Biodiversity isn't priceless at all, says UN

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Presumably recognising that most people are motivated more by money than by beauty, a UN report has attempted to put a price on biodiversity. 

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) reports shows the economic value of forests, freshwater, soils and coral reefs, as well as the social and economic costs of their loss.

"TEEB has documented not only the multi-trillion dollar importance to the global economy of the natural world, but the kinds of policy-shifts and smart market mechanisms that can embed fresh thinking in a world beset by a rising raft of multiple challenges," says study leader Pavan Sukhdev.

"The good news is that many communities and countries are already seeing the potential of incorporating the value of nature into decision-making."

Apparently pollination by bees and other insects is worth $200 billion to the world, while coral reefs are worth $172 billion. Over-exploitation of fisheries is cheap in comparison, at a bargain $50 billion.

The study calls for greater recognition of nature's contribution to human livelihoods, health, security, and culture.

"Do nothing, and not only do we lose trillions worth of current and future benefits to society, we also further impoverish the poor and put future generations at risk," says Sukhdev.

"The time for ignoring biodiversity and persisting with conventional thinking regarding wealth creation and development is over. We must get on to the path towards a green economy."
               
Some countries are already taking this approach. India, for example, is planning a 'TEEB for India' study to assess its natural capital. And the Japanese city of Nagoya has introduced a system of tradeable development rights allowing developers wishing to exceed existing limits on high-rise buildings to offset the impact by buying and conserving areas of Japan's traditional agricultural landscape.

"In the past only traditional sectors such as manufacturing, mining, retailing, construction and energy generation were uppermost in the minds of economic planners and ministers of finance, development and trade," said Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and UNEP executive director.

"TEEB has brought to the world's attention that nature's goods and services are equal, if not far more central, to the wealth of nations including the poor."