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Do economics, ecosystems and biodiversity mix?

Do economics, ecosystems and biodiversity mix?

From 7-9 September 2009, environment ministers and senior officials from the European Union took part in a high-level meeting in Strömstad, Sweden: “Visions for Biodiversity Beyond 2010 – People, Ecosystem Services and the Climate Crisis“. At the end of the meeting, the chair produced a series of conclusions.

Surprisingly, for this sort of meeting, the problem of over-consumption in the North was acknowledged. Paragraph 18 of the conclusions states: “The impact of European consumption on global biodiversity needs to be addressed.” The conclusions also include two paragraphs about REDD.

Paragraph 22 includes targets for stopping forest loss. But as REDD-Monitor has pointed out previously, this is meaningless unless the UNFCCC changes its definition of “forests” to exclude industrial tree plantations (and clearcuts). Especially in the context of a discussion about biodiversity, this is crucial.

22. The global forest cover loss should be halted by 2030 at the latest and gross tropical deforestation should be reduced by at least 50% by 2020 compared to current levels. Enhanced incentives for action on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) should therefore be created. Action in this area enables developing countries to take more active part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and as such, help building a bridge between developed and developing countries.

23. A successful outcome of UNFCCC CP 15 in Copenhagen, December 2009, is crucial for securing biodiversity and ecosystem services in the future. Ecosystem services will in turn be decisive for successfully implementing climate change policy. The new climate change regime and the vision for biodiversity must be able to support synergies between climate change, biodiversity policies and the development agenda, including rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. The REDD+ mechanism should be designed to support such synergies.

It’s difficult to say whether the glass is half full or half empty. Or whether the glass and its contents have already been packaged up and sold to Goldman Sachs as part of a collaterised debt obligation deal. While it’s good that “rights of indigenous people and local communities” are referred to, the market bias is clear. “Enhanced incentives” could mean anything, and it seems it’s no longer possible to discuss “biodiversity” or “ecosystems”, without adding the word “services”.

Pavan Sukhdev, economist and study leader for The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) was a keynote speaker at the meeting. There’s an interview with Sukhdev on the meeting website, under the headline, “Pavan Sukhdev wants to put a price on nature“. In response to the question, “How can values of biodiversity/ecosystem services be integrated in the corporate and public sectors?” Sukhdev replied:

“I keep returning to the phrase ‘you cannot manage what you do not measure’. So we must incorporate the values of biodiversity and ecosystem services, our Natural Capital, into our National Accounts. As a fundamental first step towards integration, the value of forest carbon stock must begin to be captured in National Accounts.”

Sukhdev’s might be correct in saying “you cannot manage what you do not measure”, although communities all over the world have managed their forests successfully for hundreds of years without measuring “biodiversity and ecosystem services”. And his reply might make sense from an economist’s perspective, but it has little to do with the realities of forest ecosystems, where measuring the carbon stored is extremely complex. Many governments interested in REDD funding cannot even measure the area of the forests in their countries, let alone measure the amount of carbon stored in the forests.

PHOTO credit: Sweden’s Minister for the Environment Andreas Carlgren, Gunnar Seijbold/Regeringskansliet.

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  1. This is an encouraging move to bring the other parties to the negotiation table about “Our Common Future”. Valuing biodiversity is not only an option but also a necessity for those people that are highly dependent on biodiversity. Actually they may not have other options.
    Thank you

  2. I agree with Yoseph. There are many problems with REDD, such as measurement and governance issues (including the need to address social justice), and there is the need to address the root causes, i.e. over-consumption of natural resources in developed countries. But these issues apply to forest management and conservation generally, and one should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. REDD is finally a way that could bring sufficient incentives to leave forests standing. It may not be the perfect way, but it is at least possible to make a dent with this — something that has not been very successful so far despite years/decades of exhortations of forest conservation.

  3. I agree that there is a problem of governance and measurements but still we can do something despite of the shortfalls that REDD is facing. As experts we need to be well acquianted with what REDD is all about and this will make us transfer such knnowledge to others people.

    Currently there is no enough information on the Economics aspects about REDD. The opportunity costs are not well understood, why people should engage in REDD and leave the forest standing and not use it for other activities?,Is it profitable to leave trees standing for quite a long time?Will they benefit or loose by doing so? In a long run what will be the impact for leasing those trees standing?For how long shall we keep those trees?

    Again what will be the payment system?Who will pay who?Will the fund be sustainable?In my opinion those are some important questions to ask ourselves before jumping into REDD. Answering these questions will help us establish a strong and sustainable REDD Programme as tool for mitigating the impact of Cliamte change.

    Nyamoga, G.Z
    Sokoine University of Agriculture
    Department of Forest Economics