Saturday 27 June 2015

Valuing Nature >>> What does nature do for us? >>> "managing and valuing ecosystem services"

When it comes to defining 'sustainability', it depends on who you're talking to, but it is generally agreed that it includes a balance between the economic, the social and the environmental:

Futures Forum: The semantics of sustainability: 'sustainable development'... or 'sustainable growth' ... or 'sustained economic growth'... or 'development for sustainability'...
Futures Forum: Sustainable Development: or sustainable growth

Can one be 'offset' against the other?
Futures Forum: Biodiversity

The problem is how to link these three elements - and one recent project has tried to do so in the area of putting a value on the seas:
Futures Forum: The economics of marine conservation

The basic idea behind this that the natural world gives us invaluable 'services' - which we need to evaluate:
Futures Forum: Environmental Economics

A couple of years ago, Tony Juniper brought a book out on the subject:

What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?, By Tony Juniper

This remarkable book brings into focus a revolution in ideas about the true value of the natural world

MICHAEL MCCARTHY Friday 25 January 2013

Mangroves are the salt-water woodlands found fringing many coastlines in the tropics. Imagine this: the authorities in coastal zone X, with a rapidly expanding city behind it, decide to cut down its mangrove swamps because the shallow waters in which they are rooted provide an ideal site for shrimp farms. If developed properly, those shrimp farms might produce, say, two million dollars' worth of exports over five years.

Sure-fire business case. Fantastic. Fetch the chainsaws.

But mangroves are not just floppy trees with their feet in the water. They provide natural protection against storms and tidal surges. Let us say that after the mangroves have gone, a tidal surge occurs, perhaps even a tsunami, which sweeps over the shrimp farms and inundates the coastal region, and its city, to disastrous effect, and leaves the authorities with no alternative but to provide future protection by building a substantial sea wall. How much will the sea wall cost? Say $200 million dollars, over five years.

The mangroves did it for nothing. So $200 million dollars is their replacement value. And you got rid of $200 million dollars' worth of mangroves, for two million dollars' worth of shrimp farms?

That sort of calculation is making economists and finance ministers sit up and take notice. Yet already, says Britain's leading environmental campaigner Tony Juniper in his new book, more than a third of the world's original area of mangroves has gone. Some countries have lost four-fifths of what they had in recent times.

It is only after we have destroyed them, he tells us in What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?, that we have begun to realise that many aspects of the natural world - from coastal vegetation acting as a shield, to the pollination of crops by bees and other insects - provide essential services to human society. Artificial alternatives cost a bomb – if they can be done at all.

This realisation, that nature provides services to cherish, not just resources to be exploited, is little more than 15 years old. But it has been, to use Thomas Kuhn's famous phrase from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a true paradigm shift. Although lesser-known, in scale it is up there with the change from Keynesianism to monetarism; or from demonising homosexuality to full acceptance. It has started to transform the way governments view the natural world (and ito change the view of development specialists who once dismissed all environmentalists as middle-class birdwatchers). It offers genuine new hope for nature conservation; and it has already spawned a gargantuan literature.

Juniper's entertaining, immensely informative and passionate book is very timely. It is the first detailed popularisation of this crucial shift in thinking. The former head of Friends of The Earth, he is widely admired for his fluency and common sense. Over 300 pages he provides a comprehensive yet very approachable litany of the essential services nature provides for us, beginning at the bottom with the benefits of soil (eroded over much of the world) and of photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into chemical energy. He ranges from the supply of fresh water to natural pest control and pollination, offering the cautionary tale of Maoxian county in Sichuan, China. There pollution and pesticides have killed off all the bees, and thousands of fruit farmers have to pollinate millions of blossoms by hand.

Even more remarkable is the case of India's vultures, which virtually vanished when the cattle on whose carcases they fed – untouched by the population for religious reasons – were treated with an anti-inflammatory drug, fatal to the birds. The unscavenged carcases provoked an explosion in dog numbers, which led in turn to a big rise in the incidence of rabies. Unsuspected connections, unsuspected but essential services: Juniper lets us see them all, with the warning: "much of what nature does for us is in decline". This is one of the most stimulating environmental books of recent years.

What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?, By Tony Juniper - Reviews - Books - The Independent

This followed on from research by the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, 'the first analysis of the UK’s natural environment in terms of the benefits it provides to society and continuing economic prosperity':

A public dialogue looked into these findings - and a report has just been published by a group of academics from the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter:
Naturally speaking… | Valuing Nature Network

Here is the film from those sessions:

Naturally speaking…. - YouTube
Dialogue film | Valuing Nature Network

And here is an animation:

What does nature do for us? - YouTube
What does nature do for us? | Valuing Nature Network

Here's a useful summary from RuSource?the Arthur Rand Centre:

Participants were generally pessimistic about the future of their local natural environments and ambivalent about whether progress was being made on environmental challenges. But some suggested the Assessment might serve as an environmental equivalent of the ‘Beveridge Report’, around which publics should be encouraged to rally. 
A significant minority were sceptical about the term ‘ecosystem services’. They felt it was consumerist in outlook and expressed concern that people would end up paying for things they currently have the right to access and use freely. 
Risks and challenges identified included fostering awareness, engagement of stakeholders, a credible evidence base; implementing goals and ensuring that objectives are met. 
Valuation techniques were considered helpful within policy and decision making processes, although participants queried how valuation evidence is created, what it signifies and what it can be expected to do. 

The National Ecosystem Assessment - A public dialogue

The 'Nexus Network' will bring these disciplines together later this month:
Transdisciplinary Methods for Developing Nexus Capabilities Workshop – The Nexus Network
Transdisciplinary methods for developing nexus capabilities - workshop hosted by The Nexus Network | Valuing Nature Network
Futures Forum: The Water, Energy and Food Nexus

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