Ecosystem damage costs trillions per year

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BONN, Germany (AFP) – Environmental damage and species loss costs between 1.35 and 3.1 trillion euros (2.1 to 4.8 trillion dollars) every year, according to a report released Thursday at a major UN conference on biodiversity.

The study, commissioned by the European Union (EU) and the German government, is the biggest assessment ever made of the economic impact of ecological damage, and supporters compared it to the famous “Stern Report” on the cost of climate change.

It was issued at a meeting of the UN Convention on Biodiversity, a 12-day meeting in Bonn of 6,000 representatives from 191 nations due to wind up on Friday.

The report, entitled “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity,” attaches a monetary value to species and to environmental assets that usually are not considered in cash terms.

It looks, for instance, at the dollar value of clean water, healthy soil, protection from floods and soil erosion, natural medicines and natural sinks that store greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane.

“Though our wellbeing is totally dependent on these ‘ecosystem services’, they are predominantly public goods with no markets and no prices,” the report notes.

Principal author Pavan Sukhdev, who heads Deutsche Bank’s global markets business in India, described this lack as “trying to navigate uncharted and turbulent waters with an old and defective economic compass.”

Sukhdev warned that some ecosystems were probably already damaged beyond repair, and predicted other systems would be badly wounded unless protective measures were urgently taken.

He said that by 2050, under a “business-as-usual” scenario, these catastrophes loom:

— 11 percent of natural areas remaining in 2000 could be lost due to conversion to agriculture, development, and climate change;

— 40 percent of land currently under low-impact agriculture could become intensively farmed, accelerate biodiversity losses;

— 60 percent of coral reefs could be lost, directly affecting the livelihood of a billion people.

As with climate change, the consequences of this damage will fall mainly on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable denizens, according to the report.

The true value of biodiversity and ecosystem services must be incorporated into policy decisions, the study said.

Environmental groups at the meeting in Bonn welcomed the report. “This is a long overdue recognition of biodiversity as a key development issue,” said Gordon Shepard, director of international policy for World Wildlife Fund International.

The report puts a spotlight “on the economic value of biodiversity both to our global economy and for the millions of people directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods,” he said.

Joan Ruddock, the British Minister for Wildlife, said the report “is vital to the effort to stem the loss of species and habitats,” and announced that Britain would help fund a fuller study.

About 150 species of flora and fauna go extinct every day, a rate that is 100 to 1000 times higher than a natural dying out of species, according to scientists.

The inspiration for the new report is the landmark 2006 assessment by British economist Sir Nicholas Stern that sparked awareness about the economic cost of global warming.

Stern said that climate change could shrink the global economy by as much as 20 percent, but if action were taken immediately, the bill would be only one percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).

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