, soil processes and land use history and latterly in policy development concerning native woodland management. In recent years, the focus on ecosystem services has become a priority as it is considered central to the sustainable development of native woodlands. The wide array of services these woodlands provide need to be recognised to advance the sector, as they are generally only recognised in terms of conservation importance.
Dr Jonathan Bell
Head of Environment, Business in the Community Northern Ireland
Jonathan has extensive experience in environmental research, teaching, policy and practice, with a PhD in Environmental Planning. He is a part-time lecturer at both Queen's University and Ulster University and has led a range of successful funding applications for NIEL. He currently works to influence, regional, UK and EU policy impacting on the natural and built environment in Northern Ireland.
Dr Patrick Bresnihan
Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin
Patrick is based in the Geography Department Trinity College Dublin. He is an environmental geographer whose research interests include the politics of infrastructure (particularly water and energy); the history of environmental thought; and the theory of the commons. He has published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles on these topics and in 2016 published his first book, Transforming the Fisheries: Neoliberalism, Nature, and the Commons (University of Nebraska Press).
Dr Craig Bullock
Environmental Economist, Optimize and UCD
Craig has a PhD in environmental economics and works in both economic consultancy and applied research. He manages Optimize (www.optimize.ie), an environmental and economic consultancy, and also work as a research fellow at University College Dublin. His particular interest is the natural environment, an area in which he has been working for 25 years. He counts birdwatching and hill walking among his interests.
Environmental Officer, Bord Iascaigh Mhara
Grainne has been working as an environmental officer with BIM since 2005. She helped to deliver the world’s first independently accredited Eco-standard for aquaculture in 2007 and has worked with Irish aquaculture businesses to achieve a variety of third party environmental and sustainability accreditations, from Organic certification in compliance with EU regulations, to Origin Green. She is a practitioner member of IEMA (Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment), holds an MSc in Coastal Zone Management from Ulster University, a BSc (Honors) in Environmental Geoscience from Edinburgh University and a Diploma in EIA and SEA Management from UCD.
Dr Catherine Farrell
Postdoc Researcher, Trinity College Dublin
Catherine is a Postdoc Researcher working on the EPA-funded INCASE natural capital accounting project. Before this, she was the Senior Ecologist with Bord na Mona, where she worked to promote and develop peatland restoration and rehabilitation, as well as creation of other wetland and woodland habitats on industrial cutaway peatland.
PhD Candidate, NUI Galway
Kate is a PhD Candidate and Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholar 2018-2021, NUI Galway. She holds a BA in Communication Studies from DCU and completed an MSc in World Heritage Management & Conservation at UCD. Her master’s research examined the social and cultural history of Girley Bog Natural Heritage Area in County Meath. She volunteers with the Girley Bog Meitheal, a community-based group involved in the conservation and management of Girley Bog. She also sits on the Steering Group for the Community Wetlands Forum, a national network aimed at supporting community engagement with wetland and peatland conservation.
Dr Ciaran O'Keeffe
Principal Advisor, National Parks & Wildlife Service
Ciaran is Principal Advisor in the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht. He is currently responsible for the scientific and biodiversity policy work of the Department.
Dr Mary Kelly-Quinn
Associate Professor, University College Dublin
Mary's research is focussed on the assessment of land-use and other anthropogenic activities on the hydrochemical and ecological quality of freshwaters. She has completed studies on the aquatic habitats of agricultural, urban and forested catchments. Her research on forest-water interactions spans three decades and a recently completed project (HYDROFOR) investigated pollutant inputs and impacts from forestry operations through the life cycle of the forest. Recent grants are funding multi-institute research on silt flux in Irish rivers, impact on rivers of cattle access and on freshwater ecosystem services. Her research has yielded over 130 peer-reviewed publications and numerous reports.
Dr Dorothy Maxwell
Dorothy has been working for 20 years in sustainability with businesses, government and NGOs in Ireland, EU, Asia Pacific and the USA. An alumnus of UCD and Imperial College London, she has a PhD in Environmental Science and MSc in Environmental Economics & Law. She started her career as an environmental professional with Accenture, Enterprise Ireland and became Ireland’s environmental policy representative to the European Commission and United Nations Environment Programme. Moving overseas, she became Director of the UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Sustainable Products and Green Economy programmes, Special Advisor to The Prince of Wales' International Sustainability Unit and founding Executive Director of the Natural Capital Coalition (2014-16). She has worked in business as Director of Sustainability with Walmart, House of Fraser and currently Brown Thomas Group. She is author of Valuing Natural Capital, Future Proofing Business and Finance.
Dr John O'Neill
Principal Officer - Climate Policy, Dept of Communications, Climate Action & the Environment
John has a doctorate from UCD in freshwater ecology and rehabilitation of natural habitats and previously worked in Local Government and Housing Policy. His current role covers extensive climate policy areas that span National, EU and International agendas. He previously worked within the Environment Advisory Unit of the Department where he provided specialist technical support and input on National, EU, and International Environmental policy, strategy and legislation.
Dr Aileen O'Sullivan
Environment Technical Lead, Coillte
Aileen qualified with a primary degree in Botany from Trinity College Dublin, and a PhD on “Historical and Contemporary Effects of Fire on the Native Woodland Vegetation of Killarney, S.W. Ireland”. She has worked for Coillte since 1999 as a Forest Ecologist and in various environmental roles. She led the development of BioClass, a new procedure for assessing biodiversity areas, which are sites of ecological value on the Coillte estate as well as developing Environmental Risk Assessment procedures for Coillte’s forestry operations, and selected ecologically valuable bog and woodland habitats for restoration in four LIFE projects.
Paddy is the author of 'Our Once and Future Planet: Restoring the World in the Climate Change Century' (Chicago 2013); former Irish Times arts editor and asst. foreign desk editor, now regular contributor to Irish Times Environment Page; Research Associate at Missouri Botanical Garden, Adjunct Senior Lecturer at UCD School of Languages and Literatures; visiting fellowships at University of Iowa, Dartmouth College, and DePaul University, Chicago.
Orlaith joined the IFNC in November 2019. She works as an independent environmental consultant in Dublin, after three years working with the international non-profit, CDP. She holds a Masters in Environmental Economics and Policy from Imperial College London and a BA in European Studies from Trinity College Dublin. Previously, she worked on policy and public affairs at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.