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Great Lakes Article:

Protecting Environment is Good for Economy

By John Mason and Chrissie Davies in London
The Financial Times

The global economic benefits of preserving nature far exceed the costs of mounting conservation projects, according to a study published yesterday.

A global network of nature reserves costing $45bn (€46.4bn, 28.6bn) a year would produce goods and services worth more than $4,400bn annually - a benefit-to-cost ratio of 100-1 - an international team of economists and environmentalists said.

The study, published in Science magazine, concentrated on five case studies of wild eco-systems being converted to human use.

Ecologist Andrew Balmford of Cambridge University said: "The economics are absolutely stark. We thought the number would favour conservation, but not by this much."

The study, claimed to be far more comprehensive than similar work produced by the World Bank and other bodies, was published ahead of the United Nations summit on sustainable development, which begins in Johannesburg later this month.

Biodiversity preservation will be considered at the summit, but it is widely expected little real progress will be made on implementing measures to protect nature, notably the Convention of Biological Diversity.

The eco-systems studied included a Malaysian tropical forest converted to logging, a forest in Cameroon used for agriculture and commercial plantations, mangrove swamps in Thailand used for shrimp fishing, a Philippine coral reef dynamited for fishing and a Canadian marsh drained for farming.

In each case the loss of natural services such as storm and flood protection, carbon sinks and sustainable tourism outweighed the benefits of conversion for short-term gain.

The economists said pricing such natural services was difficult without an established market. However, estimates were made of the cost of replacing the services and assessments made about how much individuals and nations would be prepared to pay for relying on naturally provided services.

Robert Constanza, an economist at the University of Maryland in the US, said a conservative approach had been taken in valuing such services, yet this still resulted in the 100-1 benefit-cost ratio. Benefits that had proved difficult to value had not been included but would increase the ratio further, he said.

Paul Jefferiss, head of environmental policy at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the UK environmental group which co-ordinated the study with Cambridge University, said the study demonstrated the need for changed thinking by the World Bank and others.


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