Ecosystem values must be factored into global economy; loss of biodiversity could cost trillions of dollars
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Species conservation isn’t just about feel-good efforts to save animals because they’re cute and cuddly.
Allowing the current rate of of biodiversity loss to continue could cost the global economy untold trillions, said researchers who are compiling a comprehensive report on the cost of species loss. The report will be published in time for the October Convention on Biodiversity in Japan, part of the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity.
Using the best science available, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that 20 percent of all mammals, one-third of all amphibians and one in seven bird species are at risk of extinction. For the first time since the era of dinosaurs, animals and plants are going extinct faster than new species can evolve.
The global efforts to highlight the value of intact ecosystems hit home especially hard as the world watches the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico directly impact the economy of the region, with huge future costs that have yet to be calculated.
The devastation of the oil spill may help illustrate that the value of the “goods and services” provided by nature — pollination, medicines, fertile soils, clean air and water — is far greater than the cost of protecting them. Combining economics with conservation biology, the study suggests that the cost-benefit ratio could be as high as 1 to 100. In other words, every dollar spent on conservation pays a return of $100 in ecosystem values.
The report warns that, if the goods and services provided by nature are not valued and factored in to the global economy, the environment will become ever more fragile and less resilient to shocks, putting human lives at risk and threatening the global economy.
“We need a sea-change in human thinking and attitudes towards nature: not as something to be vanquished, conquered, but rather something to be cherished and lived within,” said economist Pavan Sukhdev, one of the authors.
The recommendations in the report won’t be popular with the business-as-usual crowd. It will advocate fundamental changes. In the future, communities should be paid for conserving nature rather than using it. Stricter limits should be set on what companies can take from the environment, with fines or taxes levied to limit over-exploitation. National governments should be held accountable for how they use their natural capital.
In practical terms, that means setting up a huge global network of protected areas to maintain rainforests, wetlands, coastal mangroves and grasslands at cost of $45 billion annually. But the benefits of preserving species richness in those areas could be worth up to $5 trillion per year.
Read this report from the Center for International Environmental Law on specific strategies for more on specific strategies to preserve biodiversity, including changes in tax laws aimed at reflecting the true economic costs of habitat destruction.
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