Undervaluing ecosystems could cost billions

2nd June 2011

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Business & Industry ,
  • Natural resources ,
  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Ecosystems ,
  • Biodiversity



Failing to value ecosystems services effectively could cost the UK economy £50 billion a year, according to the first National Ecosystems Assessment (NEA) published today (2 June 2011).

Environmentalists, scientists and economists collaborated over two years to write the 1,000 page report, which places a financial value on the economic, social and health benefits ecosystems services provide, from clean drinking water and flood control to natural medicine and aesthetic pleasure.

Water quality benefits of the UK’s inland wetlands, for example, are estimated to be worth up to £1.5 billion to the country each year, while the aggregates industry is calculated to be worth £4.8 billion.

The NEA has assessed how the natural environment has changed over the last 60 years and concludes that, while there have been some advances, 30% of the UK’s ecosystems services are in decline including biodiversity, soil quality and pollination.

The report’s authors argue that decision makers have consistently undervalued ecosystems services.

“Our wealth as a nation and our individual well being depend critically upon the environment…Yet we tend to take this largely for granted,” argues Lord Selborne, chair of the Living with Environmental Change partnership, publishers of the NEA.

“This under-estimation of the value of natural processes in economic terms means that we take inadequately informed decision on how to use these resources.

“The result is pollution, the loss of species and ecosystems, and damage to the processes we need, with real economic costs to either recover them or provide artificial alternatives.”

Looking forward to 2060, the NEA outlines six possible futures with the UK taking different approaches to using its natural resources. It estimates that focusing solely on the market value of ecosystems services goods, such as food stuffs, could cost the country £50 billion a year in comparison to a future that incorporates a wider understanding of the value of ecosystems.

“There is an urgent need to better manage our ecosystems and the natural resources they provide us with,” said Professor Bob Watson, chief scientist at Defra and co-chair of the NEA.

“The NEA shows we need a more integrated approach to ecosystem management involving government, the private sector, voluntary groups and the public working together to protect the services nature provides.”

The NEA was described as a vital step forward in understanding the value of nature by environment secretary Caroline Spelman, who confirmed the NEA has played an important role in shaping the Natural Environment White Paper due later this month.

“I want our children to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it was left to them. In 50 years time I want them to be able to look back and see how much the value of nature has grown not diminished,” she said.

To read more about the NEA’s findings visit the NEA website.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

Is the sea big enough?

A project promoter’s perspective on the environmental challenges facing new subsea power cables

3rd April 2024

Read more

The UK’s major cities lag well behind their European counterparts in terms of public transport use. Linking development to transport routes might be the answer, argues Huw Morris

3rd April 2024

Read more

Tom Harris examines the supply chain constraints facing the growing number of interconnector projects

2nd April 2024

Read more

The UK government’s carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) strategy is based on optimistic techno-economic assumptions that are now outdated, Carbon Tracker has warned.

13th March 2024

Read more

The UK government’s latest Public Attitudes Tracker has found broad support for efforts to tackle climate change, although there are significant concerns that bills will rise.

13th March 2024

Read more

A consortium including IEMA and the Good Homes Alliance have drafted a letter to UK government ministers expressing disappointment with the proposed Future Homes Standard.

26th February 2024

Read more

Global corporations such as Amazon and Google purchased a record 46 gigawatts (GW) of solar and wind energy last year, according to BloombergNEF (BNEF).

13th February 2024

Read more

Three-quarters of UK adults are concerned about the impact that climate change will have on their bills, according to polling commissioned by Positive Money.

13th February 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close