May 30, 2008

Report Assigns Economic Value to Biodiversity

The loss of various species and lack of biodiversity may come at an economic cost, according to new findings presented to delegates from 191 countries in the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity on Thursday.

The study showed that biodiversity was not just about saving endangered pandas and tigers. Instead it underscored the need for reform in wake of increased pressure on commodity and food prices.

"Urgent remedial action is essential because species loss and ecosystem degradation are inextricably linked to human well-being," said Pavan Sukhdev, a banker at Deutsche Bank and the main author of the report.

Damage by humans is costing $78 billion worth of damage to the planet every year, according to the report. Aditionally, factors including pollution and deforestation, could amount to at least 7 percent of annual consumption by 2050, said the report.

Deforestation, if continued at current levels, would cost some 6 percent of world gross domestic product by 2050, Sukhdev said.

"The report shows we are eating away at our natural capital and making ourselves vulnerable to climate change," he said.

About 40 percent of the global economy is based on biological products and processes, according to the United Nations Environment Program. People in poorer regions, especially those in areas of low agricultural productivity, rely on genetic diversity of the environment.

"However, human activities the world over are causing the progressive loss of species of plants and animals at a rate far higher than the natural background rate of extinction," said the UNEP.

About 60% of coral reefs could be lost as soon as 2030 through fishing, pollution, diseases, invasive alien species, and coral bleaching due to climate change, according to the report, titled "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity".

Sukhdev added that the world's commercial fisheries are likely to have collapsed within 50 years unless trends are reversed. That would be devastating for the 1 billion people who rely on fisheries for protein and could lead to up to $80 billion to $100 billion in income loss

Sukhdev is expected to release a more extensive report next year.

Experts say some species are facing their biggest crisis since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. Three species vanish every hour, they say.

Even after 11-days of negotiations on issues, the conference ends on Friday, and environmentalists claim there is more work to be done.

Sukhdev warned if no action is taken, 11 percent of the earth's natural areas could be lost by 2050, mainly due to farming, infrastructure growth and climate change.

"This is crunch time," said WWF Director General Jim Leape. "We're gathered here under urgent circumstances."

However, some man-caused damage to the environment cannot be weighed economically, but they carry an intrinsic value.

Even one percent of GDP could help bring improvements to air and water quality and human health, Sukhdev noted.


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