The value of nature: does setting a price undervalue it?
The importance of healthy ecosystems for human health and well-being is clear. We depend on nature for food, food, water, timber, and fibre. Natural ecosystems influence climate, mitigate flooding, and help maintain water quality. Natural spaces also provide recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits.
Yet, pressures on natural and green spaces continue.
Over 75% of the Earth’s land area is already degraded, and over 90% could become degraded by 2050. The amount of forested area continues to decrease. Natural wetlands are in long-term decline around the world. Data indicate that inland and marine/coastal wetlands have declined about 35%. This is three times the rate of forest loss. A consequence of the continued encroachment of humans and livestock into wildlife habitats, along with degradation of natural environments is an increase in zoonotic diseases.
About 15% of the Earth’s land and 7% of the ocean are currently protected.
The Campaign for Nature is calling for protecting 30 percent of the planet by 2030 (30 by 30). This protection would benefit fish stocks, access to forest products, and provide essential services such as water filtration, removal of air pollutants and prevention of erosion. There are costs associated with meeting this goal. However, the benefits are estimated as fivefold higher.
The dilemma: what happens if the economic analysis shows it is more profitable to cut a forest for timber than to leave it untouched to absorb carbon dioxide and support wildlife or water cycles?
Given the on-going pressures on the environment it is better to give a value to nature, even if it can only be partially quantified. While not perfect, it gives us a sense of the minimum value of our green, blue and wild spaces. Otherwise it is too easy to allot nature a value of zero, which only helps its ongoing degradation and destruction.