By Calley O’Neill
Banker Pavan Sukhdev took a sabbatical from Deutsche Bank in 2008 to synthesize years of convincing research and statistics for the Green Economy Report. The report proved that environmentally sound development generates wealth and employment in the midst of poverty.
The groundbreaking TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) report quantifies the enormous global economic benefits of biodiversity. It encourages countries to develop a natural capital accounting system delineating the value of its plants, animals, fresh water and other natural wealth alongside conventional financial accounting to shift decision making to include damage and/or preservation of biodiversity. “You cannot manage what you do not measure.”
Sukhdev is the McCluskey Fellow at Yale University where he leads the [email protected] graduate seminar. He chairs the Global Agenda Council on Biodiversity and Ecosystems for the World Economic Forum, and was the Special Advisor and Head of United Nation’s Environment Program’s (UNEP’s) Green Economy Initiative.
Since economics did so much for global action on climate change, the TEEB environment ministers felt the same could happen for nature en though biodiversity, the living fabric of this planet, is complex and layered. The goal of TEEB was to show that we are losing natural capital at a phenomenal rate comparable to the rate of financial loss we experienced in 2008 (in the order of 2.5 trillion dollars).
The Amazon rain forest is a rain factory. 22 billion tons of water vapor is pulled up from the rain forest from the northeast trade winds every day and falls as rain elsewhere. This comes free. No economic value is placed on it. That is madness!
$190 billion worth of pollination services comes from bees and other pollinators every year.
Today the depletion of ocean fisheries is so great, that many subsistence fishermen cannot feed their families. A billion people worldwide depend on fish for their animal protein. This is a human problem of enormous proportions.
On an ecosystem level, the poor depend most immediately and directly on these ecosystem services ~ up to 90% of their support. Ecological infrastructure provides for all human life and foolishly, we are consuming biomass at a rate that will not be able to sustain human life.
This is happening because we have not been able to see the difference between public benefit and private profits. For example: mangroves vs. shrimp farming in Thailand looks completely different when we consider the ecological services, fish production, and storm and cyclone protection we get. In the long run, conservation of the mangroves is much more valuable than converting mangroves to shrimp farms for individual profit in the short run.
We need to recognize natural capital and measure our biggest asset ~ nature. A massive set of calculations has shown the importance of using economics to save nature. The loss to nature and humanity of forests vs. the market cost of timber in deforestation is huge. Had this math been done prior to deforestation, the outcomes could have been very different.
We need business analysts to compare the social and ecological performance of companies.
Create green carbon markets rather than:
- Brown Carbon = CO2 emissions from human energy use and industry 2.
- Black Carbon = soot formed by incomplete combustion of fuel and biomass
- Blue Carbon = oceans that store 55% of all carbon in living organisms! What is being absorbed is 25% of our emissions leading to ocean acidity. Living coral reefs provide the food and livelihood for more than half a billion people. Any carbon above 350 ppm endangers the very lives and livelihoods of these people. We must make an ethical choice to save coral reefs by reducing our emissions below 350 ppm.
- Green Carbon = Carbon stored in terrestrial ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, soils.
We must make changes and I believe we can, and we will.
It’s time to increase our knowledge about this! Watch this talk.