Putting a value on nature to preserve its riches


Putting a value on nature and the services it provides is crucial to protect the world\’s forests, oceans, reefs and rivers from destruction, a major United Nations-backed report says.

The report by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, a research initiative also backed by the European Commission, highlights the multi-trillion dollar benefits nature provides to farmers, businesses, cities and entire economies.

Yet much of these benefits are taken for granted, TEEB says, leading to incentives that are perpetuating the destruction of nature and raising the risks of an environmental crisis that could harm livelihoods, human health and food and water supplies.

Following are examples of the services nature provides and some of the key recommendations from the report released on the sidelines of a major U.N. conference in Japan aimed at combating accelerating losses of plant and animal species. What does nature provide?

Cover about a third of the Earth\’s land surface and are estimated to contain more than half of all land species, mainly in the tropics.

Provide livelihoods to rural communities, help regulate the climate by soaking up large amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide, control erosion, act as water storages for rivers, filtering water in the process and provide pollination for nearby crops such as coffee and fruit trees.

Coral reefs: About 30 million people are wholly reliant on reefs for food and other goods for income. Reefs also provide protection from storms, are valuable for tourism and can boost local real estate prices.

Wetlands: Can reduce pollution by acting as filters, boost flood protection from storms, act as breeding grounds for fish.

Rivers: Lifelines for agriculture, towns and cities. Used to generate electricity and transport goods and people.

TEEB\’S soutions

  • Make nature visible:
    Decision makers need to assess the role of nature\’s richness and ecosystem services in economic activity. They also need matching analysis of how costs and benefits of ecosystem services are spread across society, with public disclosure and accountability for impacts on nature.
  • The bottom line and beyond:
    Better accounting of business impacts and benefits from nature can spur change in business investment and operations.

    Annual reports and accounts should disclose details such as environmental liabilities and changes in natural assets not currently included in the statutory accounts.

  • Mainstreaming the economics of nature:
    Full value of biodiversity and ecosystem services in decision making can be achieved if their sustainable management is recognized as an opportunity and not a constraint on development.

The value of nature\’s services needs to be included in:

Economic, trade and development policies; transport, energy and mining; agriculture, fisheries and forestry; corporate financial and social responsibility management and reporting; development policies and local, regional and national planning; and public procurement and private consumption

  • Using nature to fight climate change:
    Maintaining, restoring or enhancing services provided by ecosystems, such as mangroves, other wetlands and forest watersheds can compare favourably with man-made infrastructure, such as wastewater treatment plants or dykes, TEEB says.
  • Valuing protected areas:
    The benefits from setting up and managing protected areas on land and ocean reserves can outweigh the loss of economic activity. Ecosystem valuation can help to justify protected areas, identify funding and investment and guide conservation priorities.