Archive for the ‘Ecosystem services’ Category

green party

This is a rather late and a shorter version. But the Green Party made it easy to pick out their environmental pledges. They are the only party with a separate environment manifesto – perhaps not surprisingly. It can be seen here.

Green Party’s key environmental policies are on this webpage, easy to see:

  • An Environmental Protection Act to safeguard and restore our environment, protect and enhance biodiversity, promote sustainable food and farming, and ensure animal protection.
  • A public works programme of insulation to make every home warm and investing in flood defences and natural flood management to make every community safer.
  • Equality of access to nature and green spaces, to enhance leisure, health and wellbeing.
  • Active ongoing cooperation with businesses and other countries to limit global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees and aiming for 1.5 degrees.
  • Replacing fracking, coal power stations, subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear with the clean green efficient renewable energy of the future, and investing in community owned energy.
  • Introduce a one-off fine on car manufacturers who cheated the emissions testing regime and create a new Clean Air Act, expanding and funding a mandatory clean air zone network.
  • Strong protection for the Green Belt, National Parks, SSSIs and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  • A wider, more effective network of marine protected areas around our coasts, including fully protected no take zones.
  • Tough action to reduce plastic and other waste, including the introduction of Deposit Return Schemes, with a zero waste target.

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For your consideration:

The recently started Biodiversity Offsets Blog aims to provide an interdisciplinary platform for the information and exchange on Biodiversity Offsets and the Mitigation Hierarchy.

The goal is to mainstream and facilitate the discussion on Biodiversity Offsets. The focus lies on biodiversity offsets as such (not market based instruments or other more general topics). The formerly widespread information shall be brought together to make it easily accessible for a maximum of people and thereby to unite the societal debate with academic findings and practical insights. This includes joining different perspectives (biodiversity offsets are not restricted to the interest of business).
The Biodiversity Offsets Blog combines general information (including an updated list of experts, literature, websites etc.) with frequent blog posts on new articles, scientific papers, political news, offset examples on the ground and so on.
As the platform shall bring people and their expertise together, all those who are interested are encouraged to share their knowledge, views, questions or concerns and help to build a broad information base. Find out more on www.biodiversityoffsets.net.

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The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) for Business Coalition recently rebranded itself to the Natural Capital Coalition. This is one example of how the term ‘Natural Capital’ is increasing in popularity…but what is it? Essentially, it is the goods and services that nature provides us. An informative and accessible blog post on the ICAEW* website highlights that, other than sustaining life on Earth, nature provides us with goods and services that people value and should really recognise. There is a business workshop being held on 3April – organised by UKNEE** and University College London – that will be discussing the latest research in how businesses can incorporate natural capital into their accounting structures so that its value can be recognised.

For example, as the UK’s current flooding demonstrates, woodlands and other habitats are good at regulating water and slowing the uptake into rivers.


We invest in human capital and physical capital because they are productive; so by conserving their condition, they will continue to generate goods and services for us. Just as by training your employees and purchasing new machinery you are likely to generate more revenue as a business, if we agree that Natural Capital exists, why should we not also invest in improving it? For example, by investing more in the management of woodlands and upstream habitats mentioned previously, one is able to reduce the risk of flooding further downstream. A post in The Guardian by George Monbiot sheds light on this factor in more detail with regards to the recent UK floods.

Often, as the example above illustrates, the benefits of improving natural capital are public, but there are occasions where businesses can identify natural resources that generate a revenue for them at a private level (or reduce revenue if they were to be removed­­). Therefore, instead of having almost a zero value in private decision-making, nature can be recognised as an input in the production process, just like human and physical capital are.

*ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales)

** UK Network of Environmental Economists

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The recently-finished Medmerry managed realignment scheme, on the South Coast, is an excellent example of how society can work with nature for the benefit of all parties.

The £28m scheme involved building 7km of sea walls up to 2km inland and then  ‘making a hole’ in the existing sea wall, thus allowing the seawater to naturally come into the land. This will now protect over 300 homes, local caravan parks and businesses, a water treatment plant and a main road from a once-in-a-thousand year flood. This area was previously prone to flooding; therefore the avoided damage from this scheme will be valuable.

An important reason for the water being allowed to come inland was to create a 180Ha saltwater marshland, thus offsetting the habitats that were lost in the flood protection projects of larger cities such as Southampton and Portsmouth. The creation of this rare saltwater marsh will bring in numerous species. As well as the wildlife reserve, footpaths, cycle paths and bridleways will be opened. As a result, nature-based tourism in the area is hoped to increase, which will benefit the local economy.

By working with nature, rather than against it, the project has benefited both humans and the environment. The scheme has given a home, or resting spot, to wildlife, whilst providing recreational, protection, participation, and tourism benefits to the local community. It is an excellent example of how incorporating nature-based values into decision making can improve society as a whole.

This is the biggest scheme of its kind in the UK to date and it will be observed closely to see if it can be applied to other regions that are threatened by rising waters.

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The Pitcairn Islands are a British Overseas Territory, comprising of four small islands in a remote area of the Pacific Ocean. The permanent population of around 50 people all reside on Henderson Island. It is most famous for being the last settling point where mutineers on the Bounty settled in the 1780s; the current inhabitants are direct descendants of these hardy few.

At the 3rd International Marine Protected Areas Congress in Marseille, France, this week and on the PEW Charitable Trusts website, is the proposed Pitcairn Marine Reserve- which plans to establish one of the World’s largest protected marine reserves. Based on its 2012 report, on the economics of the proposed Pitcairn Reserve, eftec has contributed to this discussion.

The conclusions from the report helped lay the foundation for the current proposal, Protect Pitcairn: An Underwater Bounty.

In our report, we devised and compared 3 development options open to Pitcairn.

  1. The Baseline: where the current situation continues (no marine reserve and no fishing licenses).
  2. Marine reserve: the waters up to 200 miles off-shore, equating to 836,000km2 (or the size of Alaska and California combined) is established as a reserve and only local artisanal fishing is allowed.
  3. Exploitation: no reserve is created. Instead, a fishing license regime develops, thereby allowing commercial access to Pitcairn’s waters.

Currently, the islanders fish in a traditional fashion for subsistence and local trade, and there are very few commercial fishing vessels in the proposed area due to its remoteness.

The report estimated that if Pitcairn were to open their waters to fishing, and sell fishing licenses, it could only generate around $(US) 32,000 p.a.

eftec’s report argued that it is likely that the benefits of establishing the marine reserve would far outweigh this revenue.

The proposed marine reserve would significantly enhance Pitcairn’s image on the global stage. The resulting increase in tourism, particularly in numbers of cruise ships visiting, could generate significant revenue for such a small economy. Furthermore, branding itself as one of the World’s largest marine reserves would enable the island to increase the price of existing products.

As well as monetary benefits, there would be substantial non-market values from establishing the marine reserve. The National Geographic expedition in 2012 claimed that the ocean around Pitcairn is how it was a thousand years ago, with pristine reefs and clear waters, visibility is 75 metres- the highest in the Pacific. The team’s 16 underwater cameras, each covering a few square metres for 5 hours, saw 57 species of fish- 8 of which were new to science! Imagine how many more are lurking in the 836,000km2 of water that could be protected.

Therefore, the unexploited marine ecosystem may provide essential services of great value to the World, beyond what we can currently monetise. The islanders voted unanimously in favour for the ‘Protect Pitcairn: An Underwater Bounty’ to be presented to the British government for approval.

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This week the UK Natural Capital Committee (more info here) released its first State of Natural Capital report with little fanfare.  It achieved a small amount of press attention, with only four environmental news outlets covering the report (according to Google News). A damp squib in terms of press coverage, which was depressing to those immersed in these concepts and convinced this is the right way forward.

It may be healthy to take a step back and a realistic view on the popularity of Natural Capital as a concept. I used Google Trends to gauge public awareness and interest in the concept.  In order for a fair comparison I compared “Natural Capital” against “Ecosystem Services”  – another environmental economics buzz word.

The Google Trend graph is presented below, with Natural Capital represented in blue and Ecosystem Services  in red:Image

Ecosystem services appears to be getting more ‘heat’ than Natural Capital, despite being around as an idea for less time. Interest in ecosystem services are increasing, while interest in Natural Capital has been flat (or even declining) over the past seven years or so.

Possible reasons for this trend are that ecosystem services as a concept is mutli-disciplinary friendly and less contentious. Consequently it has been adopted across the environmental sector.  Natural Capital, although intertwined with the ideas of ecosystem services, is more difficult to define, and although popular with business may not be popular across the environmental sector.

Perhaps the difference in adoption and interest has its source in concepts themselves. Ecosystem services as a term seeks to capture the benefits flowing from nature without trying to define nature itself. Natural Capital as a concept, shoehorns the matter that makes up nature into a bleak financial framework. For the lay person and those nervous about the ‘commodification’ of nature, Natural Capital is perhaps a step too far.

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Last week I listened to Owen Paterson’s gushing welcome for the work of the ecosystem markets taskforce (EMTF).  Various business groups are also following up including BITC and Aldersgate.

 The EMTF aren’t proposing anything that hasn’t been thought of before, but what is notable is that ideas that were previously the domain of NGOs are being promoted, and in some cases given a new perspective, by business. This can only improve the debate, recognising that its not business vs environment, but that business interacts in different ways with the environment, and there are things we can do to improve those relationships.

 While the EMTF’s business-led message will add force to these environmental arguments, resistance to changing our economic thinking remains widespread. Apparently the Treasury have recently blocked proposed analysis of the impacts of global resource depletion on the UK’s economic growth – the reason being that they don’t want external actors commenting on the UK’s growth prospects. This deafness to debate is head-in the sand stuff. Think back to 2007 when global growth caused food and fuel price spikes that dented UK economic performance – and remember that repeating your actions and expecting a different outcome is a definition of madness.

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I am currently applying the cowburps principles in an evaluation of Colombian biodiversity polices. Unfortunately for my colleagues’ jetlag, the meetings are being held in a hotel basement conference room, but I undertook some first hand research of this ‘mega-biodiverse’ country for a few days before the meeting started.

The highlight was visiting a private nature reserve – financed by entry fees, rock climbing and horse riding services, and accommodation provided in an impressive wooden ‘refugio’ (lodge) where I stayed – nature tourism in action. Reaching the lodge involved a 2km hike from the entrance, which started at 2,630m above sea level and dropped 450m through cloud forest on the slopes of the central Andes. They limit entrance to 120 people per day, and I encountered a dozen Europeans, mainly Germans, but the majority of the visitors where Colombians, from the country’s new middle class.

This walk could be covered in 20 minutes, but it took me 2 and a quarter hours, because there were simply too many birds to see. I encountered 3 mixed flocks of birds moving through the forest, which take a lot of concentration to follow as birds move at all different heights from the neck-straining canopy to underneath the leaf litter, each pursuing its ecological niche. I saw 17 species of bird I’d never seen before, including four from genus (family groups) I’d never seen before. To put this in context, seeing more than one new species per day when birdwatching in Europe would be good. As a nature-tourist, it was worth every penny.

As I emerged into the forest clearing near the Lodge, I puffed out my cheeks in exhaustion and rested my hands on my binoculars. An American teacher saw me breathing heavily and holding my chest and came over to ask if I was alright – I reassured him that I wasn’t having a heartattack. It did make me think that the name ‘refugio’ was apt, as going in doors was the only way to take refuge from this overwhelming ornithological diversity. I could just listen to the howler monkeys, and sneak a glimpse at the hummingbirds outside the window.

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George Monbiot’s latest rant against pricing nature is mis-informed to the extent of being counter-productive to environmental protection. His lack of understanding is compounded by his prejudices against economics.

The opening quote by Rousseau is attractive and a view I sympathise with – we are borrowing the planet from future generations. But Monbiot’s interpretation of it is that all property rights are wrong. He’s forgetting they are the basis of the incredibly prosperous society he benefits from living in.

The view that “nature is being valued and commodified so that it can be exchanged for cash” could be more sensibly given as “nature is being valued and commodified so it isn’t ignored and trashed, but instead people are charged for using it, which means they won’t waste it”.

A fundamental misconception is that this valuation/ commodification is akin to ‘privatisation’. It isn’t, privatisation means a change from public ownership (by the government) to private ownership. Trying to identify how valuable something is doesn’t mean you want to change who owns it.

The article then contains a series of other inaccurate statements, such as:

  • Characterising the “rain and the hills and the rivers” as ecosystem services. They are not. Ecosystem services are the processes that take place in these environments and benefit us all (or not if we destroy our hills with overgrazing because we didn’t value all of their services).
  • Suggesting that biodiversity offsets could be used to compensate for damage to ‘a rare meadow’: offsets, as currently proposed in the UK, would not weaken existing protections because ‘rare meadows’ are designated habitats (SSSIs) which can be classified as ‘not offsetable’.
  • Suggesting that a landscape’s “intrinsic value has already been calculated”: this is an oxymoron. As an environmental economist I recognise that nature has intrinsic value, and furthermore that this is a moral value, not one based on human preferences or measured by money (what environmental economics aims to value based on human preferences is change – the extra benefit provided by protecting the environment and the extra cost of destruction).

The environmental movement needs passionate and articulate leaders, like George Monbiot can be. But leaders need to have their facts straight; if not they will undermine the very cause they are trying to promote.

Like George, I am suspicious of the motivations of the city, and yes, these powerful economic forces, with nature valued at zero, have brought about its destruction. If we abandon the market economy, we need an alternative: can’t think of one? Neither can I. So my suggestion is that we redirect this powerful human force, the market economy, towards saving nature.

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It’s been over a month since we have posted here which is too long. But we’ve had some new calves who’ve joined the pasture and lots more work to feed them. In August, we’ll have the London Olympics and holidays (not very long ones in this pasture).  So we’ll be back from September again (or earlier if there is something that really bugs us). In the meantime, here are a few summer reads for you:

  • Speaking of the Olympics, if you’re more technically minded you may be interested in this Stated Preference Analysis for an Impact Study on the Olympic Games carried out by eftec in 2004 as part of the London’s (obviously successful) bid to host this year’s Olympics. Even if you’re not technically minded, you might be interested enough to glance at the Executive Summary which details the UK population’s valuation of the intangible benefits and costs of the games.
  • If you were in Southern Ontario, you could have found out the value of the nature around you. We haven’t checked this in detail but we have rated it “pretty cool” in our professional opinion. This is exactly the kind of work we do and of course there are the obvious caveats (the app is unlikely to be able to generate values specifically tailored to specific areas due to the unique properties and relationships humans have with each area) but caveats aside, the app will be able to give people a rough idea of the value of their local environment and perhaps we need to learn from this to make our work more fun!
  • Although we’ve been quiet The Economist has managed some chatter for us – they’ve covered ecosystem services in their Science pages. Let’s hope that after the summer we’ll make it to the main pages, and preferably with better referencing than the 1997 Costanza paper (famously quoted as being “a serious underestimate of infinity”).
  • Unfortunately, it’s not all been good news…. following 2 years of very little rain we’ve had a depressingly (and record-breaking) wet ‘summer’ in London until about three days ago and as if that’s not bad enough, it looks like it may be the early signs of a changing climate, which is making extreme weather events more likely.

With such a wide selection we hope you’ve found something that interests you in our absence, but of course if you really miss us or if you’re inspired to comment on any of the above topics you’re always welcome to Moo with us here!

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