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Nature by Numbers

Theme 2022

In recent years, a range of private initiatives and public policies* have emerged with the aim to define sustainability as a multidimensional concept covering environmental, social, and economic dimensions. The initiatives and policies set out to combine the three sustainability dimensions into one unified system from which models and practical tools for practitioners (policymakers, firms and investors) can be developed that moves society in a sustainable direction. A key feature of these initiatives and policies is that they aim to translate environmental outcomes into numbers to enable an integration of nature into existing economic decision-making processes.

Flower growing in asphalt. Photo.

Representing nature in numbers, through a rigid formalisation process affects the way we view and interpret nature. This raises the questions of whether describing nature by simple metrics, what could be called a Nature by numbers-approach, is too simplistic to fully capture the complexity of nature. Enforcing a system founded on economic perspectives and approaches bear clearly the risk of compromising important features of nature. Considering the growing importance of these schemes as the latest development of the dialectical relationships between economy and ecology, the Theme Nature by Numbers intends to problematize how they translate nature into numbers and the consequences of using economic concepts of risks and return when quantifying nature.   

The Theme will consider alternative principles for combining economic sustainability with climate change and biodiversity loss. Through exploring and problematizing the way in which climate change and biodiversity loss is incorporated in the economic decision making, the Theme specifically consider the following questions: Which features of nature are captured? How are they captured? What is overlooked and/or ignored? Which kind of features are prioritised? Who’s interests are served? What are the policy implications? These fundamental questions are of key importance to explore before it is possible to venture into future research on alternative principles for combining and capturing complex features into simplified schemes.

About the team:

The research team combines a wide number of different backgrounds and skills from climate science, biodiversity, ecosystems, engineering, political science, social science, sustainability science, and economics. The interdisciplinarity of the group is essential both to understand the necessity of finding metrics that allows the integration of economic decision-making with environmental concerns, as well as understanding the consequences of quantifying complex biological systems into numbers.

*GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), TCFD (Task Force on Climate-related Financial disclosures), TNFD (Task Force on Nature-related Financial disclosure), NFRD (Non-Financial Reporting Directive), EU Taxonomy and CSRD (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive)