“It’s the ecology, stupid”…

It’s not the economy, but ecology which is the key to the survival of the human species, stated Sir John Harman, Chairman of the Environment Agency, in his closing remarks to the IEEM summer conference, attended by the BES’s Policy Team. Sir John called for a ‘new economics’ to tackle the tough environmental challenges we face today. He also urged greater collaboration between ecologists and economists and stressed the importance of ecologists engaging with policy-makers.

The theme of the conference was “Moving to an Ecological Economy”, with speakers discussing how ecology can drive the valuation of biodiversity and natural resources:

Peter Head, a Director of ARUP, outlined his work with the company in developing Dongtan, an innovative new eco-city to be built in China, on an island north of Shanghai. The first phase of construction will be completed in 2010, and when Dongtan is finished it will provide sustainable, ‘green’ homes for 80,000 people. Just some of the exciting measures to be adopted in the city include the use of used rice husks to power a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant, widespread use of photovoltaic cells to harness energy from the sun, the use of anaerobic digesters to process all biological waste and extensive food production within the city to compensate for the land lost through the building of the development.

Peter highlighted the work of ARUP in creating pilot schemes for public-private partnerships, which he hopes will lead to street by street transitions to sustainability and ‘one planet living’ at, at least initially, a regional scale.

Shulamit Alony, Business and Biodiversity Officer at the Countdown 2010 initative, developed by the IUCN, outlined the work of Countdown 2010 in encouraging Governments to increase momentum towards the CBD target. Countdown 2010 has also been working with industry to ‘green’ their activities, working with both multi-national companies and small and medium enterprises across Europe whose activities either impact on biodiversity or depend directly on biodiversity for their profits.

David Calpin, Defra’s head of strategy in the Natural Environment division, outlined the shift in thinking at Defra towards a holistic whole ecosystems focus, discussing the Ecosystem Approach Action Plan.

Dr Mike Christie, University of Aberystwyth and Salman Hussein, Scottish Agricultural College, discussed separate studies they have undertaken for Defra to put a value on ecosystem services. Dr Christie has undertaken on valuing the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), whilst Salman Hussein has explored different scenarios for conserving biodiversity as proposed by the Marine Bill. Salman’s team have developed a methodology to quantify the economic costs and benefits of implementing Marine Protected Zones as either ‘Highly Restricted’ or ‘Maintenance of Conservation Status’, under which different levels of potentially damaging activities would be allowed by the Marine Bill.

Overall, the message to emerge from the day was that innovative work was being undertaken by environmental economists, and by others in the economics and ecological communities in this area. Yet, putting a value on biodiversity and ecosystem services is never going to be simple and much more work is required in order for HM Treasury to take the Ecosystem Approach seriously. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity Review (TEEB) Review, being conducted at EU level, could provide a powerful tool to force the Government to recognise the true cost to the UK of failing to halt biodiversity loss.