Azara Blog: The world would allegedly be trillions better off if only humans got lost

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Date published: 2009/11/15

The BBC says:

Money invested in protecting nature can bring huge financial returns, according to a major investigation into the costs and benefits of the natural world.

It says money ploughed into protecting wetlands, coral reefs and forests can bring a hundredfold return on capital.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study (Teeb) is backed by the UN and countries including the UK.

The project's leader says governments should act on its findings at next month's UN climate summit.

Teeb is the first attempt to evaluate the economic value of "ecosystem services" - things that parts of the natural world do for free, such as purifying drinking water or protecting coasts from storms - on a systematic and global basis.

"We have now evaluated 1,100 studies ranging across different countries and different ecosystem services," said study leader Pavan Sukhdev, a Deutsche Bank economist.

"And we find that with protected areas, for example, no matter how you slice the figures up you come up with a ratio of benefits to costs that's between 25-to-one and 100-to-one.

"Now we can say quite confidently that there is a solid benefit from investing in protected areas," he told BBC News.
Conservation groups have repeatedly called for a vast expansion in protection for marine ecosystems, both to conserve biodiversity and as a longer-term boost to fisheries yields.

Mr Sukhdev said there was a powerful economic case for this as well.

"If we were to expand marine protection from less than 1% to 30%, say, what would that cost?

"Establishing reserves, policing them and so on, would cost about $40-50bn per year - and the annual benefit would be about $4-5 trillion."

The benefits would come from increasing fish catches and tourism revenue and - in the case of reefs - protecting shorelines from the destructive force of storms.
Although individual economists have made these arguments before, Teeb aims to draw all the evidence together and present it to policymakers, hoping it can persuade governments to invest in nature protection just as the Stern Review made the economic case for tackling climate change.

Yes, many scientists (and probably even many economists) "have made these arguments before". The whole point of Teeb is to "do a Stern" by getting some rich banker to provide publicity for the cause, since up until now the governments of the world have ignored these claims.

Hopefully someone who is independent will try and verify the numbers promoted by Teeb. Unfortunately the data underlying this analysis is very difficult to get hold of because conservation scientists are extremely bad at making their data public (i.e. freely available), in spite of the fact that a lot of the work is paid out of the public purse.

Of course there is a serious point here. Externalities are usually ignored. But it would be interesting to see if Teeb can come up with any example of any human activity in any ecosystem anywhere in the world where the planet is allegedly better off than if that activity did not occur.

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