Bookmark and ShareRupert Crilly is a researcher in Environmental Economics at nef

Photo by ucumari via Flickr

According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2010 is the year of the Golden Tiger. Rather fitting, you might think, considering that the United Nations has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity: with only 3,200 tigers left, and 3 out of the 9 tiger species now extinct, biologists have placed Panthera tigris at the top of their list of critically important endangered animals.

In our rather detached view of the world, it might seem fair to ask “who cares about biodiversity?” In short, biodiversity provides a resource for our sustainable development: it improves crop performance and keeps our crops ahead in the evolutionary arms race against negative pathogens, it contributes to human health and well-being; it supplies the materials for many industrial sectors, and regulates our life-support systems such as water supply, nutrient recycling, and climatic conditions.

But more than this, as humans grow in the midst of the sixth mass extinction on Earth, biodiversity loss represents the failings of our socio-economic systems. It reminds us of limits to our carrying capacity: how much we need to keep up our old habits of unsustainable consumption. Our supporting ecosystems are crumbling beneath us, and the Christmas festivities haven’t made us any lighter. Biodiversity is so important, and so quickly receding, one wonders why a biodiversity equivalent to the IPCC has not already been formed, as has been suggested by the prominent biologist Edward Wilson.

What to look out for in 2010

The New Year also brings the second phase of the TEEB report, to be presented at COP10 of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Led by the UN Environment Programme, the study charts the value of the natural environment to humans, particularly in the economic dimension. One of their findings shows that an annual investment of US $45 billion into protected areas, many of which are at risk, could return ecosystem services worth US $5 trillion annually. Emerging from the crisis this might seem like a somewhat better investment than CDOs, but who’s going to pay? The truth is, if we leave it too late, we all will.

Environmental Markets
The TEEB study highlights the need for biological resources and ecosystem services to be accounted for on the balance sheet. The development of environmental markets promises much positive potential for a greener economy, as long as the lessons from carbon markets are heeded. Nef is aiming to be a leader in establishing such a framework to help conserve the Earth’s natural resources and improve our well-being.

The EU will report in March on a consultation over the Common Fisheries Policy. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the current management of fisheries. With criticisms from both environmental groups and scientists on one side, and fishermen on the other, it will be interesting to see whether they compromise on the sustainability and long-term viability of fish stocks in EU waters, using EU tax revenues to subsidise a bloated, inefficient and environmentally unsustainable industry.

Carbon Markets
With the dismal failure of the COP15 negotiations it will be more important than ever for public-private partnerships to take a lead role in the fight against climate change. With governments unable to respond quickly enough to the growing challenges of climate change, we need new innovative approaches to manifesting activity as soon as possible. For example, here at nef we are working to a new standard for climate change adaptation projects in local communities, and we will be seeking private sector support for these projects. Our aim is to challenge the dominance of voluntary offsetting and propose alternate voluntary activities that will benefit the communities that are being affected by climate change today.

Nature and Well-Being
Nature is a valuable resource for economic, ecological, and social value as well as psychological well-being. A growing body of evidence is making a compelling case for promoting nature from lip-service treatment to the centre of policy-making, a message that nef is preparing to send out this year at a time the government wields a cost-cutting axe in one hand and bankers nursery in the other.