The economic invisibility of nature

A fusion of economics and ecology is required to properly measure and capture the value of biodiversity. That was the message of an event at Parliament earlier today organised by Biodiversity, the UK all party parliamentary group, chaired by Barry Gardiner MP, and attended by the BES Policy Team.

Lord Deben, president of GLOBE International, began proceedings emphasising the need for an optimistic outlook by ecologists with regards to biodiversity, saying “misery never convinces” and that we should “celebrate 30 years of growing awareness for environmental issues”. Lord Deben went on to highlight the importance of establishing a method for the valuation of natural capital as quickly as possible so that biodiversity impoverishment “can no longer be avoided on the political agenda”.

Professor David Hill of the Environment Bank went on to discuss the need for moving away from seeing the environment as a “charitable exercise”, and to support the establishment of policies that enable financial markets to properly value ecosystems. Professor Hill echoed Lord Deben’s calls for action stating “don’t start, don’t go”.

Dr Tim Jenkins, director of the Great Transition Initiative suggested that well-being and not wealth needs to be the measure of progress within society and that the value of natural capital may be at a critical threshold. Dr Giles Atkinson, of the London School of Economics, agreed that wealth should be measured in more depth than from a purely financial point of view and joked that economists were “worried about adding together, literally, apples and oranges”.

Dr Roddy Farley of the Scottish Natural Heritage presented cause for optimism in his assessment that Scottish natural capital was on the rise but reinstated the need for a transparent, readily available measurement for the value of biodiversity which can be used on policy time frames.

The final speaker was Pandev Sukhdev, author of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, who highlighted the problem of the economic invisibility of nature and how this can result in short term private profits but far more damaging long term public losses. He sited an example of shrimp farms in south Thailand where the initial short-term profit was grossly out weighed by the long-term cost when natural capital losses were factored in.