Protecting Ecosystems Makes Money

300px-Avalanche_Lake,_looking_southProtecting ecosystems saves money, according to a new study, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB). The UN Environment Program (UNEP) hosted the study. The study emphasizes putting a price tag on saving the world’s ecosystems from destruction. The study itself puts a price tag on the ongoing cost of forest loss:  $2 to 5 trillion. Clearing mangrove forests costs local communities over $12,000 a hectare, plus $9,000 to rehabilitate a site.

Protecting ecosystems creates jobs. One in 40 European jobs is linked with environmental and ecosystem services. Investing in the protection of Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve generates $50 million a year, created 7,000 jobs, and increased local family incomes.

The study sites other examples:

  • Research in Costa Rica shows that areas of intact forest increase coffee farm yields by 20 percent because they shelter pollinating insects.
  • A New Zealand grass conservation area supplies free water to the Otago region which would cost $100 million per year otherwise.
  • Planting and protecting almost 12,000 hectares of mangroves in Vietnam cost the government $1.1 million, but saved $7.3 million a year on dyke maintenance.
  • Investing in a national protected area system in Venezuela prevents sedimentation that could reduce farm revenue by around $3.5 million a year.

The study lists a 10-point plan to transition to economies which better protect ecosystems:

  1. Invest in ecological infrastructure: Potential rates of return can reach 40 percent for mangrove and woodlands/shrublands, 50 percent for tropical forests, and 79 percent for grasslands.
  2. Reward benefits through payments and markets.
  3. Reform environmentally harmful subsidies.
  4. Address losses through regulation and pricing.
  5. Recognize that protected areas are a cornerstone of conservation policies and provide multiple benefits:  Investing $45 billion in protected areas could secure vital nature-based services worth about $5 trillion a year.
  6. Halting deforestation and forest degradation should be an integral part of climate change mitigation and adaptation focused on green carbon.
  7. Protect tropical coral reefs–and the associated livelihoods of half a billion people–through major efforts to avoid global temperature rise.
  8. Save and restore global fisheries, which are currently under threat of collapse from over fishing.
  9. Recognize the deep link between ecosystem degradation and the persistence of rural poverty and align policies across sectors with key Millennium Development Goals.
  10. Agree to a forest carbon deal at Copenhagen.

Study leader, Pavan Sukhdev, a Deutsche Bank economist, said, “We have now evaluated 1,100 studies ranging across different countries and different ecosystem services. And we find that with protected areas, for example, no matter how you slice the figures up you come up with a ratio of benefits to costs that’s between 25-to-one and 100-to-one.”

Sukhdev added, “Now we can say quite confidently that there is a solid benefit from investing in protected areas…Establishing reserves, policing them and so on, would cost about $40-50bn per year – and the annual benefit would be about $4-5 trillion.”

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

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