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Posts Tagged ‘TEEB’

Today is the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence. I spent 2 weeks there recently, partly for work and partly for holiday. It was the low season on the Caribbean coast which meant very quiet beaches there and lots of (mostly warm) rain wherever in the country I went. But this is not a blog for holidays…

Work there was very interesting too. I spoke at a workshop on economic valuation organised by the National Institute of Ecology (Instituto Nacional Ecologica). The workshop was attended by a large group of well informed and highly enthusiastic people from the public sector, NGOs and academia. Some research funders were also there.

Mexico is a bit of a paradise for an environmental economist – and I repeat not just because of the tourist attractions, even though they include the Museum of Economics in Mexico City! Rather it is because they have used the methodologies and instruments of the profession rather more extensively than one might expect. For example

  • The Mexican system of Payments for Hydrological Environmental Services (PSAH), which is one of the first Payments of Ecosystem Services. Mexico faces both high deforestation rates and severe water scarcity problems. The PSAH was designed by the federal government to pay participating forest owners for the benefits of watershed protection and aquifer recharge in those areas where commercial forestry is not currently competitive. It seeks to complement an array of forest policies that include development of community forestry firms and prohibitions of land use changes. Funding comes from a fee charged to federal water users. Applicants are selected according to several criteria that include indicators of the value of water scarcity in the region. For a paper that describes the process of policy design, main actors and rules, and provides a preliminary evaluation please click here.
  • The fisheries buyback scheme (buying back excess fishing gear) to protect endangered marine mammals, and
  • A pilot project to reduce energy subsidies and make sure that they are not indexed to production to protect overexploited aquifers.

Amongst the future projects, there is the possibility of a TEEB application for Mexico which came up in the discussions at the workshop but hopefully will become reality. TEEB is an international project that quantified and where possible monetised the services provided by the ecosystems and biodiversity worldwide. Country specific applications of its methods are emerging to estimate the economic value of the natural capital countries own. Benefit of such an application is that big numbers are talked about in the media and the overall process engages all sorts of different stakeholders who can see ‘what’s in it for them’ more clearly.

On a clearer link to holidaying in Mexico…I think there is a lot of room to increase the entry fees to the attractions like the Mayan ruins at Tulum (less than US$5 per person) and Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve (US$2.5 per person). There will of course be the predictable protests from local and international businesses but really compared to the benefits provided by such places and the funding need for their maintenance, such entry fees are terribly low. We hope our friends at INE will receive the support they deserve if and when they pursue arguments for a better benefit capture from such sites.

As you can easily find millions of attractive photos of Mexico on the internet, I thought I end with a photo much harder to find…a case of ‘appropriate technology’ in perfect use at a restaurant toilet inside the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve (snorkelling at the reef there was interesting too!) .

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While much of the public knows of various campaigns to protect certain species or habitats, rarely does the maintenance of rich biodiversity as a whole get much attention. 2010, however, has been an important year for raising awareness of the issue: it is the ‘International Year of Biodiversity’, has seen the publication of The Economics of Ecosystems of Biodiversity (TEEB) report, and only last month Nagoya, Japan, hosted the 10th UN Biodiversity summit.

So why should we be worried about a reduction in biodiversity? Well, biodiversity underpins much of how we, as humans, survive; it supports the key ecosystem services that we rely on. These range from cleaning of air, sequestration of carbon and regulating water and nutrient cycles, to the provision of medicine and nutrition. As is the case with many environmental problems, these services are, by and large, not marketed. Their economic value is hidden in the contributions they make to goods and services that have market values or in the costs we incur if the natural services are lost. Looking at these hidden (as well as some market values), the TEEB report calculated the global value of biodiversity at between US$2 – 4.5 trillion annually, which is up to 7.5% of global GDP.

The Nagoya summit attempted to address these issues, and has since been hailed as a success by many. A pledge to at least halve the loss of natural habitats was made, and there was also a commitment to widen the coverage of nature reserves and marine protected zones, so they will have a hold on a higher proportion of the world’s surface than ever before. All signatories will also have to draw up national biodiversity plans. Furthermore, a new treaty was adopted – the Nagoya Protocol – which outlines how separate nations should cooperate with regards to accessing and sharing the benefits of genetic resources. A part of this will include payments to developing nations for the current use and sale of tradition medicines and medical knowledge that was collected in the past.

Some, however, have questioned how this is all actually going to work. The funding pledged by developed nations has disappointed some, while others are concerned that some of the targets are not really binding, or in fact simply act to distract attention away from attacks on biodiversity in their own countries (whales and Japan comes to mind). Indeed, George Monbiot noted last week that “The evidence suggests that we’ve been conned. The draft agreement, published a month ago, contained no binding obligations. Nothing I’ve heard from Japan suggests that this has changed. The draft saw the targets for 2020 that governments were asked to adopt as nothing more than “aspirations for achievement at the global level” and a “flexible framework”, within which countries can do as they wish. No government, if the draft has been approved, is obliged to change its policies.[1]

What has been seemingly agreed upon at Nagoya is a step in the right direction, with the new Protocol in particular having some promising aspects to it. However, there are two serious problems that must be addressed. Firstly, if these agreements really aren’t binding, then the targets themselves are meaningless; and secondly, even if governments are compelled to act, the distinct lack of any real mechanism to facilitate it implies significant delays as arguments erupt over where the funding will come from. The real issue in the coming months may be maintaining biodiversity and the Nagoya summit as relevant to the media and the public, so any attempts to renege on promises made do not slip through unnoticed.


[1] We’ve been conned. The deal to save the natural world never happened. – George Monbiot, The Guardian, 1 November 2010

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