The benefits that human populations gain from healthy and functioning ecosystems are vast. Clean drinking water filtered by forests, carbon stored in plants or soil, crop pollination by wild insects and pharmaceutical uses of plants are just a few examples of services humans usually receive for free. A recent wave of efforts to monetize the value of ecosystem services presents an opportunity to both protect these assets and bring their worth into the market. Currently, conservationists and investors alike are moving into this space in hopes of achieving a win-win for the economy and the environment. An array of public and private mechanisms exists to use payments to encourage responsible land management that preserves public benefits.
Whether it is restoring a watershed to provide clean drinking water for large urban areas or restoring mangroves for fisheries and storm protection, societies and governments can save billions of dollars by helping nature do what it does best. Investing in our ecological infrastructure is a cost-effective strategy for achieving national and global objectives, such as increased resilience to climate change, reduced risk from natural disaster and improved food and water security – all of which contribute directly to poverty alleviation, sustainable livelihoods and job creation.
A new economic approach that prioritizes investment in our ecological infrastructure is gaining attention, giving real substance to that often vague and misleading phrase -the ‘Green Economy’. This approach to investment must also consider appropriate scale and time horizons so that the values of and trade-offs between ecosystem services are used wisely to inform decision-making in both the public and the private sectors.
Over the last 15 years, several major global studies have demonstrated that natural capital and the ecosystem goods and services that flow from it, have significant and measurable economic value. At present, there are significant private gains from the utilization of our natural capital, but the costs and impacts are disproportionately borne by the public and future generations.
Despite the tremendous economic value of healthy and resilient ecosystems, investment in our ecological infrastructure remains much too low. We are approaching critical thresholds where we may no longer be able to recover our natural capital. It is cheaper to maintain, conserve and sustainability use biodiversity and ecosystems than to restore them. However, given the present state of ecosystem degradation, restoration is now an imperative. The economic benefits that flow from the restoration of degraded ecosystems can be several times higher than the costs, as nature provides quality services at a lower price than man-made or analogue systems.
Mainstreaming ecosystem restoration requires the assimilation of biodiversity and ecosystem services values into decision-making processes governing all economic activities that manage and use natural capital. A new economic approach to investing in our ecological infrastructure by restoring degraded ecosystems will generate timely stimulus.
Shailendra Nath pandey
The views expressed in the article are those of the author’s and not necessarily those of Development Alternatives.