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The Natural Capital Approach in our submission to the EPA's National Land Use review

In response to the recent EPA call for expert evidence for the National Land Use review, Natural Capital Ireland has submitted a number of reports and publications relevant to the land use review.

Green fields and hedgerows under bright blue sky
The lay of the land...the Irish countryside. Photo courtesy of EPA

To assist in the delivery of the Programme for Government's commitment of an average 7% per year reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021-2030 (a 51% reduction over the decade), and net zero emissions by 2050, a national land use review is under way, including farmland, forests, and peatlands, so that optimal land use options inform all relevant government decisions.

The EPA site states: "Land use has often been viewed through the lens of the individual land-based sectors that contribute to our economy, like agriculture, housing and forestry. But our land delivers so much more to us as a society including supporting our ecosystems, it connects us to our history, it provides opportunities for recreation, and delivers thrilling and familiar landscapes. In Ireland, land is intimate to our concept of ‘place’."

Natural Capital Ireland believes the natural capital approach - and natural capital accounting specifically - present a means to support the Land Use Review with a much wider range of analysis/data than that offered by conventional approaches, because it builds in the fullest possible range of environmental and cultural costs and benefits of any given land use policy. It is also valuable because it can be used continuously to support and monitor the maintenance of ongoing land use review processes.

Our catalogue of evidence to the review was provided under these headings:

1) Evidence from our INCASE project - evidence supporting the natural capital approach has been gathered through INCASE and details of articles relating to this project were provided.

2) Evidence relating to policy and land use - evidence highlighting that the natural capital approach ideally builds on and aligns to global efforts to allow for comparison and wider collaboration.

3) Evidence relating to policy and land use from the Irish Uplands Forum (IUF) – evidence is provided on the indicators the IUF uses to measure land use impacts on the environment and society; environmental and societal trends that will impact on land use; and evidence relating to Ireland’s land use stakeholders.

4) Progress in ecological restoration leading to social and economic restoration – evidence detailing the socio-economic evaluation and progress of the KerryLIFE Project. This catalogue of evidence should be very useful for informing on the eventual land use policy.

NCI is a partner on the pioneering EPA-funded INCASE project, which is the first project to apply Natural Capital Accounting principles to catchments in Ireland. Natural Capital Accounting reports across four main accounts - extent, condition, services and benefits - and presents a standardised platform to collate information and regularly report on progress in relation to climate actions, biodiversity conservation and restoration, protection of water bodies, and general good environmental practices (as identified in cross sectoral areas such as agriculture, energy, environment, forestry, nature, marine, planning and water supply/use policies).

Evidence supporting the approach has been gathered through the INCASE project and articles published are listed below. There is also a range of articles, blogs and supporting videos available from the INCASE website here.

Below are seven references to articles on land use and natural capital accounting.

  1. Farrell CA, Stout JC (2019) Irish Natural Capital Accounting for Sustainable Environments: A Literature Review. This document provides a literature review on Irish Natural Capital Accounting for Sustainable Environments which was prepared for the EPA as part of the INCASE project.

2. Farrell CA, Daly D (2020) The contribution of limestones in Ireland to our natural capital. Proceedings of IAH (Irish Group) Conference “Characterisation and Management of Groundwater in Limestones”, 2020.

This article serves to highlight the key concepts of natural capital and how it may be applied in the context of Limestones and their contribution to Ireland’s natural capital. It also outlines the approach to developing geosystem stocks and flows accounts following the UN SEEA EA approach.

This report presents a good overview of the UN System of Environmental Economic Accounting Ecosystem Accounting and potential applications in the Irish context.

4. Natural capital approaches: shifting the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration from aspiration to reality. Restoration Ecology Farrell C, Aronson J, Daily G, Hein L, Obst C, Woodworth P, Stout J (2021)

This article highlights a number of initiatives globally that are applying natural capital approaches for national accounting, land use, business support and health and wellbeing.

5. Applying the System of Environmental Economic Accounting-Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA-EA) framework at catchment scale to develop ecosystem extent and condition accounts. One Ecosystem 6: e65582. by Farrell CA, Coleman L, Kelly-Quinn M, Obst CG, Eigenraam M, Norton D, O`Donoghue C, Kinsella S, Delargy O, Stout JC (2021)

This article outlines the approach to gathering data to develop extent (developing an asset register) and ecosystem condition accounts at catchment scale.

6. Developing peatland ecosystem accounts to guide targets for restoration. One Ecosystem 6: e76838. Farrell CA, Coleman L, Norton D, Kelly-Quinn M, Obst C, Eigenraam M, OʼDonoghue C, Kinsella S, Smith F, Sheehy I, Stout JC (2021)

This article outlines the approach to developing peatland extent and condition accounts at catchment scale to prioritise areas for restoration.

7. Applying ecosystem accounting to develop a risk register for peatlands and inform restoration targets at catchment scale: a case study from the European region. Restoration Ecology (Accepted, in press). Farrell CA, Coleman L, Norton D, Kelly-Quinn M, Obst C, Eigenraam M, OʼDonoghue C, Kinsella S, Smith F, Sheehy I, Stout JC (2022, in press, link coming soon)

This article outlines the approach to developing peatland services and benefits accounts and developing a risk register of flows to prioritise areas for restoration.

Evidence relating to policy and land use:

It is key that the national land use policy highlights the risks as well as the benefits of State, corporate and private practices and policies, and sets out the requirements for data, metrics and methodologies that relate to actual impact and that avoid any double counting, over/under estimation of impact or unintended consequences. The natural capital approach ideally builds on and aligns to global efforts to allow for comparison and wider collaboration. Below are a number of relevant websites and links:

  1. Aligning Biodiversity Measures for Businesses is a collaboration to align corporate biodiversity measurement approaches to support private sector decision making

  2. The Natural Capital Protocol (NPC) is a decision-making framework that allows organisations to identify, measure and value their direct, and indirect impacts and dependencies on Natural capital. The NPC Biodiversity Supplement is a new guidance aiming to enable business and financial institutions to better value biodiversity in their decision-making process.

  3. The Biological Diversity Protocol is a standardised approach to account for and consolidate an organisation’s impacts on ecosystems

  4. The EU Business@Biodiversity provides a forum for dialogue and policy interface to discuss links between business and biodiversity at EU level. It was set up by the EU Commission with the aim to work with and help businesses integrate natural capital and biodiversity considerations into business practices.

Set out below are a number of relevant policy reports and publications relating to land use and the natural capital approach:

  1. Barker, R (2019) Corporate natural capital accounting. Oxford Review of Economic Policy. 35:1 (pp. 68-87). This paper highlights that corporate natural capital accountability is unlikely to be satisfied within existing market structures and that it requires a regulatory solution.

2. Committee on Climate Change (CCC), 2020. Land use: Policies for a Net Zero UK.

This report presents the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) first in-depth advice on UK agricultural and land use policies. The report assesses the way we use our land today and the changes required in how we farm and use land in order to deliver the UK Government’s Net Zero GHG emissions target by 2050.

3. Reise J, Siemons A, Böttcher H, Herold A, Urrutia C, Schneider L, Iwaszuk E. McDonald H, Frelih-Larsen A, Duin L, Davis M. (2021) Policy Paper: Nature-based solutions and global climate protection Assessment of their global mitigation potential and recommendations for international climate policy. Öko-Institut Berlin and Ecologic Institute on behalf of German Environment Agency.

This paper critically assesses the global mitigation potential of Nature-based Solutions in relevant studies for forests, croplands, grasslands, terrestrial and coastal wetlands as well as settlements. Recommendations for international climate policy are derived.

4. OECD (2020), Towards Sustainable Land Use: Aligning Biodiversity, Climate and Food Policies, OECD Publishing, Paris, See especially Chapter 5

This report examines ongoing challenges for aligning land use policy with climate, biodiversity and food objectives, and the opportunities to enhance the sustainability of land use systems. Chapter 5 specifically relates to policy instruments relevant to sustainable land use.

5. Lammerant J, Starkey M, De Horde A, Bor AM, Driesen K and Vanderheyden G (2021) Assessment of biodiversity measurement approaches for businesses and financial institutions. Updated Report 3. Publication by EU Commission and EU Business@Biodiversity Platform.

Biodiversity measurement approaches which are suitable for the private sector and guidance on how to select those approaches and metrics depending on specific business context are very much needed. The objective of the series “Assessment of Biodiversity Measurement Approaches for Businesses and Financial Institutions” is to bring elements of responses to these needs.

We also submitted evidence relating to policy and land use from the Irish Uplands Forum (IUF) - a voluntary body, supported by the Heritage Council, that assists upland communities to face the many economic, social and environmental challenges arising in the upland districts of Ireland including information relating to the indicators the IUF use to measure land use impacts on environment and society, in some recent unpublished papers.

One project highlighted was the result-based agri-environment payment scheme (RBAPS). This was a three-and-a-half year project in Ireland and Spain working with farmers and stakeholders developing ways to reward farmers for delivering biodiversity on their lands. The key element of results-based method of delivering payments is that the amount of money paid to the farmer reflects the quality of wildlife (biodiversity) that is delivered on their farmed land.

Progress in ecological restoration leading to social and economic restoration

4.1 Ó Caoimh B, Keaveney K and Crowley C (2020) KerryLIFE socio-economic evaluation. Report for the LIFE Programme, EU Commission.

This publication is an excellent example from the KerryLIFE Project of progress in ecological restoration leading to social and economic restoration, and also highlights further work that needs to be done in this area - particularly for remote and rural areas.

The deadline for submissions to the Land Use Review has been extended to February 4th, 2022.

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