September 14, 2005

Spending on environment yields big returns – report

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) - Spending to protect the environment, from
coral reefs to forests, can bring big returns to aid a
worldwide assault on poverty, a U.N.-backed report said on

The study, coinciding with a summit of world leaders in New
York, even suggested that forests may be more valuable when
left standing rather than being cleared for crops because trees
can absorb the heat-trapping gases widely blamed for global

"The not a luxury good, only affordable
when all other problems have been solved," said Klaus Toepfer,
head of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) which was among
30 international groups behind the report.

The study estimated that annual investments of $60-$90
billion in the environment over 10-15 years were needed to
reach a world goal of halving the proportion of humanity living
on less than a dollar a day, currently more than a billion

A further $80 billion a year was needed to limit global
warming, widely linked to gases from burning fossil fuels in
factories, cars and power plants, over the next 50 years.

Once invested, it said that every dollar spent on clean
water and sanitation in the Third World, for instance, could
bring $14 in benefits ranging from lower health care costs to
higher work productivity and school attendance.

"Conservation of habitats and ecosystems are also cost
effective when compared with the short-term profits from
environmentally damaging activities" including dynamite
fishing, mining or deforestation, it said.

Every dollar invested in fighting land degradation and
desertification, like building terraces to stop hillside
erosion, could generate at least $3 in benefits, the Poverty
Environment Partnership report estimated.


And every dollar invested in protecting coral reefs could
generate $5, ranging from scuba-diving tourism to renewable
fish stocks.

Forests could play a role in slowing climate change because
trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

"The carbon storage or 'sequestration' potential of forests
ranges between $360 and $2,200 per hectare which makes them
worth far more than if they are converted to grazing or
cropland," UNEP said.

And the study said that it becomes far more cost effective
to conserve forests than to clear them once carbon prices
exceed $30 a tonne.

In a European Union market, launched this year as part of a
U.N. plan to curb global warming, carbon dioxide emission
allowances trade at about 22 euros per tonne.

The report also pointed to other ways to place a value on
the environment. Brazilian farmers in parts of the Amazon
turned to forest nuts and berries when their crops failed, for
instance, making the forests a "nature-based insurance policy."