Research & results

Nature & Society

Under the title "Nature and society" we collect innovative research on nature in the city and Natural Capital Accounting.

Nature in the city

A complex spatial structure has arisen in Flanders, in which the traditional boundaries between built-up areas and open space are becoming blurred, nature is fragmented and more and more people are living in the city or in urban areas. By stepping up research into nature in the city, INBO aims to help improve the quality of life in cities and bring city-dwellers closer to nature.

  • A first research component involves looking at urban nature from an ecological perspective: protected species, indicator species that tell us about the quality of life in the city, urban nature reserves, specific habitats such as brownfields, wall vegetation and green roofs, the importance of nature corridors in urbanised areas or the effects of ecological vegetation management.
  • We also want to add further depth to the concept of ‘ecosystem services in the city’, or the benefits of nature in the city. Such benefits include the enjoyment of nature, combating heat islands and local food production.
  • In a third research component, we are investigating the social aspects of urban nature, such as the diversity in the way people think about nature and perceptions of ecological vegetation management. Given that everything in cities is primarily there for people, it is important to redefine the concept of nature in a way that takes city-dwellers’ views into account. The term ‘urban nature’ can therefore cover a wide range of forms that make cities better places for plants, animals and people.

Natural capital accounting (NCA)

Our society is intimately bound up with the natural system in which it functions. We make use of the natural capital that our environment offers: raw materials such as water, wood, food and minerals, regulatory functions such as water purification and air purification, and cultural services such as recreation and inspiration. Natural capital is the basis for our economy, prosperity and well-being, but the methods we use to identify our economic activity do not reflect the link between economy and natural capital.

Natural capital accounting (NCA) is a framework that offers an integrated approach. It measures how stocks of natural capital change and integrates the value of the ecosystem services that natural capital provides into the country’s economic accounts.

INBO can use NCA to provide policymakers with comparable information about:

  • changes in the composition and quality of ecosystems and biodiversity and
  • changes in ecosystem services for different economic units such as households, economic sectors and society as a whole. This is done by bringing existing data and new data together in a single central accounting system.

INBO wants to put NCA on the map for Flanders in order to give natural capital a more central place in society and ensure that it plays a bigger role in policy decisions. We will work closely with partners to come up with a widely applicable policy tool.

When NCA has been developed as a policy tool, it has a wide range of applications, for example for cost-benefit analyses and impact assessments of projects and programmes (socalled ecosystem service impact reports), scenario analyses and studies, economic modelling, international reports, indicator reports and policy evaluations. NCA can be used to draw up an integrated budget and to map the economic value of individual ecosystem services. NCA does not aim to express the value of nature in monetary terms, but to ensure that it is clearly included in policy decisions.

INBO also uses NCA for nature reporting. We regularly report on the state and importance of our natural capital, interpret and explain trends and make specific policy recommendations. We also create derivative applications at the request of users. By working with the standards for NCA, we can tackle this efficiently and consistently.