Undervaluing ecosystems could cost billions

2nd June 2011


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

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IEMA

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.


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