ESP Conference, news from Stellenbosch

3 Dec 2015

Recently several ESCom members attended the Ecosystem Services Partnership’s 8th World Conference in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The ESP is a multidisciplinary community of researchers and practitioners that aims to translate science into practice.  ESCom member Alister McVitie brings us news from the conference

The Cape Floral Kingdom is one the Earth’s most biodiverse regions with 8200 plant species compared to 1500 in the British Isles (the Table Mountain National Park alone boasts 2200 species). These include the unique fynbos, yet it is threatened by invasive species such as acacia and wattle as well as development pressures. Agriculture is also a major and growing sector of the Western Cape economy.

Despite the success of the Western Cape’s economy it is also a region of great social contrast. Although it has lower inequality than the rest of South Africa with a Gini coefficient of 0.58 versus 0.65 (the UK’s is 0.38) the contrast between the gated mansions of Cape Town’s affluent beach suburbs and the shacks of townships such as Khayelitsha could not be starker. This raises the question of how can this globally important biodiversity be protected in the face of inequality and deprivation?

The theme of the conference was ‘Ecosystem Services for Nature, People and Prosperity’. This reflects the growing understanding across the globe that these are interlinked problems that can be addressed together. Keynote speakers discussed the potential role of natural capital accounting in the context of countries and its uptake by business. For both, the importance of recognising impacts and also dependencies on natural capital was highlighted. Lessons on engagement with business were revealed, in particular the point that there is no one best approach and it depends on the who and why of that engagement where there can be multiple drivers. The missing element in much of this has been the public, particularly as consumers, and their role in driving sustainability. The conference was closed by a call to go beyond GDP as a measure of progress to fully account for environmental sustainability, inequality and well-being.

The ESP conference also provides a platform for researchers and practitioners to gather in working groups covering methodologies, particular ecosystems and sectors of practice to share results and experiences. Several of these go beyond the usual ‘show and tell’ conference format with the focus on addressing specific themes and producing outputs. I was involved in several of these including the ongoing TEEB for Agriculture and Food study; ecosystem services and the business sector; and a paper writing workshop on marine ecosystem policy.