Developments in the measurement of natural capital to advance sustainability assessment

Eli Fenichel is an Associate Professor at Yale University.


Wealth-based approaches to assessing sustainability are increasingly popular. A critical challenge to realizing the potential of wealth-based sustainability approaches is measuring the value, or change in value, of natural capital. In this talk I review the theory of wealth-based sustainability, show how it leads directly to an approach for measuring the value of natural capital assets that aligns with the way produced and financial assets are valued, show how the approach is extendable to capture important and unique features of real assets, chiefly natural capital assets, and connect back to explain what this means for sustainability assessments in practice. I will discuss applications to fish stocks, forests, and culturally important endangered species. Important findings include empirical evidence that society generally values natural capital more than is often believed, which enables a strong argument for including these values in public accounting schemes to measure changes in welfare, net production, and sustainability; that weak vs strong sustainability can be reframed as an empirical question that may hinge on uncertainty in the system with greater uncertainty leading to a weak sustainability outcome; and that ecological interactions are fundamental in determining changes in asset values.

This seminar is hosted jointly by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative. It is part of the Blavatnik Public Lecture Series at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.

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