Pricing Nature

This week, as part of the Radio 4 series ‘Costing the Earth’, presenter Tom Heap interviewed various people who are interested in the idea of putting a price on nature.

Ian Bateman from the National Ecosystem Assessment explained how this project aims to use scientific assessment to put monetary value on the natural environment. This is important because decision makers need quantified information to be able to properly consider the trade offs of different decisions. Steven Trotter from Warwickshire Wildlife Trust gave the example of the planned development of a high speed rail link between Birmingham and London which will cut through an area of ancient woodland: the woodland is under threat because nature is not considered on an equal basis with the business case for development.

Pavan Sukhdev explained how The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study organises research into the valuation of global ecosystems so that policy-makers can use this in practice to assess the value of an area of land. Andrew Simms, Policy Director of the New Economics Foundation appreciated the importance of valuing ecosystems but warned of the dangers relating to the fact that pricing works on a short timescale whereas impacts on natural environments can work on a much longer timescale. In order to avoid degradation of ecosystems just because someone can afford to do it, it will be essential to create science based boundaries to cap the use of resources. Andy Atkins from Friends of the Earth expressed his concerns that focussing on the value of nature will detract from dealing with the root causes of destruction.

Tom Heap concluded by saying that it may be hard for people to accept that the implementation of a valuation approach to natural habitats will increase the cost of living, but this would be better than the current situation where these costs are being picked up by future generations and poor countries through destroying habitats for agriculture and importing food.