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Evaluating The Economic Cost Of Climate Change On Coral

September 3, 2009

Climate change is likely to result in the “imminent loss” of the world’s coral reef systems, according to a new report on Wednesday.

The study, backed by the UN’s Environment Program and sponsored by the European Commission, Germany and Britain, found that current efforts to reduce climate change are not extensive enough to save the world’s reef systems, which researchers have estimated may be worth more than $100 billion annually.

“We face the imminent loss of coral reefs due to climate change, with all the serious ecological, social and economic consequences this will entail,” researchers said in “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity” (TEEB) report.

The report notes that an investment in restoration and maintenance of the Earth’s ecosystems “can have a key role in countering climate change and climate-proofing vulnerable economies.”

“We feel this isn’t really at the top of politicians’ minds at the moment,” study leader Pavan Sukhdev told BBC News.

“But when you decide how you invest money for climate adaptation, you should quickly come to the conclusion that ecology provides the best bangs for bucks – and that’s even without taking into account the added benefits of saving biodiversity.”

The report recommends that international officials should begin to “tap” the world’s ecosystems’ natural ability to fight climate change.

Sukhdev said that the lives of half a billion people depend on the maintenance of the world’s coral reef systems.

“The ecosystem services from coral reefs – ranging from coastal defense to fish nurseries- are worth up to $170 billion annually,” said Sukhdev.

“Over a quarter of all fish species are also dependent on the coral reefs,” he said.

In 2006, British economist Sir Nicholas Stern issued a report highlighting the economic cost of global climate change, which was a prime inspiration for the updated TEEB report.

Stern estimated that the global economy could decrease by up to 20 percent as a result of climate change.

“While the precise level of investment needed to maintain and enhance carbon storage and adaptation services of ecosystems in a climate-challenged world is unknown, TEEB findings indicate that investing in the Earth’s ecological infrastructure has the potential to offer an excellent rate of return,” the UNEP said in a written statement.

“For example an investment of $45 billion in protected areas alone could secure nature-based services worth some $5 trillion a year.”

Sukhdev issued the new updated report alongside German Federal Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, Director-General for Environment, European Commission, Karl Falkenberg; and UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner.

Image Courtesy WWF

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