Yesterday I sat here at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Nagoya, anxiously waiting for the official launch of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) report. Next to me sat Paulo Nunes, an economist leading the call for research worldwide on the contribution of biodiversity and ecosystem services to the global economy. After several years of collaboration, he is now a good friend and great research partner. “It seems like such a long time,” he says, almost reading my thoughts. And what an amazing journey has it been.
TEEB began in 2007 with a call from the world’s leading and emerging national economies for a “global study on the economic benefits of biological diversity, the cost of the loss and the failure to protect versus the costs of effective conservation.” An ambitious initiative inspired by the Stern Report—a 2006 publication examining the impacts of climate change on the economy—TEEB aimed to assess the value of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and use this data to inform development decisions. Over 500 scientists worldwide contributed to the report, including myself and several others from Conservation International (CI).
The synthesis of the TEEB final report was delivered by Pavan Sukhdev, head of the Green Economy Initiative at the UN Environmental Programme and one of the most charismatic, intelligent and articulate people I have ever met. The report makes one of the most compelling cases for global action on biodiversity protection: our economy depends on it. The report calls for society to make nature’s values visible, and for decision-makers and the business community to assess, communicate and take actions that incorporate the role of biodiversity and ecosystem services—from freshwater provision to nutrient cycling—in economic activities.
The report emphasizes a tiered approach to put sustainable development into practice by recognizing the value of ecosystem services to human communities, demonstrating such values in economic terms, and protecting these values with appropriate mechanisms and tools.
Here are just a few of the findings compiled in the report:
- At the current catch rate, the global fisheries industry is shrinking by US$ 50 billion every year.
- The forest patches adjacent to Costa Rican coffee plantations provide a pollination service that is equivalent to about 7 percent of the average farm’s income.
- Thirty million people worldwide are completely reliant on coral reef ecosystems for their food and livelihoods.
- By choosing to pay landowners in the Catskill Mountains to protect their watersheds, the New York City authorities were able to maintain the city’s freshwater supply without building expensive water treatment facilities—at a fraction of the price.
TEEB also identifies priority geographic areas to implement these efforts, specifically in terms of communication, valuation, measurements and management, poverty reduction, financial accounting disclosure, use of economic incentives, ecosystems conservation and restoration.
Here at the CBD, where delegations from 193 countries are negotiating and will hopefully agree on an ambitious target for an extensive coverage of protected terrestrial and marine area globally, CI is strongly urging agreement on the protection of at least 25 percent of Earth’s land and 15 percent of Earth’s oceans.
Pavan ended his speech to the CBD plenary audience by restating that valuing nature is about our future. I couldn’t agree more, and I am now anxiously waiting for the next phase. TEEB is just beginning its challenging role of working with governments, the business community and the rest of society to figure out how to truly value nature in development.
Rosimeiry Portela is an ecological economist and the senior director for global change and ecosystem services in CI’s Science + Knowledge division. She also coordinated CI’s contributions to the TEEB report.