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Put a Value on Nature! | Wildlife Matters

Put a Value on Nature!

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From wooden furniture to medicines and eco-tourism; ecosystem services refers to the vast array of processes and functions that benefit human activities. Recently, economists and environmentalists alike have warmed to the idea of putting monetary values on ecosystem services in order to give incentives to conserve these valuable ecosystems. So the question is, should we really be putting a value on nature in order to further conservation efforts?

Why_Ecosystem_services_WWFThe diagram above demonstrates how and why the degradation of ecosystems is worsening but more importantly is shows what services we stand to lose if the destruction continues. Forests for example provide a number of services. For instance, one healthy tree provides the same cooling effect as 10 air conditioning units and just one hectare of forest with 200 trees is estimated to capture and store 2 tons of CO2 each year. 60% of medicines were found first as molecules in a rainforest or a coral reef. Additionally, forests provide flood prevention, drought control and wood for furniture and fuel. To that end, deforestation risks losing numerous services which will mostly effect the poor local communities but will also have far reaching consequences through climate change and scarcity of timber and so on.

In my opinion, the major issue in this matter is the economic invisibility of nature. Let me demonstrate this with an example. The Amazon rainforest is well known as a store of carbon and biodiversity but less well known as a rain factory.  As the north-eastern trade winds pass over the Amazon, they absorb around 20 billion tons of water vapour per day. This then precipitates in the form of rainfall across Latin America, effectively fuelling the multibillion dollar industry of agriculture in the region. The majority of these countries do not recognise this service provided by nature and as such, do not actively seek to protect the Amazon rainforest. Economics has become the currency of policy so the true monetary value of nature must become visible to governments in order to see change.

“The consideration of the economic values of biodiversity is essential but is not about selling biodiversity or commodifying nature. It is about reflecting the full range of biodiversity values in our decision-making.” – Mr. Braulio F.D Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of Convention on Biological Diversity, speaking about valuing biodiversity at the 2013 Trondheim Conference on Biodiversity.

Many remain reluctant to accept the process of putting a value on nature. Traditional conservationists in particular believe this is a flawed plan because of the difficulty on putting a price on nature. Whilst it appears to be a mammoth task to put monetary values on services provided by the Amazon for example, progress is being made. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity is an initiative that has taken on this challenge and achieved remarkable success since their study was launched in 2007. They have released numerous study reports and used their findings to advise governments and businesses on how to save money by protecting ecosystems. They estimate that with an investment of US$ 45 billion into protected areas alone, the delivery of ecosystem services worth some US$ 5 trillion a year could be secured.

In 2006, Douglas McCauley wrote a critique entitled “Selling Out On Nature” for the international scientific journal, Nature. In this, he gives his opinion that “the greatest values of nature are not those that turn us monetary profits. The real values of nature are its intrinsic biological, aesthetic, cultural, and evolutionary merits. I think we need to put primacy on teaching people about these values.” Whilst I would agree with this statement, we need to be realistic for the sake of the natural world and its future. If nothing changes, we will indeed continue to see the gradual loss of these valuable assets and then it may be too late. Putting monetary values on nature is essential to conserve and protect the ecosystems that provide us with such valuable services.

– Jessen

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