Modelling Ecosystems Economic Values

Scientists setting dollar value for ecosystem

AFP, 1 November 2006 – A scientific model announced Wednesday will answer questions like ‘what is a honeybee worth?’ and measure the economic costs and benefits of ecosystems to human life, Canadian and US scientists said.

Researcher Kai Chan of the University of British Columbia said the model will help estimate the dollar value to people of such “ecosystem services” as mangroves and wetlands.

Such modeling could allow decision-makers to include the costs and benefits of nature conservation when planning developments such as housing, agriculture zones or hydroelectric dams.

Chan said the first part of the model will be put in place in China, Tanzania, Hawaii and the west coast of the United States over the next eight months.

The model was launched late Tuesday in Washington by the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy and scientists from Stanford University in California and the University of British Columbia.

Chan said development plans are often made with little understanding of hidden or future environmental issues that can cause economic loss and even death.

Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, and the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami were exacerbated by failure to assess the value of nature’s “services” in protecting coastlines.

Because US authorities had permitted development to shrink and damage wetlands on Louisiana’s coast, there was no natural buffer when Katrina hit New Orleans at a cost to the US economy of some 150 billion dollars, he said.

Throughout Southeast Asia, shrimp farming had wiped out so much mangrove forest that there was nothing to protect against the tsunami, which hit land at full force, killing about 230,000 people.

Chan said that until now there has been no way to effectively measure the value of nature to people, although he noted in some ways its value is “infinite” because without nature people cannot survive.

“Efforts to save wildlife often play out within a win-lose framework that pits conservation against economic opportunity,” said Chan.

Chen was lead researcher in a study with Stanford biologist Gretchen Daily titled “Conservation Planning for Ecosystem Services” that measured the value of ecosystem services on a section of the coast in the US state of California.

The researchers assessed carbon storage, flood control, forage production, outdoor recreation, pollination of crops such as strawberries and provision of water.

The new model is part of a trend for scientists and economists to measure the natural world in economic terms.

Earlier this week a British report by former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern warned that worldwide inaction over climate change could cost the equivalent of between five and 20 percent of global gross domestic product every year.

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