"The time for ignoring biodiversity and persisting with conventional thinking regarding wealth creation and development is over. We must get on to the path towards a green economy," said Pavan Sukhdev, leader of the UN study on the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) as the study's final report was launched yesterday (20 October).
The launch took place in Nagoya, Japan, where international negotiations on a new global post-2010 biodiversity vision and target are currently underway.
TEEB is part of the UN's Green Economy Initiative. Along the lines of the UK's Stern Review on the economics of climate change, the initiative has made massive calculations in an attempt to put a price on nature services. By demonstrating the economic value of soil, forest or fresh water it is hoped that policymakers can be convinced to implement the 'polluter pays' principle to protect nature.
The two-year study concluded with ten recommendations to demonstrate the "multi-trillion dollar" economic importance of forests, freshwater, soils and coral reefs and to incorporate the value of nature into decision-making.
The first asks to assess and communicate the role of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the economy and ensure public disclosure of, and accountability for, impacts on nature.
The second requests a rapid upgrade of current national accounting systems to make them include the value of changes in natural capital stocks and ecosystem service flows.
In this context the study stresses as "an urgent priority" the need to draw up consistent physical accounts for forest stocks and ecosystem services, so that new forest carbon mechanisms and incentives can be created and to accelerate the implementation of REDD-Plus.
Further recommendations ask businesses and other organisations to disclose all their major externalities that affect nature in their annual reports. They are also advised to adopt the principles of 'No Net Loss' or 'Net Positive Impact' as normal business practice and use "robust biodiversity performance benchmarks".
"Payments for ecosystem services, tax breaks and other fiscal transfers" are suggested as a means of encouraging private and public sector actors to provide ecosystem services, because the 'beneficiary pays'.
At the same time, the principles of 'polluter pays' and 'full cost recovery' can be used as powerful guidelines for "the realignment of incentive structures and fiscal reform," while governments would track and phase out the "perverse components" of various subsidies.
In addition to the launch of the final report, the first tome of TEEB Ecological and Economic Foundations was also published yesterday.
It brings together current knowledge on a range of issues central to applying economic valuation to ecosystem services and biodiversity. Authors expect it to provide "the authoritative knowledge and guidance to drive forward the biodiversity conservation agenda for the next decade".
A further three volumes based on the TEEB reports are planned for publication over the next 15 months.
EU to study its natural capital
Some countries – India, Brazil, Japan – are already taking steps to adopt the TEEB approach. EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said the EU executive recognised the economic value in the battle to stop biodiversity loss and fully supported the TEEB project.
The Commission intends "to launch a study to examine more in detail the evidence available in an EU context and areas for implementation of the analyses developed by TEEB in our policies," Potočnik added.