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A speech by The Prince of Wales to the 'Accounting for Sustainability Measure What Matters' event - Prince's Trust Australia
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A speech by The Prince of Wales to the ‘Accounting for Sustainability Measure What Matters’ event

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be able to join you today and I cannot thank you all enough for the time you have devoted to Measure What Matters. I understand you have been locked away since early this morning, discussing the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and the challenges of measuring progress against them, not to mention all of the work you have done in the build-up to this entire event. Needless to say, I look forward very much to hearing the outcomes of these discussions shortly, but first of all I do just want to highlight the importance of your role in helping to achieve these Goals.

Three years ago, at the Rio+20 Earth Summit, the Measure What Matters project was launched – a partnership between my Accounting for Sustainability Project, the Green Economy Coalition, G.R.I., the Stockholm Environment Institute and I.I.E.D., with the kind support of the Mava Foundation. As I said at the time, the entire issue of forging a truly sustainable economic model has, for far too long, been something of a “side event”. You do not need me to point out what an intolerable strain we are placing on the natural world and human society – scientists refer to it as the “breaching of planetary boundaries”. If left unchecked, a tipping point will eventually be reached, with consequences too frightful to imagine. And yet we continue, blindly and obstinately, to focus on the short term maximization of output and profit, regardless of the long term consequences for the Earth and for its future inhabitants.

The Sustainable Development Goals clearly have an important role to play in setting the framework for action. They set out an alternative vision for the future – a vision around which action can be mobilized. The measurement of the Goals, therefore, will provide the foundation for achieving them and of course the challenge is to produce a framework that works on all levels, whether global, national or local, and for all members of society – governments, businesses, investors, civil society and each and every individual. Goals set at the global level are unlikely to be achieved if they are not reflected in national performance measures and, in turn, at the city, business, investor and community levels. In other words, despite all of the cogs in the machine turning in the right direction, if the gearing between the cogs is not sufficiently coordinated, then the machine will not run smoothly. It may not even run at all.

At the moment, it seems that in many areas we are still “driving blind”. There remain huge gaps in our understanding of the current state of affairs. For instance, in the corporate world, investors wanting to integrate environmental, social and governance issues into their investment decisions are missing most of the information required. As a recent study of listed companies found, only three per cent of the world’s large companies, and a tiny 0.04 per cent of the world’s small companies, disclose to their stakeholders even a basic set of seven social and environmental indicators.

Closing these data gaps and providing the vital information to enable an effective response obviously requires investment.

So Ladies and Gentlemen, this is where the Measure What Matters initiative plays such an important role. By bringing together all the various participants who are addressing different aspects of this important question, we can begin to build an integrated, common framework of reference to enable improvements to be tracked and insight provided to decision-makers. I need hardly say how encouraged I am to hear that real progress is being made by many of you, and that today’s discussions might just help to accelerate the pace of change.

Take, for example, the case of fisheries, a recent study has shown that global fisheries are an underperforming asset – poor fisheries management, based on limited data sets, has led to this situation. But, if managed at sustainable harvest levels, based on robust data and science, global wild fish production could be increased by twenty million tonnes and industry profits could be boosted to the tune of an extra sixty-eight billion dollars per year. Some fisheries are already reaping the rewards of measuring what matters – for example, the U.S and New Zealand fishing industry pay for science and management through a cost recovery system that enables their commercial activity to be based on the best evaluation of the natural asset it depends on. Better collaboration and relationships between fishermen and scientists are also leading to improved management through the input of fishing boat data to catch limits and targets.

Another area of real progress is the adoption of Natural Capital Accounting by governments and businesses around the world. The recent African Ministerial Conference on the Environment underlined the vital importance of Natural Capital Accounting by governments and highlighted that savings of up to one hundred billion dollars every year could be generated by the sustainable use of Africa’s Natural Capital, helping to drive economic growth and support achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. As the Conference highlighted, Africa holds thirty per cent of the world’s mineral reserves, roughly sixty per cent of its uncultivated arable land and ten per cent of its freshwater resources. Its fisheries are estimated to be worth twenty-four billion dollars and the continent boasts the second largest tropical forest in the world. Yet it is estimated that the continent loses as much as one hundred and ninety-five billion dollars every year from resource plunder, illegal logging, illegal trade in wildlife, unregulated fishing, illegal mining practices, high food imports and degraded ecosystems. Informed policy action, decision-making and partnerships, at national, regional and global level, are absolutely critical to reversing these losses. Thus measuring the true value of Nature to society and the economy is a vital part of that process.

I must say, ladies and gentlemen, it is quite encouraging that the first Natural Capital Protocol for business will be launched tomorrow to help provide a standardized approach for organizations to consider their natural capital impacts and dependencies. Interestingly, Yorkshire Water, a member of my A4S C.F.O. Leadership Network, recently piloted the application of the Protocol to a twenty-four million pound renovation project. The Protocol helped the company to value the environmental impact of different project options in monetary terms, with the chosen approach creating extra value worth over three million pounds by enhancing biodiversity and reducing carbon emissions. Since undertaking the pilot, Yorkshire Water is applying the principles of Natural and Social Capital Accounting to all its landholding, much of which is recognized for its importance as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Traditional approaches would have valued each acre at around five thousand pounds due to its limited agricultural use. However, Yorkshire Water recognize that this land has substantial additional value in terms of Natural and Social Capital, providing essential ecosystem services such as flood prevention, carbon sequestration and recreational opportunity.

Well Ladies and Gentlemen, I can only say in conclusion how much I appreciate all your labours thus far, and that you have the full support of my A4S Project in moving forward. I cannot stress enough how important this is (even though some of you have doubtless heard me say this time after time and will probably be heartily sick of it by now!). But I fear the door is closing faster than we think on our opportunity to develop a new economic framework that puts social well-being and Nature’s own ingenious economy back at the heart of our thinking. It is no exaggeration to say that our world really does depend on what you can achieve in the coming years. Your work, Ladies and Gentlemen, will shape decisions that have a material impact on the future well-being of the entire planet and of its people – which is precisely why your leadership and far sightedness matter so much. And however vital statistics are, we cannot afford to let our arguments about who’s the most accurate mean that at the end of the day we just test our world to destruction. So Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you.